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

AUGUST 11, 2020:


Execution date set for East Texas man who beat toddler with a hammer in alleged exorcism

An East Texas man has received an execution date for the brutal murder of a toddler when he was just 18.

30-year-old Blaine Milam, of Henderson, is set to die January 21, 2021, for the murder of Amora Carson back in 2008. Carson was his girlfriend’s daughter and was just 13 months old at the time of her death.

Investigators found that the pair had beaten Amora to death with a hammer in an alleged exorcism and her body was found riddled with bite marks.

The child’s mother, Jessica Carson, and Milam were both found guilty in 2011. Milam was given the death penalty while Jessica was sentenced to life without parole.

Milam was initially set to die back in January 2019, but was given a stay of execution by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals just one day before the sentence was to be carried out.

The court objected to the bite mark science used back at trial, which has largely been discredited, as well as the trial court needing to look closer at his lawyer’s claims of intellectual disability.

In 2017, the Supreme Court tossed Texas’ method of determining intellectual disability for those facing executions. According to TDCJ, Milam dropped out of school after the 4th grade.

The court wrote in its stay: “Because of recent changes in the science pertaining to bite mark comparisons and recent changes in the law pertaining to the issue of intellectual disability … we therefore stay his execution and remand these claims to the trial court for a review of the merits of these claims.”

Last year, the new guidelines for intellectual disability more than likely kept a Smith County man from eventually being executed.

Zavala Garcia pleaded guilty to the brutal murder of Kayla Gomez in Bullard back in 2016. Jacob Putman, the Smith County DA pursued the death penalty for Garcia.

However, under the new definitions, Garcia was classified as intellectually disabled. Due to this, the only sentencing option available under Texas law was life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“Let me be clear, I do not believe the standard set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court results in justice for Kayla’s family or our community.” -DA Jacob Putman — KETK NEWS (@KETK) August 22, 2019

“If there was any legal way to ensure that Mr. Zavala-Garcia would face the death penalty, I would persist. However, I took an oath to uphold the rule of law,” said Putman at the time.

If Milam were to be put to death next year, it would be the 1st execution ever for a crime in Rusk County.



Orleans Parish D.A. Will Not Run for Re-Election, Tenure Tainted By Office Misconduct in Death-Penalty Cases

After 12 years as Orleans Parish, Louisiana District Attorney, Leon Cannizzaro has announced that he will not seek re-election and will be retiring as D.A. at the end of this term. Cannizzaro’s tenure in office was marked by his aggressive defense of prior official misconduct in capital cases, misconduct by his office while he was District Attorney, and revelations that Orleans Parish prosecutors had routinely issued fake subpoenas and threatened imprisonment to coerce victims and witnesses to cooperate with law enforcement.

When Cannizzaro became D.A. in 2009, the office was facing a civil rights lawsuit by death-row exoneree John Thompson, who had been framed for a murder and for an unrelated robbery that made him eligible for the death penalty in the murder case. A federal court jury awarded Thompson $14 million in damages, but Cannizzaro appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and, after he lost that appeal, to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a controversial 5-4 decision by Justice Clarence Thomas that Supreme Court analyst Dahlia Lithwick called “one of the meanest Supreme Court decisions ever,” the Court overturned the verdict, declaring that the prosecutors were immune from suit for actions undertaken in their prosecutorial capacity. Nevertheless, the suit exposed rampant prosecutorial misconduct in the Orleans Parish DA’s office that continued throughout Cannizzaro’s tenure.

In April 2020, the Fifth Circuit ruled against Cannizzaro in a civil rights lawsuit challenging the D.A.’s practice of issuing “fake subpoenas” and falsifying information to obtain material witness arrest warrants to pressure victims and witnesses to provide favorable testimony in parish homicide and other prosecutions. The court ruled that absolute immunity was limited to conduct within “the judicial context” and that Orleans Parish prosecutors’ manipulation of subpoenas and warrants “falls into the category of investigative conduct for which prosecutors are not immune.”

All five Orleans Parish death-row exonerations, and all eleven death-row exonerations in the state since the 1970s, have involved official misconduct, usually accompanied by perjury or false accusation. At least 10 death-sentenced Orleans Parish prisoners have had their death sentences overturned as a result of prosecutorial misconduct, including Michael Anderson, the last person sentenced to death under Cannizzaro’s administration.

Cannizzaro’s announcement that he would not run came on July 24, 2020, less than 90 minutes before the end of the qualifying period to appear on the election ballot. His decision threw the parish election into disarray.

Allegations of prosecutorial misconduct have been rampant across Louisiana. The use of fake subpoenas had gone on for decades under several Orleans Parish district attorneys and had expanded to other parishes before being exposed by a New Orleans publication, The Lens, in April 2017. At that time, a spokesperson for Cannizzaro said that the “[t]he district attorney does not see any legal issues with respect to this policy.” However, Orleans Parish prosecutors immediately stopped issuing the orders, followed quickly by prosecutors in 2 other Louisiana parishes.

On June 8, 2020, Iberia Parish prosecutors dropped murder charges against Roy Verret after a defense DNA analyst discovered that prosecutors had switched DNA samples taken from the murder weapon and from Verret’s washing machine and used the mislabeled sample as evidence to arrest Verret. At the time of his April 19, 2017 arrest, police and Iberia Parish prosecutors asserted they were “99.9 percent certain” that Verret had committed the murder. They later said they had accidentally switched the DNA samples.

On June 24, 2020, a federal district court in Louisiana allowed a civil rights lawsuit filed by former death-row prisoner Michael Wearry against Louisiana police and prosecutors to proceed to trial. Wearry had charged that a detective in the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office, acting in concert with local District Attorney Scott Perrilloux, had “pull[ed] a 14-year-old boy out of school on at least six occasions to intimidate him into offering false testimony at a murder trial.” Wearry alleged that the boy’s testimony had been “concocted wholesale by th[e] detective and prosecutor and carefully rehearsed.” Law enforcement had used “scare tactics” to ensure the boy’s cooperation, the suit asserted, including removing him from class “to view the murder victim’s bloody car.”

Relying on the Fifth Circuit’s ruling against Cannizzaro in the fake subpoena case, the district court rejected the district attorney’s and the detective’s argument that their conduct constituted legal advocacy for which they enjoyed absolute immunity.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)


Pervis Payne Fights for DNA Testing After Maintaining Innocence for 33 Years ---- His case is shot through with racial dynamics that are intrinsic to the death penalty

The only person still scheduled to be executed in Tennessee this year is a Black man with intellectual disabilities who has maintained his innocence for more than 30 years. His name is Pervis Payne.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused three planned executions in the state to be called off this year — the Tennessee Supreme Court rescheduled those of Oscar Smith and Byron Black to 2021, while Gov. Bill Lee granted Harold Nichols a reprieve through the end of this year. For now, though, Payne’s remains set for Dec. 3.

Payne would be the first Black man executed in Tennessee since 2009 and just the second since 1960, and his case is shot through with racial dynamics that are intrinsic to the death penalty in the United States. He is a Black man who was convicted of murdering a white woman named Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter Lacie Jo. The case against him — brought by prosecutors in Shelby County, the county that has the most known lynchings in the state’s history and which is responsible for nearly 50 percent of the people on its death row — relied heavily on old racist stereotypes about Black men. Payne had no prior criminal history, but was portrayed as a drugged-up, hypersexual predator who stabbed Christopher to death after she rejected his advances. Payne has always maintained that he came upon the bloody crime scene at a Shelby County apartment complex while checking to see if his girlfriend — who lived across the hall — was home. He testified in court that he was overwhelmed and horrified by what he saw and fumbled around trying to help before running off for fear that the police would think he was the killer.

His story has never changed, and last year his attorney — the supervising assistant federal public defender based in Nashville, Kelley Henry — found what appeared to be long-withheld evidence that could exonerate him. During a trip to the Shelby County Criminal Court to review the evidence in Payne’s case, Henry and her colleagues discovered bloody bed sheets that had never been shared with Payne’s defense team. Last month, the Innocence Project took up Payne’s case and joined with Henry and her team in filing a petition asking a Shelby County judge to order DNA testing on the newly uncovered evidence, as well as a list of other items that had never been tested.

But on July 30, Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich made a stunning announcement at a press conference in Memphis without giving any notice to Payne’s attorneys. Her office had filed a motion with the court opposing DNA testing, and as for the seemingly new evidence? She said Payne’s attorneys had been given that evidence by mistake and that it was in fact from a different case. She rejected the need for DNA testing on other evidence from Payne’s case, saying the results “would make no difference.”

Weirich noted that Payne had unsuccessfully sought DNA testing years ago, and she accused his attorneys of playing legal games.

“DNA testing would not exonerate the defendant, yet the defense has waited 14 years to pursue a second request for testing,” Weirich said in a written statement. “Delaying the filing of a 2nd petition for this long shows the true defense motive is to delay the execution.”

In an interview following Weirich’s press conference, Henry said she wasn’t willing to take Weirich’s explanation about the bloody bed sheets at face value. But even setting that aside, she emphasized, there is other evidence from the case that has never been tested — including the alleged murder weapon, fingernail scrapings, a tampon that was a key piece of evidence for the prosecution and other bloodstained items from the apartment.

“One of the things that is really shocking to me is that in 2020, an elected district attorney general of a major metropolitan city would say that DNA evidence is irrelevant in a murder case, particularly one that they said was sexually motivated at the time of trial,” Henry said. “That boggles my mind.”

Henry also rejected Weirich’s assertion that Payne and his attorneys were simply trying to force his execution to be delayed.

“The allegation that we were seeking a delay is also just disingenuous because we made it very clear that we can do the testing within 60 days,” Henry said. “Our expert is ready, it will be no cost to the taxpayers, and we can get an answer one way or another. So how is the state hurt? What do they have to hide, to not do testing?”

In a motion filed Aug. 7, Henry replies to Weirich’s motion opposing the testing and writes, “There is simply no legitimate reason for the State to stand in the way of DNA testing.”

Payne’s sister Rolanda Holman — who lives in Murfreesboro and took her sons to visit her brother regularly before the pandemic — was already skeptical about authorities in Memphis. She says her brother told her that officers told him after his arrest, “You think you Black now, wait until we fry you.” More than three decades later, she says she wasn’t all that surprised to see Shelby County prosecutors resisting DNA testing she believes would exonerate the brother she calls “Bubba.” But speaking by phone days after Weirich’s announcement, Holman sounds undeterred.

“In order to bring the truth, you have to fight,” Holman says. “You have to continue to fight. You cannot give up. You have to stay focused. Because there are gonna be some blows like we’ve experienced with Bubba’s case with her declining [to test] the DNA. That was a blow. But we have to get back up and say, ‘What are we fighting for?’ We are fighting for justice.”

(source: Nashville Scene)


Dak Prescott Delivers Powerful Message to Save Death Row Inmate's Life

Some people liken an NFL game to war. We often refer to players as “going to battle” or “fighting for their lives” for 60 minutes on Sundays. But in reality, every NFL game is just that—a game. On the other hand, when you are a death row inmate, your life literally is on the line. But thanks to Dak Prescott, one Black death row inmate may avoid his death sentence.

The Julius Jones case has captured the attention of celebrities, athletes, and countless other people all over the world. Viola Davis produced a documentary series called The Last Defense that covered the controversial case surrounding the 1999 murder of Paul Howell, a white businessman from Edmond, Okla.

Though Jones has maintained his innocence, he got convicted of 1st-degree murder in 2002 and got sentenced to death. Many have suggested racial bias and a flawed investigation resulted in Jones landing behind bars.

Stuck on death row for nearly t2decades, his story has drawn the attention of several star athletes. Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Trae Young, and Buddy Hield have all written letters on Jones’ behalf. Westbrook’s letter to the Oklahoma governor’s office shed light on the issues at hand. (H/T ESPN)

“[Jones’] conviction was tainted by a deeply flawed process. As more details come to light regarding his situation, I join with many voices to express sadness and profound concern regarding his conviction and death sentence.”

With support from high-profile figures like Baker Mayfield and even Kim Kardashian, the Julius Jones case has become a hot-button topic that involves many issues like race, the death penalty, and criminal justice reform.

Dak Prescott often lets his play do the talking. But with a man’s life on the line, the Cowboys quarterback put pen to paper to make a concerted effort to save Julius Jones. According to Time, Prescott sent a letter to Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board advocating for Jones’ release.

“Current events are shining a much-needed light on deep-seated prejudices and systemic mistreatment of black people, and it is my sincere hope that the cultural movements of today will lead to significant social changes that will create a better tomorrow,” writes Prescott, 27, who is entering his 5th NFL season. “To that end, you all are in the unique position of being able to make a direct impact by addressing a specific miscarriage of justice.”

At one time, athletes may not have felt comfortable speaking publicly on such a divisive issue. After all, when it comes to the death penalty and criminal justice system, advocates on both sides of the fence carry strong beliefs. However, today’s athletes wield tremendous influence in the social media age.

Plus, the Black Lives Matter movement has inspired athletes like Prescott to use their platform to make a difference in the world. The Cowboys signal-caller sent a crystal-clear message about what he believes needs to happen in order to give Julius Jones justice.

“I firmly believe the wrong person is being punished for this terrible crime; furthermore, an evaluation of the process that led to Mr. Jones’ conviction raises serious legal and ethical concerns.

I implore you to right this wrong. Please don’t let another innocent black man die from the systemic mistreatment that has plagued our nation for far too long.”

Dak Prescott’s letter on behalf of Julius Jones demonstrates why he garners tremendous respect from his teammates. Despite entering the league as a 4th-round pick, Prescott showed right away that he had the mental maturity and football intelligence to handle the pressure of playing in Dallas.

Though he has not experienced much playoff success, the two-time Pro Bowler has posted a 40-24 record. Prescott has never missed a game in four seasons. He certainly has far fewer off-field incidents than his highly-paid teammate, Ezekiel Elliott.

Despite far outplaying his draft status and rookie contract, the Cowboys did not sign their star quarterback to a long-term contract. Jerry Jones failed to lock up Prescott this offseason, but that should change sooner than later.

With a deep cast of receivers at his disposal, Prescott should shatter his previous career-highs in 2020. That should set him up for a huge payday next offseason. Only time will tell whether the Cowboys open up their wallet to make Dak Prescott a long-term fixture in Dallas. If not, expect the 27-year-old to break the bank elsewhere.



Judge declines to hold Utah County’s top prosecutor in contempt over Facebook video in death penalty case ---- Bill for outside legal representation for Utah County Attorney David Leavitt t about $85,700

A judge in Provo has declined to hold Utah County’s top prosecutor in contempt over video of an old news conference that remained on his official Facebook page following a gag order for attorneys in a high-profile, double-murder case.

Fourth District Judge Derek Pullan issued the written ruling Friday, dealing a blow to defense lawyers who raised the contempt allegation against Utah County Attorney David Leavitt.

As punishment, they sought to have the death penalty taken off the table for Jerrod Baum, accused of slitting the throats of teen couple Riley Powell and Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson in 2018 and dumping their bodies in an abandoned mine shaft.

Pullan wrote that he “cannot find by clear and convincing evidence that it was the conscious objective” of Leavitt to violate the order. Even if Leavitt had purposely flouted the gag order, Pullan continued, Baum’s lawyers didn’t show that a prohibition on the death penalty was needed to address the harm.

Attorneys for Baum did not immediately provide comment.

In July 2019, Leavitt announced he would allow a jury to decide whether Baum, if convicted, should face the death penalty. In responding to a reporter’s question, he said his office believed a star witness in the case “based on a lot of evidence that the jury will never hear.”

In response to the comment, Pullan ordered attorneys in the case to adhere to a professional standard prohibiting them from giving out new information that could prejudice a jury, while still allowing them to make some statements.

Baum’s defense attorneys alleged Leavitt violated the order by failing to take down Facebook video of the July news conference until months later.

Although Leavitt delegated the handling of social media, he is the one who runs the office, defense attorney Mike Brown argued last month. Brown argued that taking the death penalty off the table is the most appropriate remedy.

Leavitt countered that he believed his office had already hidden the video from the public and was surprised to learn it was still there months later. He said he “walled” himself off from the case following the gag order and had an employee oversee it instead.

Pullan wrote in his ruling that Utah County is home to more than 600,000, but just 422 people watched the video on Leavitt’s Facebook page. Even if each was somehow summoned for jury duty in the case, bias could be rooted out by questioning the potential jurors about whether they saw the video and if so, about whether the footage influenced them, Pullan wrote.

The judge initially closed the July contempt hearing to the public at the request of defense attorneys, who said further publicity would threaten Baum’s right to a fair trial. But Pullan later reversed course after allowing attorneys for the Deseret News to intervene. The newspaper argued Baum’s attorneys hadn’t been specific enough about the harm publicity would do and noted there are several tools, like the questionnaires, to seat a fair jury.

Leavitt told the Deseret News on Monday he does not believe his behavior violated a set of ethics standards for attorneys. He said the contempt proceeding wasn’t needed and could have been settled with a call from Baum’s defense team.

“Like I said from the beginning, it was an incomplete pass, not an interception,” Leavitt said.

The bill for his representation from an outside law firm totaled about $85,700, according to invoices Leavitt provided Monday. He said the high cost reflected the obscure legal issues and the volume of research they required.

His office drew a contract with the private firm Clyde Snow because state law prohibits prosecutors from also providing criminal defense, Leavitt said. Defense attorneys had raised the contempt allegation as a criminal matter. They later sought the civil remedy of no death penalty but by that point, Leavitt’s office had already hired the firm, he said.

(source: Deseret News)


1st San Quentin guard, 4th death row inmate from Sacramento dies from COVID-19

California correctional officials announced two deaths related to a massive coronavirus outbreak at San Quentin State Prison: The first prison guard to die of COVID-19 and the fourth inmate condemned from Sacramento County to die since early July.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Sgt. Gilbert Polanco, an Army veteran and guard at the facility since 1988, had died. He had been hospitalized since July 3 with the virus. In total, 261 workers at San Quentin have been infected with COVID-19, but Polanco’s death was the first among the Marin County facility’s staff.

“Sergeant Gilbert Polanco is an example of the best of CDCR and his passing deeply saddens us all,” CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz said in a statement Sunday. “His dedication to public service will not be forgotten.”

Since the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 were identified earlier this year, more than 1,975 prison staff within CDCR have contracted the virus. While 928 have recovered, CDCR’s tally notes, Palanco was the ninth CDCR employee to succumb to the virus.

Acting San Quentin Warden Ron Broomfield said “our hearts are broken” over the 55-year-old’s death.

“Sgt. Gilbert Polanco demonstrated unwavering commitment and bravery as a peace officer working the frontline every day during this devastating pandemic,” Broomfield said in a statement. “His memory is carried on in the hearts of all the men and women who continue to battle this deadly virus at San Quentin. We mourn together with his family and pray for their peace and comfort in the midst of their immeasurable loss.”

The Polanco family, including his son Vincent, recently home from a U.S. Army station in South Korea, told The Mercury News they had been hopeful for his recovery within the last few days. Doctors had started a plasma treatment and weaned him off steroids after he was intubated for several weeks. For the 1st time in 10 days, they were able to position him on his back, Polanco’s wife, Patricia Polanco, told The Mercury News.

But just before dawn Sunday morning, “his heart just stopped,” Selena Polanco, his 22-year-old daughter, told The Mercury News.

A GoFundMe campaign for Polanco, a San Jose native, and his family has raised nearly $70,000.

Inmates with Sacramento ties to die from the coronavirus

Also on Sunday, San Quentin inmate Pedro Arias, 58, died at an outside hospital from “what appears to be complications related to COVID-19,” the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced. Officials said a coroner will further determine the cause.

Arias is the 25th inmate there to die from COVID-19 complications amid an outbreak linked to the May transfer of 121 inmates from the California Institution for Men in Chino where an outbreak had taken hold. Some 25 tested positive for the virus after they arrived at San Quentin on May 30 and it spread from there. Weeks later, 3 inmates moved from San Quentin to California Correctional Center in Susanville likely sparking an outbreak there.

According to CDCR officials, Arias was sentenced to death in Sacramento County on Feb. 22, 1990, for 1st-degree murder and 2nd-degree robbery while armed with a firearm. He was also sentenced to life without parole for kidnapping for ransom/extortion, penetration with a foreign object, attempted sodomy, lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14, sodomy of a child under 14, 2 counts of forcible rape, 2nd-degree robbery and enhancements for the use of a firearm.

Arias, then 24, stabbed Herbert John Waltrip Jr., 22, while robbing a convenience store at 44th Street and Fruitridge Road on May 23, 1987. Waltrip, who worked at the store, died during emergency surgery.

13 days later, Arias, who lived on Lemon Hill Avenue, rammed the fender of a car on Highway 50, then kidnapped the driver at gunpoint when she stopped to exchange information with him. For about three hours, he drove with her around Sacramento and Yolo counties, alternately assaulting her and collecting cash from her accounts, according to previous Bee reporting.

The victim escaped by running into a hardware store as Arias stood in line at an ATM at Mack Road and Franklin Boulevard. Arias escaped in a stolen truck but was arrested after he rolled the truck over.

After a trial that included outbursts including him ripping off his clothes in the courtroom, Arias offered a statement of remorse at sentencing, but only after offering his opinion that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder and is a cruel and unusual punishment because of the waiting time between sentencing and execution. Arias spent 30 years on death row, which was halted in 2019 by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“I never intended to kill that man and I wish I never, never did that. The only person I owe an apology to is John Waltrip, and someday maybe I’ll be able to do that,” Arias said.

The number of inmates condemned is now 713.

Arias’ death follows 3 others on death row who were convicted in Sacramento County:

- Manuel Machado Alvarez, 59, died July 3. He was convicted more than 30 years ago for a May 1987 spree over 4 days in which he raped an 38-year-old woman, fatally stabbed a 35-year-old Sacramento Police Department identification technician while trying to rob him and injured a 78-year-old while stealing her car.

Alvarez, a native of Cuba, didn’t bat an eye as he was sentenced to death by Superior Court Judge Darrel W. Lewis for the death of Allen Ray Birkman at an ATM, according to previous Sacramento Bee reporting.

At the time of the crimes, Alvarez, who was 26, had been out on parole for after serving time for killing 1 man and stabbing another through the throat during a knife attack in Los Angeles County on Dec. 27, 1981. During his incarceration at trial, Alvarez also attacked 2 inmates at the Sacramento County Main Jail.

- Jeffrey Jay Hawkins, 64, died July 15. He was sentenced to death Jan. 31, 1990, after being convicted of 2 counts of 1st-degree murder with the use of a gun, and attempted 1st-degree murder with the use of a gun inflicting great bodily injury.

Hawkins had 7 prior felony convictions when he was convicted of killing John Robert Hedlund, 42, and Herman Alfonzo Hicks Jr., 39, in incidents 6 days apart.

- Troy Adam Ashmus, 58, died July 20. He had been on death row at San Quentin State Prison since September 1986 after he was convicted for the murder of a 7-year-old girl, according to Sacramento Bee archives.

He had already been serving a 6-year sentence for assault to commit a sex crime when prosecutors charged him with the 1984 slaying of Marcella Davis after attacking her at Santa Anita Park, raping her and then stuffing 2 wadded up plastic bags down her throat.

The then-22-year-old carnival worker lured the girl from the pond at Howe Avenue Park by offering to give her a baby duck. Earlier that same day, he attacked a jogger and dragged her into some bushes before fleeing when 2 men happened upon the scene.

Virus in state prison system

Among the more than 98,000 men and women incarcerated in state prisons in California as of Sunday, 8,780 have tested positive for the virus, including 52 who have died. More than 1,000 of those infections have been detected within the past 2 weeks.

The prison system reports that more than 1,300 inmates statewide currently have active COVID-19 infections, while more than 7,000 have recovered. Additionally, more than 300 inmates have been released from prison after fulfilling their sentence while still categorized with an active coronavirus infection.

Those releases don’t count thousands of other inmates released from custody to decompress the prison population. Under an initial round of releases in April, about 3,500 inmates who were within 60 days of their scheduled release — and not serving time for a violent crime — were set free.

In July, the system made additional releases. That included about 2,100 inmates whose awards of time off for good behavior moved up their release dates into July and 4,800 eligible inmates with six months or less left to serve.

The current statewide prison system population is down by more than 16,300 since March 11.

(source: The Sacramento Bee)


Cal Supreme Court Affirms Death Sentence of Man Who Murdered Family of 4

The California Supreme Court Monday upheld a death sentence handed down in 2005 for a man who murdered a neighboring family of 4, including a young girl and an elderly woman, at a home in unincorporated Whittier.

Alfonso Ignacio Morales was convicted on April 19, 2005, of fatally stabbing three adults, then sexually assaulting and drowning the 8-year-old daughter of 2 of the victims. Jurors also found true special circumstances allegations of multiple murders, torture, murder in the commission of a lewd act on a child, murder in the commission of sexual penetration by a foreign object and murder during a burglary.

Norwalk Superior Court Judge Michael Cowell subsequently followed the jury’s recommendation that Morales be executed for the slayings.

While taking note of Morales’ documented learning disabilities, the judge denied a motion to reduce the sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole, saying the “death penalty is warranted.”

Morales killed Miguel “Mike” Ruiz, 37; Ruiz’s common-law wife, Maritza Trejo, 41; their daughter, Jasmine Ruiz; and the father’s grandmother, 75-year-old Ana Martinez, in July 2002.

Trejo’s daughter, also named Maritza, but known by her middle name, Raquel, also lived in the home, but was sleeping at her uncle’s house on the night of the murders.

Morales, now 41, was tied to the crime by physical evidence including DNA on Jasmine’s body, shoe and palm prints found at the home, bloody clothes and knives found on Morales’ property, and fingerprints on goods stolen from the home, according to a summary provided in the court’s opinion.

His automatic appeal challenged the conviction on the basis of insufficient evidence of premeditation and deliberation. The court rejected that claim, citing evidence of planning, motive and manner of killing in various aspects of the crime sufficient to support premeditation and a deliberate intent to kill.

Morales’ attorneys also objected to the testimony of a crime scene reconstruction expert, who detailed the order and manner in which he believed the victims had been killed, starting with a surprise attack on Ruiz.

On cross-examination, defense counsel found that the expert — who had handled thousands of death investigations for the sheriff’s department — had no degrees in criminal forensics or science and had taken only one college-level science course. He made a single trip to the crime scene and had not viewed the bodies firsthand.

The justices found that the expert had sufficient on-the-job training and experience for the trial court to find him qualified to testify. The opinion also noted that the state’s high court only reverses a trial court’s decisions on admissibility if those decisions are deemed to be arbitrary and capricious, which it did not find to be the case here. Finally, it noted that the testimony at issue “did not add meaningfully to the picture already before the jury,” and was therefore harmless in any event.

The opinion also rejected defense arguments that autopsy photos and victim impact statements were overly prejudicial and inflammatory. More general arguments against California’s death penalty also failed to sway any of the California justices.

Morales was a family friend, who lived around the corner from the victims and visited Ruiz nearly every day, according to the court summary.

Deputy District Attorney Alva Lin said outside the courtroom that the slayings may have stemmed from a “dispute over money between Miguel Ruiz and the defendant.”

“There was also some evidence that the motivation was that the defendant was sexually interested in the young girl who was killed. And that may have been one of the motivating factors in this attack,” Lin told reporters.

The court summary said that either money or an incident with Trejo’s daughter Raquel, who shared a bedroom with her stepsister, could have provided a motive for the killings.

Morales had once asked Raquel, whose age was not disclosed in the court summary, to go out on a date with him. She told him “maybe,” but then avoided him.

“On his visits, Morales sometimes briefly interacted with Raquel and Jasmine, usually sharing just quick hellos. But on one occasion, Morales made Raquel uncomfortable by standing in the backyard, staring at her through her bedroom window, and asking her to come outside,” according to court documents.

After the incident, Ruiz asked Morales not to ask his stepdaughter out again, Morales told police. Morales apologized to Mike and his wife after the encounter and bought the family dinner.

The murders occurred sometime between the night of July 11, 2002, and the following morning. Very early on the morning of July 13, 2002, worried about not being able to reach her family, Raquel returned home with her aunt to find everything in disarray and blood and food smeared and spattered on the walls and floors.

The aunt discovered the 8-year-old girl’s body in a bathtub covered by a large statue of some sort, and the other slain relatives together in the grandmother’s bedroom.

Deputy District Attorney Phil Glaviano, who along with Lin prosecuted Morales, called the killings “very brutal.”

“Everyone in the house was killed very violently, and the girl was sexually assaulted,” he said outside the courtroom following sentencing.

Maritza, Ruiz’ wife, had been stabbed 31 times and cut another 14 times.

Along with the murders, Morales was convicted of 1 count each of f1st-degree robbery, first-degree burglary, committing a forcible lewd act upon a child and sexual penetration by a foreign object.

During the penalty phase, defense experts testified that Morales had a severe learning disability. Other witnesses said that after his father left the family, some of his mother’s partners were physically or verbally abusive to the boy, according to court documents.

Morales’ mother described him as a child in a man’s body who needed her help in simple tasks like filling out paperwork.


Court Affirms Death Sentence For OC Gang Member In El Monte Pool Hall Killings

The California Supreme Court Monday affirmed the death sentence of an Orange County gang member for the May 6, 1999, shooting deaths of 3 men and a woman at an El Monte pool hall.

In January 2003, a Pomona Superior Court jury found Anh The “Fat John” Duong, then 27, guilty of 3 counts of 1st-degree murder and 1 count of 2nd-degree murder.

Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders, which made the Garden Grove man eligible for the death penalty.

Superior Court Judge Robert Martinez sentenced Duong.

Killed at the now-closed International Club on Telstar Avenue were Minh Dieu Tram, 28, of West Covina; Hao The Tang, 22, of South El Monte; Robert Anthony Norman, 28, of Garden Grove; and Lan Thi Dang, 23, of Long Beach.

Authorities said the gunman argued with another man, then fired at least 9 rounds and fled.

A manager at the club, who was celebrating his birthday at a table with friends who were gang members, allegedly told police that the argument was over a girl, although the manager later denied saying so during trial testimony.

Duong was charged in March 2001 and arrested in July 2001 while playing basketball at a Costa Mesa fitness center. The case was profiled on the TV show “America’s Most Wanted.”

Duong was also a suspect in uncharged robbery shootings in San Jose and Fremont. In San Jose, the gunman fatally shot a supermarket employee who chased after him as Duong allegedly ran with a bag of $300,000. An employee was also killed in the Fremont shooting while the suspect was driving away from the scene.

The defendant’s girlfriend, who was granted immunity by prosecutors, testified about a third, non-fatal shooting of a security guard during a failed attempt to rob a Newport Beach jewelry store. The girlfriend also told authorities about the killing of a security guard at a Cupertino jewelry store.

Duong was indicted in October 2001 for the El Monte murders.

On appeal, Duong’s defense attorneys argued that he should have been granted a change of venue given media coverage of the various shootings and the “America’s Most Wanted” episode.

The California Supreme Court rejected that argument, saying the media coverage was not “sensational and extensive” and noting that only 10 of the 142 potential jurors — and none of the 12 selected — reported seeing any news stories about the case. 2 of 5 alternate jurors did see such stories, though it was not clear whether they were called to deliver the verdict.

The defendant also argued that he was misled about whether he should testify in his own defense.

Defense counsel told the trial court judge that Duong would testify that he shot Tram in defense of another person, then accidentally shot the other 3 victims while he and a co-owner of the club struggled over the gun. Prosecutors said they would then cross-examine the defendant about the 4 uncharged shootings they believed he had committed.

The defense argued that those shootings were irrelevant because they involved robberies, unlike this incident, and asked the judge to make a tentative ruling on the issue before their client took the stand.

The judge said he would allow evidence about the 1997 San Jose robbery and 1998 Fremont robbery — Duong was alleged to have killed 1 person in each incident — but exclude the other 2 robberies where Duong’s status as the shooter was unclear. Duong decided not to take the stand.

The California Supreme Court ruled that Duong’s decision not to do so was knowing, intelligent and voluntary, and he should have understood that he could not appeal the trial judge’s ruling unless he testified at trial.

In affirming the death sentence, the court also found other arguments, including that Duong’s gang membership should not have been admissible, unconvincing.

While jailed in September 2001, awaiting trial, Duong slashed his arm with a shank in what he said was a suicide attempt.

In arguing for the death penalty, the prosecutor reminded the jury how Duong had manipulated his girlfriend to do his bidding.

“Is that the conduct of a man that in any way will ever, ever be anything but a threat to other people?” the prosecutor asked. “Do you think just because he has (life in prison without the possibility of parole) that his conduct will ever change, that he will not be a danger?”

(source for both:


Feds push off appeal of ruling that threw out death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Federal prosecutors said Monday they need another month to decide whether to ask an appeals court to reconsider its decision to throw out the death sentence against Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The Justice Department has asked the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to give prosecutors until Sept. 14 to file a petition asking the full court to hear the case. The current deadline to file a petition expires Friday.

“The process of determining whether to seek further review takes time, particularly in a case of this magnitude, because it requires input from various components within the Department of Justice. Additional time is needed to make the decision in this case,” DOJ attorney William Glaser wrote in a court filing.

The solicitor general will decide on the extension, according to Glaser. Tsarnaev’s lawyers did not object, according to the filing.

Prosecutors could be buying time to appeal directly to the Supreme Court, where they are likely to earn a favorable ruling faster. Legal expert Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center said last week the high court “has been much more pro-prosecution.”

A jury convicted Tsarnaev in 2015 on 30 counts, including using a weapon of mass destruction and bombing a public place, for the 2013 bombing that killed three people and injured 260 more — something his lawyers did not debate. Tsarnaev was subsequently sentenced to death.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court last month threw out Tsarnaev’s death sentence, saying a district court judge erred when he did not adequately screen jurors for potential biases and ordered a new penalty-phase trial with a new jury that will determine whether or not Tsarnaev should be executed.

The judges’ decision upheld the majority of charges, ensuring the 27-year-old will be behind bars for life whether or not prosecutors pursue the death penalty again.

(source: Boston Herald)


The federal government is on a stomach-turning execution spree

The federal government went on an execution spree last month, killing 3 prisoners in one week. Federal officials had not carried out a death sentence since 2003. Two more federal executions are scheduled for next month.

“With these executions, the federal government has joined the small minority of jurisdictions that conduct executions and the even smaller number of jurisdictions that are willing to pursue them in the midst of the worst global pandemic in generations,” the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks death penalty policies and their application across the country, found. “The resumption of executions along with the government’s disregard for procedural protections and established norms firmly place it in the ‘outlier’ category at a time when support for capital punishment is at a historic low.”

Daniel Lewis Lee was the first man the federal government put to death last month. His family begged federal authorities at least to delay the execution because they could not attend for fear of catching covid-19. The family’s wishes were ignored. Religious advisers for Wesley Purkey and Dustin Honken, the 2 men executed after Mr. Lee, similarly had to consider whether to put themselves or others at risk to be present.

These men were convicted of serious crimes. There have been executions in the United States in cases that were less certain and in circumstances that were more disturbing. What is particularly stomach-turning in this case is the eagerness federal officials showed in carrying out the sentences. Attorney General William P. Barr’s original plan was to execute five people over 6 weeks starting last December. Litigation only delayed that plan, and the coronavirus did not deter the executioners. No matter what happened, the prisoners were going to spend the rest of their lives in prison. There was no need to rush the inmates onto their gurneys.

The executions provide another reminder of the skewed priorities of the Trump Justice Department. We’ve been reminded, in a summer of police abuse and nationwide protest, that one of the administration’s first acts was to diminish the oversight of state and local police departments. But the zeal to execute burns brightly.

The death penalty is ineffective and immoral. We look forward to a day when the Justice Department again assumes a mission truer to its name.

(source: Editorial Board, Washington Post)


Protester Accused of Killing Soldier Executed----Lack of Due Process, Prisoners on Death Row

Iranian authorities executed a man convicted of killing a security officer during protests in December 2017 and January 2018 in Isfahan, Human Rights Watch said today. At least 5 other people have been arrested for alleged acts of destruction of public property in Isfahan province during the same time and are on death row despite serious due process flaws in their judicial proceedings.

On August 5, 2020, Mizannews, the judiciary’s news agency, announced the execution of Mostafa Salehi, who was convicted of shooting Sajjad Shahsanaei, a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), during protests in Kahrizsang, a small town in Isfahan Province, on January 1, 2018. The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting agency (IRIB) said that witnesses had reconstructed the scene of the shooting in the presence of the accused, but there has been little information about whether Salehi had access to legal counsel and was tried under fair legal standards.

“Iranian authorities execute people without due process while failing to investigate serious allegations of authorities’ excessive use of force against protestors,” said Tara Sepehri Far, Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Iran should immediately halt all executions, grant the accused a fair and transparent judicial process, and prioritize a comprehensive investigation into the killings of hundreds of protesters over the past 2 years.”

The Iranian judicial system has a record of deeply flawed trials, depriving those accused of national security crimes of fair proceedings and trial. A Human Rights Watch review of the verdicts for five other people on death row in Isfahan showed that their trials were marred by similar violations.

On September 26, 2018, Mohammadreza Tavakoli, the Najafabad county prosecutor, told reporters that security forces had arrested the person responsible for killing Shahsanaei. He said that the accused has not confessed to the alleged crime and claimed, without providing any evidence, that the accused had contacts with foreign intelligence. IRIB news agency reported that the trial opened at Branch 1 of Isfahan’s criminal court on February 17, 2019.

In a separate case from the protests during December 2017 and January 2018 in Isfahan province, Branch 2 of Isfahan’s revolutionary court tried 13 people for their alleged roles in protests in the city of Khomeini Shahr, and then sentenced 5 of them to death. Branch 19 of Iran’s supreme court upheld these sentences on May 13, 2020, in a verdict reviewed by Human Rights Watch. The revolutionary court had brought 14 charges against the defendants, including 8 accounts of vaguely defined national security charges such as “corruption on earth,” moharebeh (enmity against God), and baghi (armed rebellion) through the use of firearms.

The prosecutor accused the defendants of destroying public property including setting a bank on fire. The defendants appear to be acquaintances of Asghar Haroon al-Rashidi, a man killed by a bullet during the protests in Khomeini Shahr.

The court sentenced Mehdi Salehi, Mohammad Bastami, Majid Nazari, Hadi Kiani, and Abbas Mohammadi to death on charges of armed rebellion and enmity against God through the use of firearms, and to 5 years in prison on the charge of corruption on earth through disrupting public and private security. The court sentenced the other 8 defendants to imprisonment and flogging.

The verdict, which includes several statements by defendants incriminating each other, fails to ultimately attribute responsibility for the commission of a specific crime to each defendant individually.

Security forces have responded to widespread protests over the past 3 years with excessive use of force and mass arrests of protesters, and they have failed to conduct any transparent investigations into protesters’ deaths. The former spokesperson for the judiciary said that 25 people were killed during the protests in December 2017 and January 2018.

In the most recent example, the authorities used excessive and unlawful lethal force in confronting large-scale protests that began on November 15, 2019. According to Amnesty International, at least 304 people were killed during the protests. On June 1, Mojtaba Zonoor, the head of Iran’s parliamentary national security committee, said that 230 people had been killed during the protests. The authorities have not published any detailed investigation or held anyone accountable for their alleged abuses.

In February 2020, Branch 15 of Tehran’s revolutionary court also sentenced to death Amirhossein Moradi, Saeed Tamjidi, and Mohammad Rajabi, three young men who were arrested after participating in the November 2019 protests, on charges of “taking part in destruction and burning, aimed at countering the Islamic Republic of Iran.” In July, the Supreme Court upheld their sentences, while lawyers had difficulty accessing the court documents and their defendants. On July 10, lawyers representing the three announced that the judiciary had halted their executions and accepted their pleas for a new trial.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because it is inherently cruel and irreversible.

Under international human rights law, everyone has the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as provided under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a party.

International law guarantees anyone accused of a crime access to a lawyer at all stages of criminal proceedings, including during the investigation, the pretrial proceedings, and during the trial itself. Under Article 1 of the United Nations basic principles on the role of a lawyer, “All persons are entitled to call upon the assistance of a lawyer of their choice to protect and establish their rights and to defend them in all stages of criminal proceedings.”

Under the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, law enforcement officers may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required to achieve a legitimate policing objective. When using force, law enforcement officers should minimize damage and injury and respect and preserve human life. The deliberate use of lethal force is permissible only when it is strictly necessary to protect life.

“International actors, including the European Union, should pressure Iran to stop these executions immediately and instead open a comprehensive inquiry into the killing of hundreds during these protests,” Sepehri Far said.

(source: Human Rights Watch)


Prisoner Executed at Sanandaj Prison, Another Due to be Executed Tomorrow Morning

A prisoner sentenced to qisas (retribution in-kind) for murder was executed at Sanandaj Central Prison. Another prisoner was returned to his cell after managing to get a last-minute extension on his sentence and a 3rd is due to be executed tomorrow morning.

According to Iran Human Rights (IHR), a prisoner was executed in Sanandaj Central Prison this morning, August 10. His identity has been established as 43-year-old Keyvan Rezagholi, a Sanandaj native.

An informed source told IHR that "Keyvan has been in prison since February 2016."

According to HRANA news agency, which first published the news, Keyvan was arrested for murdering a friend and ultimately sentenced to death.

At the time of publication, the execution of Keyvan Rezagholi has not been announced by the domestic media or officials in Iran.

Also today, 2 other prisoners who had been sentenced to death on similar charges went to the gallows, one of whom was returned to his cell after he managed to get a last-minute extension from the family of the victims and a 3rd prisoner, Fayegh Ahmadi, remained in solitary confinement. According to some, Fayegh Ahmadi's sentence is due to be carried out tomorrow morning, August 11.

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 (mens rea) and the circumstances.



The case of Jamshid Sharmahd. The kidnapping of Iranian dissidents is becoming a regular occurrence.

Failure by the international community to respond adequately to these unlawful acts will lead to its normalisation/legitimisation. The kidnapping of Jamshid Sharmahd, an Iranian-German citizen from neighbouring soil is the latest case in this trend. He has been accused by state media outlets of being involved in several "terrorist operations". Noting that there are no standards of a fair trial in the Islamic Republic, that the state’s interrogation apparatus is based on extracting false confessions under torture and that the death penalty is widely used, Iran Human Rights calls on the international community to intervene to save the life Sharmahd and to prevent further kidnappings of dissidents.

IHR Director, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, said: "The German government has a responsibility to protect Jamshid Sharmahd’s life, like its other citizens and must take every necessary step to save his life. If Jamshid Sharmahd has committed any crimes, he deserves the right to due process and a fair trial in a jurisdiction free of torture and execution. Should state kidnappings go unpunished, we will see an increase in such unlawful acts, which are contrary to international laws.” On August 1, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence issued a statement announcing the arrest of Jamshid Sharmahd, "the head of Tondar group, following a complex operation."

Tondar Media is the broadcasting platform for “Kingdom Assembly of Iran”, which is considered an opposition group to the Islamic Republic. Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence has called the assembly a “terrorist” organisation. In a television program aired on Saturday, August 1st, the Minister of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Alavi, claimed that Sharmahd had been arrested in Iran.

However, in an interview with Iran International TV, Jamshid Sharmahd's children said that their father had been abducted in the United Arab Emirates. Jamshid Sharmahd is a German citizen who has lived in the United States for some time. Arresting political dissidents outside of Iran is not unprecedented. Ruhollah Zam, the director of Amad News Telegram channel, was arrested in Iraq in October 2019 and transported to Iran. A political refugee living in France, he was recently sentenced to death in the court of the first instance.



Senior Police, army officials face death over espionage----The Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) arrested the group in May on allegations that they shared classified information relating to their operations with sources who in turn shared the said information with Rwandan intelligence.

7 senior security officers from the Uganda Police Force and Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) could face death if convicted over sharing classified information to Rwandan Authorities.

Second Lieutenant (2Lt) Phillip Neville Ankunda 30, a pilot attached to the Special Forces Command (SFC) Headquarters and an officer of the UPDF Regular Forces and 2Lt Alex Kasamula 31, are charged with offences related to security.

The charges contravene section 130 (1) (f) of the UPDF Act, 2005 and elicit to a maximum penalty of death, upon conviction.

The duo is charged alongside, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), Benon Akandwanaho 31, a Community Liaison officer attached to Kiira Police Headquarters and ASP Frank Sabiiti, 34, attached to Counter Terrorism Police at Mutukula Boarder post.

Others are Privates (Pte) Samuel Nathan Ndwaine, 27, Moses Asiimwe Makobore, 25, and Godfrey Mugabi, 27, all attached to Air Force Wing Nakasongola as students of Flight Engineering and Aircraft Maintenance.

General Court Martial (GCM) Chairman, Lt. Gen Andrew Gutti read them the charges, to which they denied.

The suspects will be liable to suffer death, if convicted.

The prosecution led by Maj Raphael Mugisha, Maj Samuel Masereje and Capt Ambrose Baguma requested the court to adjourn the case to enable them complete inquiries.

"Investigations are still ongoing, we request court to adjourn the case to enable us complete the same," Mugisha said.

The defence led Maj Silas Kamanda Mutungi did not object to the prosecution entreaty, prompting court to adjourn the case.

"Since the defence raises no objection, the accused are hereby remanded to the Military Police Quarter Guard at Makindye Barracks, until August 31, 2020 when they will return for mention of their case," Gutti ruled.

The arrest

The Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) arrested the group in May on allegations that they shared classified information relating to their operations with sources who in turn shared the said information with Rwandan intelligence.

The charge

Prosecution Purports that between February and May 2020, while at various places in Kampala district, Sabiiti, Akandwanaho, Ankunda, Kasamula, Ndwaine, Asiimwe, Mugabi and others still at large, shared sensitive information with agents of Rwandan authorities with intent to prejudice the security of the Defence Forces.



Nigerian singer sentenced to death for blasphemy in Kano state

A musician in Nigeria's northern state of Kano has been sentenced to death by hanging for blaspheming against the Prophet Muhammad.

An upper Sharia court in the Hausawa Filin Hockey area of the state said Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, 22, was guilty of committing blasphemy for a song he circulated via WhatsApp in March.

Mr Sharif-Aminu did not deny the charges.

Judge Khadi Aliyu Muhammad Kani said he could appeal against the verdict.

States across Muslim-majority northern Nigeria use both secular law and Sharia law, which does not apply to non-Muslims.

Only 1 of the death sentences passed by Nigeria's Sharia courts has been carried out since they were reintroduced in 1999.

The singer who is currently in detention, had gone into hiding after he composed the song.

Protestors had burnt down his family home and gathered outside the headquarters of the Islamic police, known as the Hisbah, demanding action against him.

The Islamic police had appealed for people not to take the law in to their own hands after the song was released.

Critics said the song was blasphemous as it praised an imam from the Tijaniya Muslim brotherhood to the extent it elevated him above the Prophet Muhammad.

'Judgement will serve as deterrent to others'

The leader of the protesters that called for the musician's arrest in March, Idris Ibrahim, told the BBC that the judgement will serve as a warning to others "contemplating toeing Yahaya's path"."When I heard about the judgment I was so happy because it showed our protest wasn't in vain.

"This [judgement] will serve as a deterrent to others who feel they could insult our religion or prophet and go scot-free," he said.

Who is Yahaya Sharif-Aminu?

Few people had heard of him before his arrest in March.

An Islamic gospel musician, he is not well-known in northern Nigeria and his songs were not popular outside his Tjjaniya sect, who have many such musicians within their ranks.

How common are death sentences in Sharia courts?

There have been several sentences passed, including for women convicted of having extramarital sex - cases which have caused widespread condemnation.

But only 1 has been carried out, according to Human Rights Watch - a man convicted of killing a woman and her two children who was hanged in 2002.

The last time a Nigerian Sharia court passed a death sentence was in 2016 when Abdulazeez Inyass, was sentenced to death for blaspheming against Islam during after a secret trial in Kano.

He was alleged to have said that Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse, the Senegalese founder of the Tijaniya sect, which has a large following across West Africa, "was bigger than Prophet Muhammad".

The sentence has not been carried out as a death penalty in Nigeria requires the sign-off of the state governor.

Mr Inyass is still in detention.

12 states in Nigeria's Muslim-dominated north operate the Sharia system of justice, but only Muslims can be tried in its courts.

The Sharia system, which also has its own Court of Appeal, handles both civil and criminal matters involving Muslims and its judgements can also be challenged in Nigeria's secular Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

The Sharia judges, known as alkalis, are learned in both Islamic and secular laws.

If a case involves a Muslim and a non-Muslim, the non-Muslim has the option of choosing where they want the case to be tried. The Sharia court can only hear the case if the non-Muslim gives written consent.

Sentences handed down by the courts include floggings, amputations and the death penalty.

(source: BBC News)


Muslim Songwriter Facing Death Penalty for Blasphemy Revives Bitter Debate in Nigeria

Death sentences are rare in northern Nigeria where Sharia law is implemented alongside secular law in most states.

But the recent sentence of a 22-year-old singer to die by hanging has revived an emotional debate in the West African nation. An upper Sharia court in the Hausawa Filin Hockey area of Kano state ruled on August 10 that Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, 22, should die by hanging for the crime of blasphemy for a song he circulated via WhatsApp in March.

Sharif-Aminu allegedly blasphemed the Prophet Muhammad in a song praising an imam to the extent that it elevated him above the Holy Prophet. The song was viewed as completely acceptable by some fellow followers of the Tijaniya Muslim brotherhood.

Offended members of the community took to the streets and burned down the singer’s family home. Marching to Islamic police headquarters, known as the Hisbah, they demanded action against him.

Even the singer’s father, Aminu Sharif, disowned him. “Blasphemy is not my ideology, he said, “and I promise to arrest (my son) and hand him over to security agents whenever he is found.”

Not all Nigerians – Muslim or others – agree with the harsh sentence however and they filled the online pages of the Premium Times, a Nigerian news outlet, appealing for compassion and the rule of law.

“Lawyers in the house, please, under which section of the Penal Code will the guy be charged by police?” asked Unite2013. Added Blessing Ekpere Ogbu: “One country, 2 systems. What happens to those criminals who burnt the house of a citizen? What are the security agencies doing about that?”

And at the recent 6th Annual Legal Workshop organized by the Nigeria Association of Muslim Law Students, Lagos State University, guest speaker Akin Ibidapo-Obe, called for the abolition of death penalty in Nigeria, saying it was abused by the powers that be “to advance their hegemony over their enemies.”

More than 2,000 people sit on death row in Nigeria, according to Amnesty International. Sentences include stoning, shooting and lethal injection.

Governors must sign off on the executions, which happen behind closed doors. Some quietly disagree with the punishments or fear public backlash so they avoid the signatures, letting the accused exhaust their chance at an appeal and languish in prison for years.

Also sitting on death row is Maryam Sanda, a mother of three, for allegedly stabbing her husband over infidelity. A petition to reverse the sentence can be found on where over 800 have now signed.

(source: indepthnews.met)


Philippine bishops urge rethink on death penalty revival

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has urged lawmakers not to back President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest bid to revive the death penalty for heinous crimes.

Duterte’s allies in Congress have begun deliberating whether to revive the death penalty less than two weeks after the president said he wanted to reinstate capital punishment in his State of the Nation Address.

Lawmaker Martin Romualdez told reporters that “thorough debates” would be conducted by fellow lawmakers to “possibly” sentence drug convicts together with criminals guilty of heinous crimes such as rape and murder.

Another lawmaker, Robert Ace Barbers, said death penalty critics must focus on the rights of victims not just criminals.

“Unfortunately, while they [critics] talk about the human rights of offenders, they remarkably skip talking about and defending the human rights of the victims,” he said in a statement.

However, Philippine bishops disagreed, saying the death penalty is against the dignity of a person, no matter how evil a criminal was thought to be.

“The death penalty violates the inherent dignity of a person, which is not lost despite the commission of a crime. No person, no matter how evil … is beyond reformation,” said the bishops in their Aug. 6 statement.

The bishops also reminded churchgoers of Pope Francis’ letter to all the world’s bishops in which he told them that capital punishment was not a tool for justice but for vengeance.

“Pope Francis has clearly and unequivocally exhorted … capital punishment is an offense against the inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person ... and does not render justice to the victims but rather fosters vengeance,” the bishops said.

The bishops also said local and international studies have found no proof that the death penalty deters crime.

“On the contrary, a 2009 study found out that the consensus among criminologists is that the death penalty does not add any significant deterrent effect above that of long-term imprisonment,” said the bishops.

The prelates also said true justice is restorative rather than punitive in nature.

“The death sentence is irrevocable; once carried out, there is no possibility for rectifying an erroneous judgment by an imperfect system. With the death penalty, justice is nothing but punishment. But true justice is restorative, never merely punitive. It gives the person the chance to change, no matter how slim the chance may be.”

On a final note, the bishops highlighted a reality in Philippine society, saying the death penalty was anti-poor because only the rich could afford prominent lawyers for their defense.

“The death penalty is tilted against the most vulnerable sectors of society, the marginalized and the poor. Experience shows that most, if not all, persons meted the death penalty are the poor and uneducated who cannot afford prominent lawyers to defend them.”



Philippines Bishops explain opposition to death penalty

In a statement issued at the beginning of August, the Bishops of the Philippines reiterate their opposition to the reintroduction of the death penalty in their country.

The Bishops of the Philippines are once again voicing their “strong opposition” to the reintroduction of capital punishment in the nation.

Capital punishment in the Philippines

The death penalty was a legal punishment in the Philippines for much of the country’s history. After the fall of the Ferdinand Marcos regime in the 1980s, a moratorium on capital punishment was imposed, but executions resumed in 1999. The practice was outlawed in 2006.

The current president, Rodrigo Duterte, has campaigned for the restoration of the death penalty, and polls suggest many Filipinos support his position. Several bills have been revived in the Senate seeking to restore capital punishment.

Reasons for opposition

In a statement issued last week by the Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP-ECPPC), the Bishops argue that “the death penalty violates the inherent dignity of a person, which is not lost despite the commission of a crime.” They cite Pope Francis, who has said “that capital punishment is an offence ‘against the inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person, which contradicts God’s plan for man and society’ and ‘does not render justice to the victims, but rather fosters vengeance.’”

In addition, they point out that the death sentence is irrevocable, thus leaving no possibility for correcting errors that could occur in an imperfect justice system. For the same reason, it does not give the offender an opportunity to change. “But true justice is restorative,” they say, “never merely punitive.” Punishment should offer the opportunity for amendment.

Further, they argue that capital punishment is unfairly applied to “the most vulnerable sectors of society, the marginalized and the poor.”

The Bishops also note that the Philippines has made international commitments not to re-impose the death penalty. “Reviving it,” they say, “will go against this commitment and will put our country in a bad light insofar as our standing in the community of nations is concerned.”

Alternatives to re-imposing the death penalty

Instead of attempting to restore the death penalty, the Bishops call on Congress to focus its attention on working out a comprehensive response to the Covid-19 pandemic; to reforming the judicial and correctional systems; and to stamp out corruption in the various correctional institutions.

“Trusting in the help of our merciful God,” the Bishops write, “we at the CBCP-ECPPC are ready to dialogue with our legislators to explore with them ways and means to improve our criminal justice system and our ways of treating PDLs (persons deprived of liberty).”

They end their statement with the call, “Together let us stand for life and heal as one!”

(source: Vatican News)


Man on trial for murdering elderly father had schizophrenia, choked him in front of paramedics----Tan Kok Meng, 46, strangled his father in their Bedok North flat in 2015 as helpless paramedics watched.

When paramedics arrived at a Bedok North flat in 2015, they found 75-year-old Tan Ah Hin on the ground with a slow and weak heartbeat.

His son, Tan Kok Meng, was covered in dried blood, and later strangled the older man for a minute or 2 as the helpless paramedics watched.

The older Tan later died in hospital.

Tan Kok Meng, 46, began standing trial in the High Court on Tuesday (Aug 11) for killing his father. He faces a murder charge, which carries the death penalty or life imprisonment.

He is accused of strangling his father and inflicting multiple blows on the older man’s face on Nov 13, 2015.

Both the prosecution and the younger Tan’s defence lawyers agreed that he was suffering from schizophrenia at that time.

To convict someone of a criminal offence, the court must establish that he had the intention to commit it and took physical actions that led to it.

If Justice Valerie Thean finds that Tan had caused the death of his father — which is the prosecution’s case — but acquits him because he was of unsound mind, prosecutors will apply for Tan to be kept in safe custody.

This is pending an order from a government minister for him to be confined to a psychiatric institution, prison or other suitable places at the President’s discretion under the Criminal Procedure Code.

Prosecutors will call upon 48 witnesses to prove Tan had strangled and assaulted his father.

These include paramedics at the scene when the older man was still alive as well as the family’s relatives and neighbours.

Two forensic psychiatrists from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), who examined Tan and diagnosed him with schizophrenia, will also give testimony.

Dr Cheow Enquan, an associate consultant at IMH, wrote in a 2018 psychiatric report that the man had also been in a state of acute drug intoxication after taking methamphetamine, a controlled drug.

He will testify that the younger Tan was likely experiencing “severe psychiatric symptoms with disorganised behaviour” due to his mental disorder, which was worsened by drug use.


At the time of the offence, Tan was unemployed and lived with his parents.

When his mother — identified only as Madam Toh — returned home around 5.15pm on Nov 13, 2015, she found her husband lying face up on the ground. She had left him alone in their flat with Tan.

Tan was sitting on a sofa near his father and did not respond when she asked him what happened.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Daphne Lim told the court that Mdm Toh will testify that her son was “not his usual self” that day.

As he looked dazed in the days prior to the incident and paced their flat, she did not want him to leave, hiding the home keys from him and asking her husband to do likewise.

DPP Lim said Mdm Toh will also testify to seeing her husband “breathing heavily” with a pool of blood under his head, before she left to get help.

1 of 2 neighbours who came over saw the older Tan lying on the ground gasping for air, while the other saw the younger man’s hands and legs covered in dried blood.

Mdm Toh, who had returned by now, shouted at her son and asked why he had killed his father, DPP Lim said.

“At that juncture, the accused walked towards the deceased, sat on his abdomen and placed his hands on the deceased’s upper chest, just below the deceased’s throat.

“Mdm Toh then pulled the accused away from the deceased,” added DPP Lim.


Ms Zaneta Lee, one of three paramedics who arrived shortly afterwards, testified in court on Tuesday.

Ms Lee, who was a qualified medic then and is now a nursing student, said that she asked the younger Tan if he was okay as he appeared dazed.

He was “staring at a distance” at his father, she said.

When the paramedics checked the older man, his heartbeat was slow and weak, and he was making “snoring-like sounds”.

She assessed that he had a severe head injury, as the back of his head was soft to the touch, and both his eyes were swollen and bruised.

Inferring that his airway was obstructed, she inserted a device into his mouth.

At that point, the younger Tan suddenly stood up and told the paramedics in Mandarin and with hand gestures to move away.

They complied as he was glaring at them and “fixated on the deceased”, Ms Lee said.

He then strangled his father for “approximately one to two minutes”. Ms Lee shouted at him to move away — to no avail.

He continued strangling his father while mumbling “I want him to die” in Mandarin.

DPP Lim asked Ms Lee why she and her colleagues did not pull him away.

In response, Ms Lee said they did not know if he had weapons or what he could do to them.

The police arrived soon afterwards and arrested the man.

Tan told the officers that he had had a “strained relationship” with his father for some time and that he had hit his father with his bare hands that day.

He also told an investigating officer that his father had called him a “good for nothing”, before he punched the older man in the face repeatedly.

On March 21, 2016, he was certified to be of unsound mind and incapable of defending himself in court.

He was confined at the Changi Medical Complex, before being certified capable to give his defence last year.

Tan is represented by Mr Favian Kang of Peter Low & Choo LLC and Mr Nichol Yeo from Solitaire LLP.

The trial continues on Wednesday.



Seeking to avoid execution in Vietnam: Cambodian woman appeals conviction

A Cambodian drug trafficker who was sentenced to death in Vietnam has appealed against her conviction after getting legal assistance from the Cambodian government.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Khmer Times recently that Miech Srey Neang had appealed against the Vietnamese lower court decision.

“She has already appealed. Please ask the Ministry of Justice on what else can be done to help her,” he said.

Srey Neang, 27, from Phnom Penh was convicted and sentenced to death by Vietnam’s Tay Ninh Provincial People’s Court on July 31 after being found guilty of trafficking drugs from Cambodia to Vietnam. She was accused of smuggling 5 bags of methamphetamine weighing about 5 kilogrammes.

Kuong said Srey Neang had appealed to the higher court within the 15 days given to her.

“They allowed her to appeal within 15 days after the Tay Ninh Provincial People’s Court convicted her on July 31,” he said. “I just know that she has appealed but do not know the details.”

In a recent speech, Minister of Justice Keut Rith said the ministry will also consider requesting the Vietnamese government to implement the transfer of convicted inmates treaty after a final verdict in Srey Neang’s case.

“The Ministry of Justice is seeking to ensure legal protection for her and working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to implement the bilateral [prisoners exchange agreement with Vietnam] to ensure that the death penalty is waived,” Rith said.

The National Assembly in March last year adopted a draft law on the transfer of convicted inmates treaty between Cambodia and Vietnam. The bill is the 1st-ever of such treaty Cambodia would have with a foreign nation.

Chin Malin, a Ministry of Justice spokesman, said yesterday the government is still working closely on the case.

Justice Minister Keut Rith says Cambodia will consider asking Vietnam to implement the transfer of inmates treaty.

“The Ministry of Justice is working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the case. We will publicly announce the result of our measures in due course,” he said.

The Cambodian Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City could not be reached for comment on the case yesterday.

According to a Vietnamese media report, Vietnamese customs officers arrested Srey Neang “red-handed” carrying the drugs at the Moc Bai International Border gate in southern Tay Ninh province on December 2 last year.

She was accused of smuggling methamphetamine weighing over 4.9 kilogrammes, which were found when her luggage was scanned upon entry.

Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said yesterday the government should implement the transfer of convicted inmates treaty to save Srey Neang’s life if her verdict was final. He said the government needs to ensure both legal and political intervention in the case.

“The better way is to request for her transfer so she could serve her prison sentence in Cambodia,” he said. “Another option is to find a way to reduce her sentence [in Vietnam].”

“She is a Khmer citizen, so we have the right to request she be allowed to serve her sentence here. We are unable to extradite her to convict her here because the Vietnamese court has already done so,” he added. “Any intervention must be done fast.”

Sam Oeun, who is also the chief attorney of the AMRIN Law and Consultants Group, said Srey Neang could serve a life sentence in prison if she is transferred to Cambodia. He cites Article 32 of the Constitution which states: “All people have the right to life, freedom and personal security. There shall be no capital punishment.”

“If the Vietnamese court upholds her death sentence, then our Supreme Court here can review it and convert to a life term,” he added.

Ho Chi Minh City-based newspaper Thanh Niên, recently reported that during the investigation, Srey Neang admitted in October last year, via Facebook, that she had known another Cambodian woman named “Ly Na”.

It said that on November 30, 2019, Ly Na went to Srey Neang’s house and hired her to carry a suitcase from Cambodia to Vietnam in exchange for $100.

According to Vietnamese law, anyone convicted of smuggling over 600 grammes of heroin or more than 2.5 kilogrammes of methamphetamine will face the death sentence. Those caught making or trafficking 100 grammes of heroin or 300 grammes of other illegal drugs also face the death sentence upon conviction.



4 drug traffickers sentenced to death in central Vietnam

A court in the central province of Nghe An on Monday sentenced 4 men to death for trafficking 28.7 kilograms of methamphetamine from Laos.

Le Ngoc Son, 35, the leader of a cross-border gang, and 3 accomplices, Tran Van Luc, 40, Nguyen Quang Bich, 34, and Mai Dinh Phuoc, 36, were found guilty of "illegal trading of narcotic substances."

4 others received jail terms of 15 years to life.

They transported drugs from Laos to Nghe An before delivering them to other parts of Vietnam.

In July 2017 Phuoc, Bich and 2 others were arrested while transporting 10 kg of meth from Hanoi into HCMC by bus.

Based on their testimonies, the police arrested other members of the ring. Son left his hometown, Vinh, and fled to China.

But he returned home in October 2018 and was taken in by the local police.

Investigators said in June and July 2017 the gang had traded 28.7 kg of meth.

With meth becoming a substance favored by hard-partying youth, drug busts and convictions have been increasing in Vietnam though the country has very tough drug laws.

Those convicted of possessing or smuggling more than 600 grams of heroin or more than 2.5 kilograms of methamphetamine face the death penalty.

The production or sale of 100 grams of heroin or 300 grams of other illegal narcotics is also punishable by death.



Grim day when the last man hanged in Scotland was executed at Craiginches Prison

Behind the grim walls of the jail, Henry John Burnett was taking the last walk of his life, being led to the gallows to pay the highest penalty for murder.

At 8.10am, a senior police official told the waiting crowd: “It’s all over. There will be no notice posted on the gates. You can all go home now.”

And so the last hanging in Scotland – and the only execution within Craiginches – was over.

Mere months later – 55 years ago – hanging was abolished in the United Kingdom, driven in part by the outcry over the death penalty imposed on Burnett.

His guilt was never in doubt.

On May 31 1963, the 21-year-old blasted Thomas Guyan in the face with a shotgun, the tragic outcome of a complex love triangle.

Burnett had fallen for Guyan’s wife, Margaret, a work colleague whose husband was often working away at sea.

Margaret felt trapped in a loveless marriage and moved in with Burnett at a rented flat on Skene Terrace.

But Burnett, who had a history of suicide attempts and mental illness, was prone to extreme jealousy. He took to locking Margaret in the house for fear she would leave him.

Unable to cope with his behaviour, Margaret decided to return to her husband, but Burnett grabbed a knife and held it at her throat. Later the same day, she met Thomas and they both went to her grandmother’s home in Jackson Terrace.

A furious Burnett stole his brother’s shotgun and tracked the pair down. He forced his way into the flat.

As soon as Thomas Guyan appeared at the kitchen door, Burnett loosed both barrels, killing him instantly.

He grabbed Margaret, dragged her to a garage on Seaforth Road and, at gunpoint, ordered a man filling his car with petrol to turn over his vehicle. With Margaret as a hostage, he headed to Peterhead, with the police in pursuit.

After 15 miles, he pulled off at Ellon and surrendered to the police without any resistance.

He told the 2 constables who arrested him: “It’s me you want.”

His first words to detectives questioning him later were: “I gave him both barrels. He must be dead.”

Dr Ian Lowit determined he was “insane as far as he was incapable of considering the consequences of his actions”.

Neurologist Dr John Taylor said: “I judge him to be insane at the time of the shooting and in need of institutional care.”

During the trial, Burnett’s mother, Matilda, gave evidence that she was sometimes frightened by her own son. “He went kinda mad… His face white and eyes staring,” she told the court.

As she left the dock, she cried out to her son: “Henry, it’s okay ma loon. It’s okay.

But even a mother’s tearful plea and the medical expert opinion did not sway they jury.

They took just 25 minutes to decide his fate.

Guilty of murder.

Had they listened to the experts, Burnett would have been convicted of culpable homicide and locked up.

Instead, Lord Wheatley raised a black cap to his head and said: “The sentence of this court is that you will be taken from this place to the prison of Craiginches, therein detained until the 15th day of August and upon that day within the said prison of Craiginches between the hours of eight and 10 o’clock forenoon you suffer death by hanging.”

The death sentence provoked uproar and outrage across Aberdeen and the country, especially as there was already strong and rising public demand for an end to capital punishment across the UK.

More than 3,000 people signed a petition calling for clemency for Burnett.

Eight Aberdeen city councillors sent a protest telegraph to Scottish Secretary Michael Noble. It read: “We the undersigned… feel we cannot register too strongly our protest against the inhuman act which is to take place in our midst on Thursday morning when Henry John Burnett, technically sane but morally of diminished responsibility, will be hanged.”

No reply was received.

Even the victim’s mother, Jeannie Guyan, said she wanted his life spared.

“I don’t want revenge. The last thing I want is that he should die. His death won’t bring my Tom back,” she said.

“It was a terrible thing he did, but he’s only a laddie.”

The day before the hanging, Burnett’s sister Mary gave a heartbreaking statement. “We have had a reply to the telegraph we sent to The Queen yesterday asking her to intervene – she said there was nothing she could do. We have given up hope now. Nothing can save Henry.”

The next morning, Burnett was led to the specially constructed execution chamber within Craiginches and barely a minute later he was dead. His body was buried on a grass slope behind where he was hanged.

The anger over his death reverberated on, with demands for explanation as to why clemency was not granted being made in the House of Commons, but the reasons were never given.

It fed into the growing clamour for an end to executions. A year later, hangings were stopped in the UK. Two years later, on November 9 1965, capital punishment was abolished.

But that was not the end of the story for the last man hanged in Scotland.

Craiginches was closed in 2014 to be developed for housing.

Burnett’s remains were exhumed and a private ceremony held for him at Aberdeen Crematorium on August 7 2014.

A more dignified end to a troubled existence.

The hanging of Henry John Burnett was to leave a lasting impression on those touched by the tragic case – including those who witnessed the execution.

The Rev John Dickson, who was the prison chaplain and minister at St Fittick’s Church, Torry, for more than 30 years, was present in Burnett’s last moments on earth, giving him parting words of comfort.

Speaking in 2010 he said: “I was holding the silver cross of St John, I got on a visit to Iona. I held it up and I suppose it was the last thing he saw before the hood went on.”

Rev Dickson said the killer showed remorse for his actions. “He was very sorry about it. He was bewildered. He convince me that he acted on impulse.”

As a magistrate on the city council, Bob Middleton was called upon to witness the hanging.

“That experience shaped my abhorrence of capital punishment,” said Mr Middleton in an interview in 1999.

“The only way I got through was by convincing myself Burnett was the most evil man there had ever been.”

Dr Ian Lowit, the senior psychiatric register at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary who testified Burnett was insane at the time of the killing, was also deeply affected by his execution.

In an interview with the P&J in 2014 he was of the opinion the hanging was driven by political motives.

“The death sentence was on the way out and I think they wanted to have one more go,” he said. “They wanted to see what would happen and see the reaction. And I think the feeling was largely against it.”

Even Lord Wheatley, who sentenced Burnett to hang, said that had the jury sustained the plea of diminished responsibility, he would have been imprisoned, not executed.

But the jury’s murder verdict which showed evidence Burnett was a danger to society and himself had been sustained.

In his 1987 autobiography, he said passing a death sentence is the “most disagreeable task” a judge was called upon to do.

“I have always been an abolitionist, a fact which did not make my task easier and I was glad to see capital punishment abolished. But a judge has to administer the law as it is, not as he would personally like it to be.”

The only man to have shown no regrets over Burnett’s hanging was the man who pulled the lever on the trapdoor, public executioner Harry Allen, who hanged 3 dozen murderers over his career, paid £15 for each execution.

“Anyone guilty of wilful murder should pay the supreme penalty,” he said in a 1983 interview.


AUGUST 10, 2020:


Death Penalty Court Decisions the Week of August 3, 2020

The Connecticut Supreme Court granted a new trial to former death-row prisoner Lazale Ashby. The court ruled that that the prosecution had violated Ashby’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel “by using a jailhouse informant … to deliberately elicit certain incriminating statements from the defendant.” The court said that the informant, who had a past history of providing assistance to prosecutors, had been acting as an agent of the state when he extracted incriminating information from Ashby outside the presence of counsel. As a consequence, the court found, the evidence the informant provided was the product of an uncounseled interrogation and therefore was inadmissible.

Connecticut prospectively abolished the death penalty in 2015 and the state supreme court subsequently ruled that applying the repealed statute to those remaining on the state’s death row violated the state constitution. Ashby’s death sentence was vacated as a result of that ruling, and he was resentenced to life without parole on June 20, 2018. However, the abolition of the death penalty did not affect the status of Ashby’s court challenges to the constitutionality of his conviction.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)


Prosecutors to seek death penalty against Blount County couple charged in toddler's death

Prosecutors in the case of the Blount County couple charged and indicted with killing a toddler's 2019 death will seek the death penalty.

Court records filed last week by prosecutors informed the court they will seek the highest possible sentence against Samantha McCormack and her boyfriend, Robert Elmore Jr. Both are charged with capital murder, felony murder, reckless manslaughter and 2 counts of aggravated child abuse for the death of McCormack's son, Enzo McCormack.

The toddler was found by authorities wrapped in a pizza blanket at a Locus Fork gas station on September 6, 2019 as employees attempted to warm up the severely injured child. McCormack's son was with her at the gas station when employee's noticed the child's deteriorating condition according to court documents.

Elmore eventually admitted to police investigators that he accidentally dropped the boy after he grabbed Elmore's chest hair. He said he then tried to shake the unconscious child to wake him up. Investigators office did not believe his story.

The couple has been held without bond in the Blount County Jail since their arrest.

Blount County Sheriff Mark Moon said the Blount County mother's 3 children were taken away by DHR officials earlier in 2019. Moon said McCormack's children were returned to the mother's custody with a very specific order from Judge Sherry Burns: Stay away from Elmore. Court records showed McCormack filed a protection from abuse in March 2019. The request was dismissed in June according to court records.

"There's no way this could be a surprise to his (Elmore's) family. There's no way. I don't care what they told you because he has a history of abuse," said a frustrated Moon at the time. "He has physically harmed his sister and other people in his family so there's no way this was a surprise."

Moon said police discovered McCormack's other child was also discovered to have suffered a fractured skull. The three-year-old was treated and now is in DHR custody with McCormack's other child.

(source: ABC News)


California executions on hold, but coronavirus killing San Quentin inmates

In June, on death row at San Quentin State Prison, 58-year-old Jarvis Masters heard a rumor that the coronavirus was ripping through the aging structure. Condemned prisoners are confined to their cells for 23 hours a day, so Masters tracked the outbreak by watching news reports on his small personal TV.

He watched as 100 cases swelled to 300 in 2 days, then 1,000. Then he started to cough. Masters soon felt like he couldn’t breathe.

Over the next 2 weeks, as calls of “man down!” rang out every few hours, several of his neighbors disappeared and didn’t come back. Staff pulled them from their cells, leaving their TV sets on to drone.

“It’s like a crime scene,” said Masters, who has been on death row since 1990.

Less than 2 years ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom halted executions of condemned prisoners, saying the death penalty system is prone to error and is a “failure.” California has faced challenges to its lethal injection protocol and has not executed a prisoner since 2006.

Now the virus has picked up where the state left off, sweeping through death row and taking the lives of more condemned men than California has executed in a quarter of a century.

COVID-19 victims

San Quentin State Prison death row inmates who have died from COVID-19:

Richard Eugene Stitely, 71, died June 24

Joseph S. Cordova, 75, died July 1

Scott Thomas Erskine, 57, died July 3

Manuel Machado Alvarez, 59, died July 3

Dewayne Micheal Carey, 59, died July 4

David John Reed, 60, died July 7

Jeffrey J. Hawkins, 64, died July 15

Troy A. Ashmus, 58, died July 20

John M. Beames, 67, died July 21

Johnny Avila Jr., 62, died July 26

Orlando G. Romero, 48, died Aug. 2

Pedro Arias, 58, died Aug. 9

A colossal outbreak at San Quentin has infected more than 2,000 incarcerated men and 260 staffers; killing 25 prisoners and one correctional sergeant. It’s also hit death row especially hard, claiming the lives of 12 condemned men with an average age of 62.

The death penalty has long been one of the most polarizing issues in criminal justice, fiercely defended by some victims groups and assailed by a wide range of reformers. Twenty-two states have abolished the death penalty entirely, and three others, including California, have issued moratoriums on state killings, saying the death penalty is biased against the poor and people of color and citing the danger of irrevocable mistakes. DNA evidence has led to the exoneration of about 170 people on death rows across the country.

But now that the virus is blowing up that uneasy stalemate, an already broken system is facing an unprecedented crisis, and everyone with a stake in the process — family members of victims, prisoners fighting for their freedom, attorneys who have invested years in their cases — is sorting through the wreckage.

“My clients are entitled to a review of their convictions and sentences,” said Harry Simon, a federal public defender in Sacramento who represented three of the 12 men on Death Row who were felled by the virus. “To the extent that the negligence of San Quentin and CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) stopped them from having that, that’s a problem.

East Block’s invisible killer: In California, the majority of the 700-plus people sentenced to death are confined to a standalone building at San Quentin called East Block.

Even though the prison in Marin County is just a 35-minute ferry ride away from San Francisco and the world’s technology epicenter, East Block looks like something out of a vintage black-and-white movie. Built in 1927, its 5 tiers are lined with single-man cells secured by old-fashioned metal bars and a metal mesh screen, allowing airborne droplets to enter and escape. Neighbors can hear but not see one another.

Inside each cell is a stainless steel sink and toilet, upper and lower lights, a twin bed and a bookshelf on the back wall to store legal work, food and other personal items.

Because of accessibility and mobility concerns, the 1st tier is where older, medically vulnerable patients serve their time. Many are on medications, oxygen or dialysis, or a combination of the 3.

“These guys are not getting any younger,” said Keith Doolin, a condemned prisoner who lives on East Block’s fourth tier. “The wheelchair count is so bad that they’ve got them all lined up, with the guys’ names and CDC numbers on the back of them, basically like an automobile parking lot.”

Until late May, San Quentin had successfully dodged the bullet of the pandemic, with zero recorded infections among its 3,600 incarcerated men. But on May 30, in a series of mistakes that would prove fatal, state and federal officials ushered the virus into the prison, bringing 121 men to San Quentin from a virus-infested prison in Chino (San Bernardino County). In some cases the men had not been tested for weeks. The transfers were then mixed with healthy men in San Quentin’s South Block. Cases spiked as the virus raced from one housing unit to another.

It’s unclear how the virus first entered East Block, but people who live and work in the prison have theories. Doolin speculated that food trays spread the virus — during flu outbreaks, the prison had switched out plastic trays for paper ones as a precaution.

“So, this time around we were literally saying, ‘Wait a minute, where’s the paper trays?’” Doolin said. “Why aren’t you guys following protocol?”

According to internal prison emails obtained by The Chronicle, East Block was not placed under quarantine until June 15 — 2 weeks after the first incarcerated man at San Quentin tested positive. The quarantine failed.

9 days later, on June 24, case counts were exploding in East Block, with the prison recording 136 infections there, records show.

That day, 71-year-old Richard Eugene Stitely collapsed in his cell and died, becoming the first COVID-19 fatality on death row. Convicted 3 decades ago for the rape and murder of 47-year-old Carol Unger in Los Angeles County, Stitely had refused to be tested for the coronavirus, but a postmortem exam confirmed he was positive.

One of Stitely’s attorneys, Joel Levine, said his client was illiterate and had been raised by an abusive father, and 2 psychiatrists had measured his IQ at below 70. Defendants with severe intellectual disability cannot be executed, meaning he had a chance to leave death row. The question of his mental competency was set to be determined in state court in May, Levine said. Then the pandemic delayed the hearing, and Stitely died before Levine could argue the case.

In the days that followed, the virus notched more victims in East Block.

Masters chatted with a neighbor, 75-year-old Joseph Cordova, who arrived to death row in 2007 after being sentenced for the rape and murder of an 8-year-old San Pablo girl. Cordova and Masters had recently gotten sick with the virus around the same time. “I asked him how he was doing,” Masters recalled. “He said he just felt real cold.” Cordova died on July 1.

By that point, at least 166 men in East Block had been infected, and the virus was still spreading out of control.

A lack of due process: Over the next week, as COVID-19 claimed four more lives on Death Row, groups opposed to the death penalty — and attorneys representing condemned men — followed the news with growing horror, worried that the outbreak was stealing important legal rights from men on the row.

“Not everyone who’s been sentenced to death is guilty,” said Nancy Haydt, an attorney who directs Death Penalty Focus, a California nonprofit trying to abolish the death penalty. “Not everyone who has been sentenced to death has gone through all their appeals. And not everyone is mentally competent to be executed.”

California has executed 13 people since reinstating the death penalty in 1978, with some waiting on death row for more than 20 years. Even before Newsom’s moratorium, capital punishment had been all but nonexistent in California for more than a decade.

The vast majority of condemned people at San Quentin are still fighting their sentences, pursuing state or federal appeals. Several have long maintained their innocence, including Masters, whose conviction for taking part in the fatal stabbing of a corrections officer in 1985 was partly based on false and recanted testimony, the California Supreme Court ruled last year. Masters plans to file a federal appeal.

Doolin, a former Fresno truck driver, was sentenced to death in 1996 after a jury found him guilty of killing 2 sex workers and shooting 4 others. Doolin has consistently maintained his innocence, and some post-conviction DNA testing and other physical evidence have bolstered his claims.

He’s recently scored a legal victory, persuading a Superior Court judge to order the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office to turn over documents in his underlying case.

As Doolin becomes more optimistic about winning his freedom, the pandemic’s timing feels particularly cruel. It’s as if the state is trying to “basically impose another death sentence,’” he said.

Donna Doolin-Larsen said she feels helpless to protect her son.

“I thought I was handling it well, because I’ve been a tough old broad up until now,” she said. “I feel like I have no control of anything.”

Simon, the public defender, represented Manuel Machado Alvarez, John Beames and Johnny Avila Jr. before each condemned man was stricken and killed by the coronavirus.

He said all 3 were still pursuing appeals. Now those efforts have died with them.

The men on death row, he said, were “sitting ducks for this virus.”

Searching for closure: In California, a death sentence automatically touches off a lengthy series of reviews and appeals holding people on death row for years or decades before their execution date.

The system is protracted by design to ensure the government makes no mistakes when handing down its ultimate sentence. The process is imperfect, arduous and exhausting, but the end result — at least in theory — is justice.

For those affected by death row’s recent fatalities, the virus was an unceremonious finale.

Milena Phillips wept when she learned Scott Thomas Erskine, the man who murdered her 9-year-old son, Jonathan Sellers, had died July 3. Though she wasn’t quite sure why.

“I know he’s on death row, but it came out of the blue,” Phillips said. “Maybe it was just the confusion; my emotions were so mixed up. Tears were all I could do.”

The bodies of Jonathan and his 13-year-old friend, Charlie Keever, were found 2 days after the pair disappeared during a bike ride in San Diego in 1993. The 2 had been beaten, raped and tortured.

DNA would link Erskine to the crimes 8 years later.

After the initial shock of Erskine’s death subsided, Phillips confronted emotions that were uncomfortable for a woman of faith. She’d never before felt happy about the death of another person and sought guidance from her pastor.

“He said that it was OK that I was glad that it ended, that that chapter is over for me,” Phillips said.

Now, she added, her son’s killer “is no longer a part of me at all. It’s just my son that resides within me.”

Charlie’s mother and Phillips’ good friend, Maria Keever, also cried when she was told Erskine was dead.

“I was glad that he was gone, but all these years I had been wanting to talk to him,” Keever said.

The horrific details of her son’s death were laid out in court, but officials could only speculate on how Erskine made off with the boys. Keever had twice visited San Quentin over the years, hoping she could look Erskine in the eye while he filled in the missing pieces.

Both times, he refused.

“I was hoping that he would change his mind and someday tell me what happened,” Keever said. “How he got him.”

Teresa Carey, sister of Dewayne Michael Carey, the fifth resident of Death Row to die of COVID-19, said she felt robbed of closure.

A respiratory therapist at a Texas hospital, Teresa was the one in her family who kept in closest contact with her brother, talking to him on the phone every few months. The last time they spoke was in April, before there were any known infected men in custody at San Quentin. Then, on July 2, she got a call from a doctor at a Bay Area hospital, saying that her brother was on a ventilator and it didn’t look good.

In the hospital, the doctor put his phone to Dewayne Carey’s ear, allowing him to hear his sister’s voice. The ventilator tube down his throat had left him unable to speak. “I told him I loved him,” Teresa said. “I told him to fight.”

The siblings had an understanding that went back years: If Dewayne Carey were executed, Teresa would be a witness. He had asked her to be in the room. But 2 days after their last phone call, on the Fourth of July, he died alone.

“If you do a hideous crime: yes, an eye for an eye,” Teresa said. “But he was still my brother, and I needed a chance to say goodbye. And they took that from me.”

(source: San Francisco Chronicle)


San Quentin death-row inmate Arias dies in hospital----Coroner will determine cause of death, COVID-19 status

A 58-year-old man convicted of murder who was also serving a life sentence without parole died Sunday of apparent COVID-19 complications, state prison officials said. In a statement Sunday evening, state prison officials said death-row inmate Pedro Arias had been receiving treatment at an outside hospital, and that a coroner will pronounce an exact cause of death for Romero, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said.

Arias had been on death row since March 5, 1990, nearly 2 weeks after his Sacramento County sentencing for 1st-degree murder and 2nd-degree robbery while armed with a firearm.

He had also received a life sentence without parole after convictions for kidnapping for ransom, penetration with a foreign object, attempted sodomy, lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14, sodomy of a child under 14, 2 counts of forcible rape, 2nd-degree robbery and enhancements for the use of a firearm.

At least 2 dozen San Quentin prisoners have died, including several sent to Bay Area medical centers for treatment in the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak that has sickened more than a thousand prisoners.

Last weekend, protesters sought to marshal support to ease the pandemic’s deadly impact within state prison facilities. On Sunday, a prison guard who had been battling the illness succumbed.

Arias was one of 714 people awaiting execution on California’s Death Row, though Gov. Gavin Newsom has effectively suspended the death penalty here.

(source: The Mercury News)


Pleas to Abolish the Death Penalty----Readers cite moral and legal reasons the sentence is wrong.

To the Editor:

Re “Executions Ensure ‘Justice Is Being Done’” (Op-Ed, July 28):

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen rightly observes that the death penalty is “a difficult issue for many Americans on moral, religious and policy grounds.” Yet his justification of the first three federal executions last month in 17 years on “straightforward” legal grounds fails to outweigh the moral, religious and policy objections.

In the federal system, the final decision to seek the death penalty rests with the attorney general. It’s discretionary, not legally mandated, and bills are pending in Congress that would abolish the practice.

Our government should stop catering to the assumed desire for vengeance by victims’ families. It should recognize the tendency of our broken legal system to execute disproportionately people of color, who most often cannot afford competent representation in court.

More important, federal and state governments should acknowledge the biblical injunction that killing is wrong, whether committed by an individual or by a government.

We need to tell the attorney general to stop the killing in our name.

L. Michael Hager, Eastham, Mass.----The writer is a co-founder and former director general of the International Development Law Organization, Rome.


To the Editor:

If executing a murderer would restore the victim’s life, few could oppose it. If capital punishment were a certain deterrent, we would have to consider it seriously, but proponents have never been able to prove this.

What remains are revenge and retribution and the claim that capital punishment alone constitutes “justice” for the victim and victim’s family. This definition of justice is entirely arbitrary, and most modern democracies have left it behind on the road to civilization.

We admonish our children that 2 wrongs do not make a right, whether in large matters or small. Killing is wrong.

The reason capital punishment cannot be fairly administered is that it is inherently inhumane, no matter who does the killing and by what means. State execution, with its cold calculation and pretense of sterility, higher morality and regrettable duty, is simply murder by another name.

Judy Olinick, Middlebury, Vt.


To the Editor:

Nowhere does Jeffrey A. Rosen mention the some 165 people who reportedly were wrongly convicted and sentenced to death since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

There are numerous cases in recent years of death penalty convictions being overturned because of false evidence. While I appreciate the need for closure of the victims’ families and the need for justice, at best there is too great a potential for error aside from any moral issues one may have.

Henry Brezenoff, West Orange, N.J.

(source for all: Letters to the Editor, New York Times)


Iranian escapes gallows, gets 20 years’ jail for possession of drugs

An Iranian escaped the gallows when his charge of trafficking in methamphetamine was changed to possession of drugs today, leading to him being sentenced to 20 years’ jail and 10 strokes of the rotan.

A Court of Appeal three-member bench comprising Justices Datuk Yaacob Md Sam, P. Ravinthran and Datuk Nordin Hassan set aside Baladastian Hamid Mohammadebrahim’s conviction and death sentence for the 1st charge of trafficking in 1,146.9 grammes of methamphetamine.

The bench substituted Baladastian’s charge to one of possession.

Baladastian, 45, was ordered by the court to serve the jail term from September 14, 2014, the day he was arrested.

“We are of the view that the offence of possession has been proved by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt,” he said, adding that Baladastian’s conviction for trafficking was unsafe to be maintained.

The court, however, allowed Baladastian’s appeal for an acquittal and a discharge for the second and third charges of trafficking in 5,068.1 grammes and 75.06 grammes of methamphetamine in liquid form respectively.

On March 22, 2018, the Shah Alam High Court found Baladastian guilty of the three charges and sentenced him to death.

For the first charge, Baladastian committed the offence in front of a shop Cafe Reggae Connection in Jalan Cyber Valley, Dengkil, Sepang, Selangor at 1pm on September 14, 2014. For the 2nd and 3rd charges, he was accused of committing the offences in an apartment in Domain 3, Neo Cyber, Cyberjaya, Sepang, Selangor at 1.45pm on the same day.

Baladastian’s counsel Salim Bashir Bhaskaran, who is also Malaysian Bar president, in mitigating for a minimal jail sentence, said his client was remorseful and apologised to the government of Malaysia.

He said Baladastian, who has been in prison for 6 years, would go back to his country and live a normal life after completing his jail sentence.

Deputy public prosecutor Nurshafini Mustafha pressed for a jail term of more than 18 years, taking into account the amount of the drugs.



Capital punishment

THE PHILIPPINES ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1986, reinforcing its commitment to promote and protect civil and political rights, including the right to life as enshrined in Article 6 of the ICCPR.

In 2006, the Philippines became a signatory to the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR and on Nov. 20, 2007 we ratified the Second Optional Protocol — which explicitly, absolutely, and permanently prohibits the imposition of death penalty in the Philippines.

In her report to the United Nations Human Rights Council this June 2020, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said restoring the death penalty for drug-related offenses would breach the obligations of the Philippines under international human rights law.

But more than that, the reimposition of death penalty in a deeply flawed criminal justice system is essentially a legislative fiat to the current spate of extrajudicial killings, which mostly affect the poor who have far less or no access to resources to defend themselves before courts.

In the context of a bankrupt and corrupt justice system that favors the moneyed and the powerful, death penalty will only increase the prevalence of impunity against the poor. Under such a system, the death penalty is a violation of the right to life and the absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment.

Death penalty could also significantly impact on human rights defenders, activists and political dissenters, when the exercise of political beliefs and political actions that seek to institute meaningful and comprehensive reforms and change is criminalized. Almost all political prisoners are charged with trumped up offenses such as murder, destructive arson, kidnapping, carnapping, and recently, drug-related charges, to hide the political nature of their arrest and detention and to stigmatize them as “criminals”.

According to human rights alliance Karapatan, majority of political prisoners were slapped with fabricated murder cases, arrested and detained through John/Jane Doe and alias warrants, the spurious filing of cases with defective warrants and perjured testimonies of hired witnesses by the military and common practice of planting evidence.

Death penalty in a bankrupt criminal justice system will not curb nor eliminate crimes in the country. Only when the underlying causes of crimes are dealt with significant and comprehensive social, economic, and political reforms that uphold people’s rights and welfare can crimes be reduced or eliminated.

(source: Opinion, Panay News)


‘COVID-19 first, not death penalty’ – Rep. Fidel Nograles

A vice chair of the House justice committee has decided to swim against the tide of the majority by calling on his peers to focus on the coronavirus pandemic instead of reviving the death penalty.

Rizal Rep. Fidel Nograles on Sunday urged his colleagues to prioritize the fight against COVID-19, defying President Duterte’s call to Congress to restore capital punishment for drug-related crimes during his State of the Nation Address (Sona) in July.

The representative was quick to clarify that he remained supportive of the reimposition of the death penalty for serious offenses, but he said he believed that lawmakers should direct their energies toward the “most pressing issue” facing the country.

Flames of indignation

“It’s no secret that we support the death penalty for heinous crimes. But I think if we are going to talk about justice, let’s first talk of how to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in our jails,” Nograles said in a statement.

“We can talk about reinstating death penalty after we’ve had a desirable degree of control over the ongoing health crisis. Let’s not feed the flames of indignation of our people who think that our focus lies elsewhere than helping them survive,” he added.

The lawmaker earlier called on the government to release “low-risk and vulnerable” detainees to arrest the spread of COVID-19 in highly congested jails.

The Philippines has the highest jail occupancy in the world with a congestion rate at 534 percent, Nograles said.

“For now, let us focus our strength and intelligence toward saving lives. Even those who are in jails deserve to live,” he said.

‘Utter waste of time’

The Department of the Interior and Local Government earlier announced that close to 22,000 inmates had been released from the 470 facilities run by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Nograles said.

He expressed hope that more would follow.

Also on Sunday, Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza, an opponent of capital punishment, urged the President to drop his push for the death penalty, calling it “an exercise in futility and an utter waste of time.”

“The President won’t get any satisfaction, even if his allies in Congress steamroll the passage of a new law reviving death sentences. The President still won’t see any judicial executions while he is in office, so he might as well give it up,” he said.

“Besides, the President’s wish to put convicts to death via a medically induced coma is no longer possible,” Atienza said, noting that sodium thiopental — the first of the three-drug concoction used to deprive convicts of life and brain function in lethal injection — was no longer legally available.

Humanitarian concerns

Atienza said production and trade of the powerful anesthetic previously used to render convicts unconscious had stopped because of humanitarian concerns.

He recalled that the Bureau of Corrections put seven convicts to death by lethal injection from 1999 to 2000, during then-President Joseph Estrada’s administration.

His successor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, declared a moratorium on executions, and Congress eventually abolished the death penalty in 2006.

During his fifth Sona on July 27, the President urged Congress to resuscitate the effort to restore capital punishment for drug crimes.

In March 2017, during the 17th Congress, under then-Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, the House passed on third reading a bill restoring the death penalty for major drug offenses, but it was stalled in the Senate.

While the 1987 Constitution states that the death penalty shall not be imposed, it says Congress may pass a law prescribing death for heinous crimes.



Trial of Sudan's Ousted Bashir Delayed

The trial of Sudan's ousted ex-president Omar al-Bashir was delayed Monday at the request of his defence, a prosecution lawyer said.

The trial of Bashir over the military coup that brought him to power more than 3 decades ago, as well as of 27 other defendants, opened with a brief hearing in July.

The 2nd hearing had been set for August 11.

But defence lawyers requested a delay for 3 of the defendants -- Bashir as well as 2 former senior leaders of the once powerful but now defunct National Congress Party.

"Lawyers for 3 defendants petitioned the Court of Appeal to release three defendants on bail, after the court refused to grant their request at the trial's 1st hearing on July 21," Moaz Hadra, one of the prosecution lawyers, told AFP.

"The Court of Appeal must rule, and then a new date for the trial will be set."

Bashir, 76, and his co-accused could face the death penalty if convicted over the 1989 Islamist-backed overthrow of the democratically elected government of prime minister Sadek al-Mahdi.

It is the first time in the Arab world's modern history that the architect of a coup is tried for plotting a putsch, although the man dubbed the true brain behind it, Hassan Turabi of the National Islamic Front, died in 2016.

Bashir stayed in power for 30 years before being overthrown on April 11, 2019 after several months of unprecedented, youth-led street demonstrations.

The trial comes as Sudan's joint civilian-military transitional government is introducing a host of reforms and has relaunched peace talks with rebel groups.



Kurdish political prisoner Heydar Ghorbani----Heydar Ghorbani, a Kurdish political prisoner in Iran is facing imminent execution.

On Thursday, April 7, Branch 27 of Iran’s Supreme Court upheld a death sentence against political prisoner Heydar Ghorbani from the city of Kamyaran in Kuridstan province, western Iran.

The dossier has been transferred to the Prosecutor’s Office in the city of Sanandaj, capital of Kurdistan province, for the execution to be carried out.

Heydar Ghorbani, a member of the Kurdish minority community, along with his brother-in-law Mahmoud Sadeqi, were arrested by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) back in 2016 and immediately transferred to Sanandaj Central Prison.

They were accused of cooperation in the killing of several members of the Revolutionary Guard and membership in the outlawed Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (DPIK).

According to his family, Heydar Ghorbani was forced to confess under duress and psychological torture.

His forced confessions were later broadcasted on the English channel of the Iranian state-run television, Press TV in 2017.

The Iranian regime has increased its use of the death penalty against the dissidents and political prisoners to contain the widespread surging social discontent.

On Wednesday, August 5, Iranian regime hanged political prisoner Mostafa Salehi, arrested during the December 2017 protests. He was charged with killing a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps during protests. Mostafa Salehi maintained his innocence until his execution. “Bring witnesses or at least check security cameras,” he had told the court.

Despite facing persistent pressure and enduring long periods of torture while he was held at the Isfahan Police Department, during interrogations by the Isfahan Intelligence Agency, Salehi refused to confess, as the Najafabad (Isfahan) prosecutor later confirmed. No weapons, ammunition, or other evidence were found. He pleaded not guilty in court.

In a statement on July 15 following the execution of two Kurdish men, Diaku Rasoulzadeh and Saber Sheikh Abdollah, Amnesty International said “There has been an alarming escalation in use of the death penalty against protesters, dissidents and members of minority groups in Iran.”

The rights group said that at least five prisoners from Iran’s Kurdish minority, including Heydar Ghorbani, were at risk of execution.

According to Amnesty another Kurdish prisoner on death row, Hedayat Abdollahpour, has been forcibly disappeared since May 9, 2020 as the authorities refuse to reveal the truth concerning his secret execution and return his body to his family.

A seventh Kurdish prisoner, Mostafa Salimi was executed on April 11, 2020 in the city of Saqqez, in Kurdistan province. Salimi had managed to escape in late March along with tens of other inmates during a protest by inmates against prison conditions amid the coronavirus outbreak. He was executed shortly after being re-arrested.

“Iran’s increasing use of the death penalty as a political weapon for repression is alarming and warrants the immediate attention of the international community. Without urgent diplomatic and public action, more lives in Iran are at risk of being cut short by the state’s execution machine,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s researcher on Iran.


AUGUST 9, 2020:


2 charged in July 31 fatal stabbing

2 Jacksonville men are being held on $1 million each at the Cherokee County Jail on capital murder charges, following their arrests Thursday.

Brandon Branton, 22, and Ja'Michael Rusk, 22, both of Jacksonville, were charged in connection with a July 31 murder, in which Jacksonville resident Randy Davenport, 25, was fatally stabbed while at a site in the northern part of the county.

According to a release issued Friday morning by Cherokee County Sheriff's Investigator Brent Dickson, Davenport had received a ride from the men when they stopped their vehicle at the corner of county roads 3906 and 3901 “and intentionally committed the act of murder,” the release stated.

Arrest warrant affidavits were presented to 369th District Judge Michael Davis, who issued warrants for Branton and Rusk Thursday afternoon.

The men were arrested by Cherokee County investigators and Texas Rangers on charges of capital murder. They were arraigned by Cherokee County Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Phillip Grimes, who set bonds of $1 million for each.

The penalty for capital murder includes a fine up to $10,000, a prison sentence between 5-99 years or the death penalty, Dickson said.

A multi-agency taskforce investigated the incident, with officers from the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, Texas Rangers, Jacksonville Police Department, Rusk Police Department and the Smith County Sheriff's Office East Texas Anti Gang Task Force.

“I'm proud of the work the detectives with the sheriff's office did, along with the great work done by the multiple agencies in and around the county,” Dickson said. “It was a tough case, and (agents) spent a lot of hours making sure we got this solved, for Davenport's family and for the citizens.”

An investigation is ongoing, as “we're still putting parts together,” he added.

(source: Jacksonville Progress)


Double murder trial postponed for second time

A double murder trial set to begin Monday has been postponed for 5 months over health concerns for one of Shadrach Peeler’s defense attorneys.

Peeler, who is charged with killing his girlfriend and a convenience store owner Feb. 21, 2019, now is scheduled to stand trial Jan. 11. If convicted of murder, he could face the death penalty.

It’s the 2nd time his murder trial has been postponed.

In a 3-page motion, there is concern for the health of lead counsel Susie Hurst because of potential COVID-19 exposure if the trial was held. Peeler, who has been a patient at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Complex in La Grange since late last month, is at a facility where “there are diagnosed and active COVID-19 cases among staff at the facility,” the document says.

Also, staff at KCPC were uncertain when Peeler, 37, of Elizabethtown, could be returned to Hardin County, compromising his “rights to a fair trial.” This is at least the 2nd time Peeler has been at KCPC since his Feb. 22, 2019, arrest.

His defense team had sought a trial continuation to March 2021. Hardin Circuit Judge Kelly Mark Easton granted the motion, but scheduled the trial for an earlier date.

Elizabethtown police said Peeler shot and killed his girlfriend Cherie Turner, 34, on West War­field Street and then went to a convenience store on North Miles Street where store co-­owner Subash “Su” Ghale, 40, was killed.

Peeler also is accused of shooting and injuring Prayash Baniya of Elizabethtown, an employee of the same store and close friend of Ghale, and store customer Nadia Browne of Elizabethtown.

The defense also attempted earlier this year to have the trial moved out of Hardin County in a motion citing reporting in a Dec. 29, 2019, article in The News-Enterprise. The motion specifically mentions headlines which said, “Murder suspect fit to stand trial” and “Peeler found to have ‘no intellectual impairment’”.

In an eight-page ruling in April, Easton cited procedural reasons for rejecting the request and disagreeing with the defense concerns about finding jurors because of news coverage.

Peeler is charged with 2 counts of murder, one count of 1st-­degree assault, 1 count of 2nd-degree assault, tampering with physical evidence, possession of a handgun by a convicted felon and resisting arrest.

He is being held in lieu of a $2 million cash bond in the Hardin County Detention Center.

(source: The News-Enterprise:


'Once-in-a-lifetime lawmaker' Ernie Chambers winds down historic career in Nebraska Legislature

The most famous Black man in Nebraska and one of the state’s most influential figures will put yet another mark in the history books this week.

8 years ago, State Sen. Ernie Chambers became the first state senator to return to the Legislature after being term-limited out. Now he will become the 1st to be term-limited twice.

He already holds the record as Nebraska’s longest-serving lawmaker, having represented North Omaha for 46 years. That’s more than half the years that Nebraska has had a 1-house legislature and more than 1/2 his own life.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega of this Legislature,” he said during a recent debate.

Over those 46 years, Chambers has had a hand in innumerable pieces of legislation. He has stood up for the “least, the last and the lost,” whether Black or not. He has been a thorn in the side of opponents and has demanded high standards from public officials. And he continues to inspire generations of

Nebraskans to pursue racial justice and equity.

LaVon Stennis-Williams, a North Omaha native who counts Chambers as a friend, said Nebraska has been fortunate to have Chambers in the Legislature, and his departure will leave a void.

“I think sometimes Nebraska does not understand the power and influence of this man,” she said. “He just has a heart for helping uplift people.”

Former State Sen. Tanya Cook of Omaha called him “an iconic figure,” while former Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha described him as a teacher and mentor. Even those who have found themselves at odds with Chambers respect him.

“He’s a once-in-a-lifetime lawmaker,” said Chris Rodgers, a Douglas County Board member who represents North Omaha. “No matter what you think, you have to respect his skill in a deliberative body.”

Chambers arrived in the Legislature at age 33, a barber whose notoriety as a civil rights activist preceded him. For most of his career, he has been the only non-white senator in the Legislature.

At the age of 33, Ernie Chambers arrived in the Nebraska Legislature. He was a barber whose notoriety as a civil rights activist preceded him.

He stood out in other ways, too, from wearing short-sleeved sweatshirts and jeans every day to taking up issues others feared to touch.

Much of Chambers’ effectiveness comes from his willingness to follow his conscience, come what may. He said he honed a strong sense of personal responsibility during his churchgoing youth. He has cast off religion since, but not the commitment to doing what he believes he ought to do for no other reward than his own peace of mind.

“I know I’m the most feared and most hated man in this state,” he said. “I know that and it doesn’t mean anything to me because my life is not based on whether people approve of what I do or agree with what I do.”

In other moments, he quotes the mantra of Popeye the Sailor Man: “I yam what I yam.”

Chambers multiplied his power as a single senator by becoming the undisputed master of legislative rules, particularly the filibuster. He put pressure on other senators by taking up time or threatening to do so.

He often used those extended debates to educate, infuriate and entertain. He provided lessons about history, especially the history of slavery, and pointed lectures about what he sees as the failings of white people generally and public officials in particular. He also told fractured Bible stories and tales from Western movies, interspersed with snippets of song.

5 years ago, Chambers succeeded at one of his career goals, repealing Nebraska’s death penalty. Conservative senators joined him to pass a repeal bill and override Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto.

But Nebraska voters reinstated capital punishment the following year, after the governor financed a referendum petition to put the issue on the ballot. Despite Chambers’ legal efforts, the state executed Carey Dean Moore through lethal injection 2 years later, the 1st execution in 21 years.

“Getting the death penalty abolished, even though it was temporary, meant a great deal to me,” Chambers said.

He had more lasting success with legislation barring the execution of people convicted as juveniles and people with mental retardation.

Another lasting accomplishment was the passage of laws requiring district elections for the Omaha school board, Omaha City Council and Douglas County Board.

That change allowed Black people, and later Latinos, to be elected to those bodies for the first time ever and gave a voice to a broader range of Omaha neighborhoods. Some of those elected to those local boards have gone on to higher office, including two of Chambers’ current legislative colleagues, Sens. Justin Wayne and Tony Vargas.

Chambers’ work reached across the world in 1980, when he pushed for a resolution that made Nebraska the first state to divest from businesses operating in apartheid South Africa. Omaha City Council member Ben Gray said the resolution started a domino effect that eventually pressured that country to do away with its system of state-imposed racial segregation and discrimination.

Another law led to freedom and exoneration for 6 people convicted in a Beatrice woman’s rape and slaying. The Beatrice 6 collectively spent more than 70 years in prison. The law requires the state to test DNA evidence if it was unavailable at the time of a trial and could exonerate a defendant.

Other laws banned corporal punishment in the public schools, eliminated the sales tax on groceries, required grand jury investigations of the deaths of people while in police custody, and established government liability for bystanders injured in police chases.

Chambers played a key role in creating the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties, which forced Omaha-area school districts to work together on addressing needs of students in poverty, and he got a portion of the sales tax used to help finance the CHI Health Center earmarked for historical preservation and anti-gang violence initiatives in North and South Omaha.

He also fought to protect college athletes from having their scholarships yanked after an injury and to allow them to be paid. He got the same retirement benefits for female state employees as males and introduced some of the first legislation to bar job discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

His last bill was signed into law Thursday. Chambers called it a “pee wee” measure compared with some he has proposed. It will require law enforcement officers to get 2 hours of anti-bias and implicit bias training every year. The requirement aims to reduce racial profiling and curb police violence against Black people.

As important as the legislation he has gotten passed, however, have been the bills he stopped or slowed.

He has held numerous abortion restrictions at bay, along with attempts to replace the electric chair with lethal injection. The switch was passed only after he was termed out of the Legislature the first time. He regularly fights proposals to raise sales taxes and fees on ordinary people.

He was the lone “no” vote in 1997 when Nebraska passed a law banning a late-term abortion procedure. Yet his objections in the legislative record helped build a case that led to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the law.

Chambers has had a hand in many more pieces of legislation, Cook said. Behind the scenes, she said, he frequently offered to help colleagues fix flaws in their bills.

“He has a lot of influence because he cares so much about the integrity of the institution,” she said.

That respect, both for the Legislature and for the judiciary, shows up in his frequent criticisms of those who fall short. He has filed numerous complaints alleging ethical failings of judges and pushed for investigations of wrongdoing by public officials.

Chambers has come in for his share of criticism.

Some argue he should have done more for economic development of his district, which has the highest percentage of families in poverty in the state. But Cook noted that those complaints are not coming from his constituents, who have repeatedly reelected him. Others focus on things Chambers has said in debate. Nearly every year he has provoked outrage and condemnation for comments that others have called “irresponsible,” “appalling,” “offensive” and “horrifying.” Some comments have been labeled sexist or anti-Semitic.

Most recently, Chambers criticized State Sen. Julie Slama and Ricketts for a campaign mailer that former Gov. Dave Heineman and Bob Kerrey, a former governor and U.S. senator, have called racist. The mailer juxtaposed a photo of Slama’s opponent, Janet Palmtag of Nebraska City, with a photo of Chambers.

He said the ad was an attempt to scare voters in District 1 into voting for Slama, and he called it dirty politics. He then said that if Slama wanted to engage in dirty politics, she should not be surprised if people repeat rumors about why Slama, whom he called a young woman with little life experience, was appointed by Ricketts.

Other recent controversies include a comment Chambers made during a 2015 hearing about a bill to loosen concealed carry laws. When the bill introducer said people needed to have guns in bars because of the Islamic State and “the world situation,” Chambers responded that residents of his district were more in fear of police than of extremist groups.

“My ISIS is the police. Nobody from ISIS ever terrorized us as a people as the police do us daily. And they get away with it,” he said.

And last year, he drew condemnation for calling the American flag a “rag” during debate about a civics education bill that required students to learn respect for the flag, among other things.

“Every hateful thing that was done to Black people was done under the aegis of that rag,” he said, adding, “You’re more upset by what’s said about that rag than about the savaging of the Constitution.”

Chambers dismisses the criticism.

“I genuinely don’t care what people think of me,” he said. “ I don’t care what they say about me. It’s just words. My self-respect is intact, my pride is intact and those things that make me what I am when it comes to my own estimation are all intact, untouched by them.”

He’s equally unperturbed by having to leave the Legislature, calling it “just another bump in the road.”

Chambers hasn’t decided what comes next. A group of supporters has been pushing for him to run for Douglas County Board this fall. He agreed to do it if they collect enough petition signatures to put his name on the ballot. He would need to file for the seat by Sept. 1.

And in four years, when he could run for the Legislature again? He won’t rule out the idea, even though he would turn 87 before the November 2024 election. He said he would consider returning if “my mind is clear and my health is good.”

After all, there will still be inequities to tackle and people who still need someone to speak out for them.

“That may put on me a responsibility to live 4 more years and come back,” he said.



5 men face death sentences for disrupting mobile court, families say they are innocent

5 suspects could be facing death sentences over the disruption of a Mobile Court sitting in Zaria, Kaduna State, a Magistrate Court in Kaduna has said.

According to the prosecutor, the 5 suspects, Alhaji Bello, Ibrahim Adamu, Sadam A. Mohammed, Basiru Abdullahi and Habibu Bello were arraigned following a complaint by the Magistrate of a Mobile Court, Lamido Abubakar.

Abubakar filed the complaint to the police alleging that the suspects chased him away from the Magistrate Mobile Court stationed in the Maraban Gwanda and Sabon Gari area of Zaria.

The prosecutor quoted the magistrate, who is the victim of the alleged attack by the suspects as saying that his auxiliary staffs were attacked while he sustained injuries on his leg and finger.

He further alleged that the defendants damaged parts of the Hilux bus attached to the court, an act he described as an attempt to commit homicide and obstruction of public servant on duty.

During a hearing of the case by a Magistrate Court, sitting in Chediya, Mustapha Dahiru Isah, the magistrate said his court lacks jurisdiction to hear the case, but the offence was an attempt to commit homicide, which penalty was “life sentence or death penalty.

Isah ordered the suspects to be remanded in the Nigerian Correctional Service facility pending an advice from the Kaduna State Ministry of Justice on the next line of action.

He adjourned the case to September 19, for further hearing.

However, DailyTrust reported that families of some of the suspects alleged that the suspects were randomly picked and were not perpetrators of the alleged offence.

“Actually, those that chased away the Magistrate of the mobile court were motorists plying the Zaria-Kano express road, as their colleague died in the hands of the vigilantes attached to the court,” a relative of one of the suspect said.

(source: International Centre for Investigative Reporting)


Iran Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentence For Kurdish Political Prisoner - Rights Group

Hengaw Kurdish human rights group on Saturday reported that reliable sources have confirmed Heydar Qorbani (Ghorbani), a Kurdish political prisoner in Iran is to be executed soon.

According to Hengaw, the sources have said that the Supreme Court has upheld Qorbani's sentence – based only on forced confessions -- and the verdict will soon be carried out in Sanandaj Prison.

Judiciary officials and Qorbani's lawyers have not commented on the report by Hengaw.

Heydar Qorbani's and his brother-in-law Mahmoud Sadeqi, residents of a small village of Kamyaran in Kurdistan Province, were arrested in October 2016 on charges of cooperation in the killing of several members of the Revolutionary Guard and membership in the outlawed Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (DPIK).

In 2017 the English channel of the Iranian state-run television, Press TV, aired a documentary titled "The Death Driver" which contained forced confessions of Qorbani who said he had driven DPIK teams involved in the assassination or kidnapping of several Revolutionary Guard members. Qorbani's family say the so-called "confessions" were made under duress and torture.

In a statement on July 15 following the execution of two Kurdish men in Urumieh Prison in West Azarbaijan Province, Amnesty International said at least five prisoners from Iran's Kurdish minority – including Qorbani -- were at risk of execution who had been targeted for real or perceived affiliation with armed Kurdish political opposition groups.

According to Amnesty another Kurdish prisoner on death row, Hedayat Abdollahpour, has been forcibly disappeared since May 9, 2020 as the authorities refuse to reveal the truth concerning his secret execution and return his body to his family.

A seventh Kurdish prisoner, Mostafa Salimi, was executed on April 12, 2020 in the city of Saqqez, in Kurdistan province. He was executed shortly after he was recaptured in apparent reprisal for his escape from prison in late March amid protests and riots over the spread of COVID-19 in Iran's prisons.

"All men were sentenced to death following grossly unfair trials which took place between 2016 and 2020 and relied primarily or exclusively on “confessions” obtained without the presence of a lawyer and under torture and other ill-treatment," Amnesty said.

“Iran’s increasing use of the death penalty as a political weapon for repression is alarming and warrants the immediate attention of the international community. Without urgent diplomatic and public action, more lives in Iran are at risk of being cut short by the state’s execution machine,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's researcher on Iran.



Canada decries death penalty after second Canadian sentenced in China this week

Canada is telling China that it strongly opposes the death penalty after a 2nd Canadian was sentenced to death on drug charges by a Chinese court this week, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday.

Ye Jianhui was sentenced Friday by the Foshan Municipal Intermediate Court in the southern province of Guangdong after being found guilty of manufacturing and transporting illegal drugs. Death sentences are automatically referred to China’s highest court for review.

This came 1 day after Canadian Xu Weihong was also sentenced to death on drug charges by a different court in the same province.

China gave 2 other Canadian citizens death sentences in 2019.

Canada has long opposed the death penalty and Canadian officials will continue making this clear to China, Freeland said in response to the sentences.

“We believe it is a cruel and inhumane punishment and we make that clear to all of our interlocutors everywhere,” she said in Toronto.

“We have made that clear in our conversations with China and we will continue to do so.”

She did not, however, link these two cases to the ongoing diplomatic tensions between Canada and China over the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

She has previously described China’s detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a businessman, as apparent retaliation for the arrest.

Meng’s arrest in 2018, which was done at the request of the United States under an extradition treaty, infuriated Beijing, seeing her case as a political move designed to prevent China’s rise as a global technology power.

Recent public comments by Chinese officials warning Canada to expect further retaliation from China make these recent death sentences suspect, said Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, senior fellow at the China Institute at the University of Alberta.

“I think that they could be linked. We don’t know that they are linked, but the threat of retaliation was made and we haven’t seen any other actions from the government of China except (the 2 death sentences).”

Last month, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry accused Canada of interfering in China’s internal affairs after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned a new security law giving Beijing more control over Hong Kong.

He warned Canada to stop this “interfering” if they wish to avoid further damage to China-Canada relations.

Global Affairs Canada had been closely following Ye’s case and was able to provide consular assistance to him and his family, department spokesman John Babcock said Friday.

Canadian officials also attended the verdict and sentencing of Ye on Friday and have called for clemency for him and all Canadian citizens who have been sentenced to death.

McCuaig-Johnston says it is positive, and often unusual, to see China allow consular access to Canadians in these cases.

But despite the fact the death penalty is not an uncommon punishment for large-scale drug cases, she notes the Chinese legal system is not a fair one for those who find themselves accused of a crime, even without the existence of diplomatic tensions.

“If you’re charged in China, 99.9 % of the time, you’re found guilty,” she said.

“Their opportunity for self-defence is next to nil in China, so you have to consider that not all of these cases are necessarily a focus of guilt and perhaps, as happened with Robert Schellenberg, the individuals even if they were guilty, might have been given a shorter sentence, not execution.”

Schellenberg, another Canadian convicted on drug charges, had a previous sentence upgraded to the death penalty following a sudden retrial of his case held shortly after Meng’s arrest.

A Canadian citizen identified as Fan Wei was given the death penalty in April 2019 for his role in a multinational drug smuggling case.

(source: Red Deer Advocate)


Atienza urges Duterte urged to drop push for death penalty

Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza on Sunday urged President Rodrigo Duterte to drop his push to bring back the death penalty via lethal injection, calling it “an exercise in futility and an utter waste of time.”

“The President won’t get any satisfaction, even if his allies in Congress steamroller the passage of a new law reviving death sentences. The President still won’t see any judicial executions while he is in office, so he might as well give it up,” the former Manila mayor said.

“Besides, the President’s wish to put convicts to death via a medically induced coma is no longer possible,”Atienza said.

Sodium thiopental – the 1st of the 3-drug concoction used to deprive convicts of life and brain function in lethal injection – is no longer legally available, according to the congressman.

Due to humanitarian concerns, Atienza said the entire world has stopped producing and trading in the powerful anesthetic used to render convicts unconscious, before they are given a paralytic agent and a heart stopper.

“Congress should forget about the death penalty. The best criminologists around the world have long established that executions do not serve any purpose that is not already being served by prolonged imprisonment,” he said.

Atienza urged the administration to direct all its attention and effort on suppressing the coronavirus pandemic, and on revitalizing the national economy that collapsed by 16.5 % in the 2nd quarter.

“Otherwise, the deteriorating public health disaster, coupled with extreme economic difficulties, might advance into a political crisis that the administration surely does not want,” Atienza warned.



Solons insist anti-COVID measures should be top priority, not death penalty

House members reiterated on Sunday the need to prioritize anti-COVID measures over the renewed push to pass the reimposition of death penalty in the 18th Congress.

Rizal Rep. Fidel Nograles, a vice-chairman of the House Committee on Justice, said he supports the reimposition of death penalty for heinous crimes. However, he thinks that lawmakers’ energies should be directed toward the most pressing issue that the country is facing. “It’s no secret that I support imposing death penalty for heinous crimes. But I think if we are going to talk about justice, let’s first talk about preventing the spread of COVID-19 within our prisons),” he said.

The lawyer-congressman has repeatedly called for the government to release low-risk and vulnerable persons deprived of liberty in a bid to arrest the spread of COVID-19 in the country’s highly congested jails.

The Philippines has the highest jail occupancy in the world, with a congestion rate at 534 %.

“We can talk about reinstating death penalty after we’ve had a desirable degree of control over the ongoing health crisis. Let’s not feed the flames of indignation of our people who think that our focus lies elsewhere than helping them survive,” Nograles said.

“For now, may we just pour our efforts and our minds in saving lives. Even our inmates have a right to live,” he stressed.

The Justice committee is the main House panel that discusses the death penalty “revival” measures, which amounts to 12 bills so far this 18th Congress.

Meanwhile, pro-life solon, Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza reckoned that Congress should forget about President Duterte’s call to bring back capital punishment.

Instead, Atienza, like Nograles, urged the administration to direct of all its attention and efforts on suppressing the coronavirus pandemic and revitalizing the national economy that collapsed by 16.5 % in the 2nd quarter.

“Otherwise, the deteriorating public health disaster, coupled with extreme economic difficulties, might advance into a political crisis that the administration surely does not want,” Atienza warned.

He again undescored that death penalty has never been proven to be an effective deterrent to vile criminal acts. “The best criminologists around the world have long established that executions do not serve any purpose that is not already being served by prolonged imprisonment.”

The Philippines lifted death penalty in 2006 during the time of President Gloria M. Arroyo.

(source: Manila Bulletin)


Catholic bishops open to dialogue with lawmakers on death penalty

CATHOLIC bishops are open to a dialogue with lawmakers over a proposed measure seeking the reimposition of the death penalty.

The Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care (ECPPC) made the call as the House of Representatives’ Committee on Justice resumed its hearing on the proposed legislation.

“We at the ECPPC are ready to dialogue with our legislators to explore with them ways and means to improve our criminal justice system and our ways of treating persons deprived of liberty (PDLs),” they said in a statement.

The bishops warned that the country’s “imperfect” justice system may lead to the conviction of the wrong person, who are usually poor and marginalized, even as they maintained that the death penalty is immoral,

“Experience shows that most, if not all persons meted the death penalty are the poor and uneducated, who cannot afford prominent lawyers to defend them,” they said.

The prelates proposed that the government should instead push for measures aimed at reforming the judicial and correctional systems “to make them more restorative and rehabilitative, rather than punitive”.

The House committee on justice started debates on the death penalty on August 5, a week after President Rodrigo Duterte again asked lawmakers to reinstate capital punishment for drug-related crimes.

Earlier, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) expressed confidence that life will eventually triumph over death.

Former CBCP president and now Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said the reimposition of the death penalty is tantamount to granting a “license to kill” to authorities.

The CBCP also called on the faithful and all Filipinos who stand for life to continue the spirited opposition to the death penalty.

It maybe recalled that the through the 1986 Constitution, the death penalty was abolished but only to be restored in 1994 by former president Fidel Ramos with the enactment of Republic Act 7659 or the Death Penalty Law.

It was again abolished in 2006 by former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

According to the International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care, 124 out of 194 countries had abolished the death penalty in their penal system.

(source: The Manila Times)

AUGUST 8, 2020:


Racial Bias and the Future of Capital Punishment in Texas

The murder of George Floyd — a fellow Texan — brought into sharp focus this year the reality that racism — especially in the justice system — is not an issue of the past.

As the state and nation continue to make progress in education, advocacy and awareness about racism, racial bias, and the impact on the criminal justice system, it’s clear: there is still more work to do.

So, as the 2021 Legislative session approaches in January, the Texas branch of the Racial Justice Coalition is doubling down on its efforts to pass the Racial Justice Act.

The act would provide capital defendants with the ability to downgrade sentencing from capital punishment to life without parole when it can be shown that racial bias was a significant factor in the sentencing.

More than 72 % of those on death row in Texas are people of color. Studies link race as a significant and deciding factor in the state’s harshest punishment. In 2021, with the strength of awareness generated in 2020, the RJC hopes to change that with the RJA.

“We hope that public discourse regarding racial inequality will extend to addressing racism in capital punishment sentencing, ensuring that no one is executed on account of their race,” said Megan Rollag, RJC executive director in Texas. “It is important to emphasize that we are advocating for a justice system that accounts for and seeks to mitigate the effects that racial bias has on the integrity of justice. When our justice system applies the law equally only for some, it is an injustice to all. Systemic inequality persists because, even if all actors play by the rules, the system itself has not accounted for unequal and unjust outcomes.”

In light of 2020’s events, RJC says it’s more important than ever to bring to light data illustrating how racial bias influences the criminal justice system — including in cases that involve the death penalty — in Texas.


The coalition uses several focuses of data to support their advocacy work, among them, race, how race has historically affected the justice system in Texas specifically, and the perception of Black lives in trials.

The 1st issue, Rollag said, is race itself. Out of the 213 inmates on death row in Texas, 156 inmates are nonwhite. Black inmates comprise 44% of death row and Latinxs inmates represent 26%, according to data from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. In a 2008 study published by the Houston Law Review, Professor Scott Phillips found that a Black defendant’s race increased the odds of proceeding to a capital trial by 75%.

Data from Pearson and the Texas Tribune show that over the last five years, more than 70% of death sentences imposed in Texas have been imposed on people of color. These numbers are even more pronounced in Texas counties that use the death penalty the most. Research from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty showed that 20 of the 21 defendants sentenced to death in Harris County since 2004 are people of color.

But stories of how race has historically affected the justice system in Texas are where the work of the RJC’s work is perhaps most powerful.

The roots of the Racial Justice Act legislation began with the case McCleskey v. Kemp, which set a precedent for placing limitations on the use of statistical evidence to show convictions and sentencing based on race. Warren McClesky was accused of killing a white police officer during a robbery and faced the death penalty. During his trial, his attorneys presented the jury with strong evidence showing that African American defendants like McCleskey were more likely to receive a death sentence than any other defendant.

But instead, the outcome of his case set a legal expectation nearly impossible to meet: it placed the burden of proving discrimination on the defendant, in their own case. For people of color, this is an insurmountable requirement.

To put a face to these numbers, Rollag mentioned others who have faced these obstacles in the justice system, such as Duane Buck, who was sentenced to the death penalty in the late 1990s for shooting his ex-girlfriend and her friend. The psychologist called to the defense told jurors that Buck was “more likely to commit a violent crime because of his race.”

Cases like McCleskey and Buck’s are unfortunately all too common.

Hope for Change

The McCleskey case also said that state legislatures can pass their own legislation on how defendants can identify racial bias using evidence and appeal their sentencing.

As a result, the Racial Justice Act bill could essentially stop the state from seeking or getting a criminal conviction or imposing a sentence based on race, ethnicity or national origin.

Right now, accused Texans must rely on state or federal constitutional provisions to challenge discrimination. And the stakes are highest when the death penalty is involved, Rollag emphasized.

“While we recognize and respect the activism of years past, this year in particular has shown that there is still more work to be done,” Rollag said. “We are inspired by the collaboration and teamwork people across the nation have shown in combating racial inequality in criminal justice. Racial bias influences our justice system at all levels and must be addressed; however, the stakes are highest in capital punishment cases.”

The coalition is partnering with a data team in order to revisit research questions that require updating or a different approach to analysis. The focus will center around jury selection, including jury shuffling, and the effect that race has on both a jury and a minority defendant. Their efforts are also supported by several legislators in the capitol, including state Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio).

“We are relying on several studies that approach this issue statewide and on the county level,” Rollag said. “But we also hope that renewed perspectives and data analysis will prompt swift action by the Texas legislature.”

The RJC-Texas hopes that this act and the potential impacts on things like jury selection — a crucial element in the outcome of a trial and a sentence — will be a powerful agent of change this year.

“When a jury hears expert testimony that expressly makes a defendant’s race directly pertinent on the question of life or death, the impact of that evidence cannot be measured simply by how much air time it received at trial or how many pages it occupies in the record,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the Supreme Court decision ordering Buck’s resentencing trial. “Some toxins can be deadly in small doses.”



Calls between Ross, his ex played for jury in Elyria murder trial

Murder defendant Jocquez Ross and his former girlfriend, Brooke Nolen, fought over the phone when he called her from jail several times in late 2016, according to recordings of those calls played in Lorain County Common Pleas Court on Friday.

Ross, 29, is alleged to have shot and killed Michael "LuLu" Lewis and his wife, Fannie Thomas-Lewis in a parked car on Fox Hill Lane near the Midway Mall in Elyria on Jan. 31, 2016. He is being held in the Lorain County Jail on $2 million bond on charges of aggravated murder, felonious assault, tampering with evidence and having weapons under disability.

Ross could get the death penalty if convicted of aggravated murder and the jury and Judge Christopher Rothgery agree on such a sentence.

Ross' alibi to police was that he was playing basketball at North Rec in Elyria the night of the killing, and he allegedly tried to get Nolen — a mother of five who has a child with Ross and a history of felony drug charges — to give him an alibi by asking family and friends to send her text messages and call her while he sent her letters and made phone calls from jail.

"Don't trust your lawyer" and "Keep your (expletive) mouth shut," were some of the messages Ross sent or had sent by others to Nolen, Cillo said in March.

In an interview nearly four years ago, Nolen told police she spent the weekend prior to the murders high on painkillers and marijuana because she had cut her wrist while drunkenly washing dishes. Ross was with her at least part of that time, she told them, but cellphone records placed him elsewhere for at least eight hours the day of the murders.

In the recorded calls played Friday, Nolen was openly hostile toward Ross when he called, telling her she was "done" with him, called him a "liar" and accused him of cheating on her with multiple women.

"I told you, don't look for me when you in a jam my (expletive)," she told him. "You're gonna serve a whole (expletive) bid. ... One day, you and me gonna be cool, but I'm not riding with you Joc."

Ross also got a sexually transmitted infection from someone who wasn't Nolen, one of at least four and possibly five other women she accused him of cheating with, she said on the phone.

"Where'd you get chlamydia?" she asked Ross. "Call that (expletive) or write her. I know you are. You're not my man. You're somebody else's ... But you couldn't keep your (expletive) in your pants."

"You absolutely disgust me," Nolen told Ross on tape. "You're disgusting. That's how I look at you."

"I'm sorry," Ross told her.

"I've heard that before," Nolen replied, calling Ross "a sociopath."

Nolen said she would beat forthcoming drug and child endangering charges she was facing. Ross also told someone, who was not immediately identified on the tape, to tell Nolen to deal with his lawyer to get her charges dismissed.

"It's important she does this my way and not the other way because that's a lot of bull(expletive) involved that could be avoided," he said on one of the calls, dated Nov. 15, 2016, according to Elyria police Detective James Homoki, who was on the stand for the prosecution on Friday morning. "Tell her I love her and I really need her to work with me on this."

In a call on Nov. 19, 2016, Ross said he would try to help Nolen by telling the judge in her drug case that she didn't know anything about drugs.

"I'm telling the judge you didn't know," he told Nolen. "They can charge you but they can't convict you on the stuff you didn't know about."

Nolen told Ross "you gotta cut this out."

"All these calls, you gotta cut this (expletive), the letters and stuff. Everything you do and say is monitored. It's in your best interest," she told him, before again accusing him of cheating on her with other women, including drug addicts and a 17-year-old woman.

"I hate you and want you to stop calling me," Nolen told him, starting to cry. "I'm sorry for the way everything turned out and I'm sorry for the man you are."

"I'm thinking of ways I can help you," Ross replied.

"There's no one who can help me," she said.

"I'm going to need you to do what I'm asking you to do," Ross told her, referring to a letter he had sent her.

"I'm not lying," Nolen told him. "How dare you continue to ask me. You involved me. I'm not lying for nobody. You should admit what you did. You did it to yourself."

In yet another call from Ross to Nolen on Dec. 5, 2016, Ross told her: "I just really need you and me to be on the same page ... I really need us to come together, man."

She then tells Ross that the last two years "have been the worst two years of my life."

Rothgery again overruled a defense motion to disallow the playing of the calls in open court.

The objection "was overruled months ago," the judge told defense attorney Michael Camera. "It was overruled again this morning."

Prosecutors allege the deaths were a "hit" on the couple done by Ross, an alleged gang member. All three were involved in the illegal drug trade, according to testimony in court earlier this year, and competing local drug dealers believed Michael Lewis was "snitching" on them to police, according to the Lorain County Prosecutor's Office.

Shaundale "Tug" Brown and his brother, Marquel "Pumpkin" Brown, believed Lewis had informed on them to authorities after Shaundale Brown was arrested with more than 750 grams of cocaine, Assistant Prosecutor Tony Cillo said in his opening statement in March.

Ross, who goes by "Joc" or "King Joc," may have offered to rob the Lewises on behalf of the Brown brothers, Cillo said. The Browns' sister, Myesha Anderson, also allegedly loaned Ross a gun to do the crime, he said. The Brown brothers both are in prison for drug crimes.

Elyria police found a total of a kilo of heroin split between two apartments the Lewises had, along with $90,000 in suspected drug money in one of the apartments, according to prosecutors.

Nolen got an attorney and brought Ross' jail letters and other evidence to authorities in October 2016. She later asserted her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, refusing to testify in court. However, Rothgery ruled that prosecutors could use evidence given by Nolen against Ross through an exemption to the hearsay rule called "forfeiture by wrongdoing," because he found evidence that Ross tried to manipulate Nolen's testimony by misconduct.

Ross' trial started March 2, was postponed March 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and resumed on Thursday.

According to testimony in March, Nolen also told investigators Ross threw a pair of pants out the window of her car as she drove him to his sister's house in North Olmsted late in the evening of Jan. 31, 2016. She also overheard a reference to a metal detector that someone was supposed to take out to the area of the old Walmart off Ford Road in Elyria in a call he made within her earshot following the killings.

Police searched near the old Walmart for a cellphone and the murder weapon, a 9 mm handgun. Ross' pants, the cellphone and murder weapon never were recovered, detectives testified in March.

The defense has said that there is no physical evidence linking Ross to the murders. Testimony resumes next week.

(source: The Chronicle-Telegram)


Capital murder suspect indicted for molestation

A Bay Springs man who is charged in the stabbing death of an elderly Jones County woman was indicted for molesting a child in Jasper County.

Michael Shane Askew, 52, was charged with lustful touching of a child this week after the Jasper County 2nd District grand jury convened.

“My office plans on coordinating with the Jones County District Attorney’s Office on their pending charges against Askew, and together we can seek an appropriate justice that will provide all victims as much closure as possible,” Jasper County District Attorney Matt Sullivan said.

Askew is serving the remainder of his time after being convicted of conspiracy and escape in Jasper County in August 2017. His original sentence called for him to serve 5 years in prison, but he was released on June 25, 2018 — after serving a little more than 10 months.

It was after his early release that he was accused of having sexual contact with a 7-year-old boy and killing 82-year-old Betty Dickerson in her Shady Grove home.

Askew was transferred back to the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections in June after the Jasper County Circuit Court found that Askew violated his parole. He is tentatively scheduled for release on Oct. 17, according to MDOC records. Jones County has a hold on him so he will be returned to custody in the Jones County Adult Detention Center to await charges here. He is being housed in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, MDOC officials said.

Dickerson was found dead of a knife wound to her neck in her Shady Grove home in February. Family members and friends have expressed their outrage about the fact that Askew should have been in prison at the time of both incidents.

“I don’t even know what to tell victims’ families any more,” Sullivan said in a recent interview. “We present the facts and the evidence and get a conviction … When the judge sentences someone, they need to serve that time.”

Sullivan said it’s difficult to follow MDOC’s changing rules on sentencing guidelines and percentages of time required to be served — changes that are usually the result of budgetary concerns, he said.

Askew could face the death penalty in Jones County. The underlying felony in the murder he is accused of is robbery, Jones County District Attorney Tony Buckley said.

Askew reportedly spent time in prison for aggravated assault of a corrections officer in Texas. He was convicted of conspiracy/possession of a controlled substance in Jasper County in August 2016 for the sale of hydrocodone/acetaminophen, along with Cheryl O’Neal. He served 147 days in the Jasper County Jail before climbing and jumping off the fence of the facility, breaking his leg in the process.

In August 2017, Askew was ordered to serve five years for escape, but he was released the next June. He was supposed to appear in Jasper County Circuit Court on Feb. 6 for failure to pay court costs of $903, but he was a no-show, said Circuit Clerk Billy Rayner.

Askew was denied bond in the Jones and Jasper cases, so there shouldn’t be a chance of him being released before his next trial dates.

Dickerson was found dead in her home on Feb. 17. Askew was developed as a suspect and was arrested later that week by U.S. Marshals in Nashville, with the assistance of investigators from the JCSD and DA’s office.

It is believed that a woman Askew was once in a relationship with was a sitter for a neighbor of Dickerson’s, which is how he was acquainted with her.

(source: Laurel Leader-Call)


$2M cash-only bond for airman charged with murder in Arizona

An Arizona court has set bond for a U.S. Air Force airman charged in the fatal shooting of a Sunday school teacher who was living in northwestern New Mexico at $2 million cash only.

Mark Gooch became eligible for bond after the deadline passed for prosecutors to pursue the death penalty in the case. Gooch is facing life in prison if convicted of 1st-degree murder and other charges in the death of Sasha Krause.

The 27-year-old Mennonite woman disappeared from her church community outside Farmington in January as she was gathering materials for a Sunday school class. Her body was found more than a month later in a forest clearing near Flagstaff with her hands bound with duct tape.

Coconino County Superior Court Judge Cathleen Brown Nichols weighed more than a dozen factors in setting the bail amount Thursday during a hearing in the case. Those included the wishes of the victims, Gooch’s history and the evidence already presented in the case.

“The court does believe that if the defendant is released, he poses a risk to other members of the community if he, in fact, committed this offense,” she said.

Gooch, a 21-year-old who was stationed at Luke Air Force base near Phoenix, is being held at the Coconino County jail in Flagstaff.

Authorities used cell phone records to tie him to Krause, but they have not said what led him to her. Testing of a bullet that was taken from her skull determined it was fired from a rifle owned by Gooch, authorities said.

Gooch’s attorney, Matthew Springer, pointed to Gooch’s lack of criminal history, in arguing for bail. He didn’t advocate for a certain amount but said whatever concerns prosecutors and Krause’s family might have could be addressed in the conditions of release.

“Regardless of the evidence in this case, he still has the presumption of innocence,” Springer said. “I know the state seems confident in the evidence they have in this case … but we have our defenses, certainly, in this case as well.”

Prosecutor Ammon Barker requested at least a $2 million cash-only bond, saying Gooch has exhibited a pattern of animosity against the Mennonite community that he grew up in.

“The victims in this case do not want this defendant released for obvious reasons,” he said. “He killed their daughter, and they expressed they would only feel safe if he remains in jail.”

Barker said prosecutors intend to take the case to trial but would consider a plea offer made by the defense.

The next hearing in the case is set for late September.

(source: Associated Press)


Trial Date Set for Former Pro Baseball Player Accused of Killing 3 ---- Brandon Willie Martin, a 1st round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011, is accused of using a baseball bat to kill 3 people.

A Sept. 14 trial date was set Friday for an ex-minor league baseball player accused of fatally beating his father, uncle and a bystander inside a Corona home.

Brandon Willie Martin, 27, allegedly used a baseball bat to kill the victims on the evening of Sept. 17, 2015.

Martin is charged with 3 counts of 1st-degree murder with a special circumstance allegation of taking multiple lives in the same crime, as well as auto theft, evading arrest, obstructing a peace officer and injuring a police canine.

The Riverside County District Attorney's Office is seeking the death penalty.

During a status hearing at the Riverside Hall of Justice, Superior Court Judge Bernard Schwartz inquired whether the prosecution and defense will be ready to proceed to trial in mid-September, and the two sides tentatively agreed to prepare for proceedings.

However, a motion to postpone may be made at a Sept. 4 pretrial conference. Martin is being held without bail at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside.

According to evidence presented during a 2016 preliminary hearing, Martin had been experiencing unspecified psychiatric issues and was admitted to the Riverside County Department of Mental Health's emergency treatment facility on County Farm Road on Sept. 15, 2015, for an evaluation.

Martin's admission came after he'd allegedly made threats of physical injury against his father, 64-year-old Michael Martin.

The younger Martin was released from the facility 2 days later, and allegedly went straight to his father's residence in the 1000 block of Winthrop Drive, arriving shortly after 6 p.m.

The elder Martin was at the property with his brother-in-law, 51-year-old Ricky Lee Anderson of Corona, and an ADT alarm company technician, 62-year-old Barry Swanson of Riverside, who was there for an installation consultation, police said.

The defendant allegedly grabbed a baseball bat inside the house and went on a rampage, pummeling all 3 men. Michael Martin and Swanson died at the scene, but Anderson lingered in a coma for two days before dying from his injuries.

After the attack, Brandon Martin allegedly stole Swanson's pickup truck and hid out overnight.

According to Corona police Sgt. Brent Nelson, an off-duty officer spotted the truck in the area of Lincoln and Mountain avenues early the next morning and attempted to stop it, but Martin fled onto Derby Street, dodging several patrol vehicles whose officers tried to disable the Ford F-150 using intervention maneuvers.

The defendant bailed out of the truck at the intersection of Darby and Buena Vista Avenue, near Foothill Elementary School, and darted into a home, where a woman was taking a shower.

Martin tried to escape by leaping from a 2nd-story window but encountered a K-9 officer and his dog, culminating in a brief struggle before he was forcibly taken into custody, according to Nelson.

The woman was not injured.

The defendant graduated from Santiago High School in 2011 and was selected in the first round of that year's Major League Baseball draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, the 38th overall selection.

Martin played three seasons of minor league baseball with a career .211 average. He was released by Tampa Bay on March 26, 2015. Martin has no documented prior felony convictions.



Capital Punishment and the Arts: Clemency Lead Actress and Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Discuss Justice and the Death Penalty

The death penalty is “a losing situation for everybody,” actress and Clemency star Alfre Woodard said in a recent Screen Actors Guild—American Federation of Television and Radio Artists internet forum. “It does not bring back the person who has been taken violently. It doesn’t. It destroys lives.”

Woodard joined writer, activist, and Black Lives Matter (BLM) co-founder Patrisse Cullors in a July 29, 2020 SAG-AFTRA Foundation discussion of the Woodard’s 2019 film Clemency and, as Cullors describes it, related events “in the real world.” Clemency explores the psychological toll of the death penalty through the eyes of prison warden Bernadine Williams (portrayed by Woodard in a critically acclaimed performance) as she prepares to oversee her 12th execution in the aftermath of a botched execution. The film, directed by Chinonye Chukwu, was inspired by the controversial 2011 execution of Troy Davis in Georgia. Clemency also calls attention to issues of conditions on death row and race.

Woodard argues that focusing public attention on both the death penalty and racial justice is necessary for progress to be made on those interwoven issues. Asked about the surge of Hollywood activism on racial justice issues, Woodard explicitly linked the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer to killings authorized by the U.S. legal system. “It took a death penalty being carried out without a trial on an innocent man in front of us,” she said. “We watched it for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. It took that to blow open people’s minds to the point that they’d say what can I do?”

Cullors has repeatedly called for the abolition of the death penalty as one of the principle tenets of the Black Lives Matters’ movement for racial justice. “I think we need to get rid of the death penalty all together without any conditions,” Cullors said. “No human being should be taking anybody else’s life.” In addition to harming individual Black defendants, she said, capital punishment harms Black communities as a whole. Given what BLM sees as the pervasive racial injustice in the American legal system and the death penalty’s role in legitimizing official violence against Black Americans, Cullors sees complete abolition as the only remedy for the racially unequal use of capital punishment across the country.

In response to an audience question on how people can have an impact on death-penalty policy, Cullors emphasized the importance of local elected officials. “One way you can do that is looking at who is your local district attorney,” she said. “At the end of the day, your district attorney has the power to decide who gets the death penalty. … California has some of the highest numbers of people on death row. More numbers in some places than the South. I think it matters who is in office and that’s one of the first places you can look into. Then you can work with folks who are working on the death penalty and trying to get rid of it.”

Cullors highlighted the upcoming November election in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s race. “In our county, … many of you have heard about Jackie Lacey,” Cullors said. “She still issues the death penalty.” A 2019 study by the ACLU reported that under Lacey’s administration, the death penalty had been imposed 22 times, exclusively against defendants of color, disproportionately for killings involving white victims, and disproportionately in cases handled by the worst defense lawyers.

Cullors also expressed her opposition to life without parole as an alternative of the death penalty. “Life without parole,” she said, “is the death penalty under a different name."

Both Woodard and Cullors assert that abolishing the death penalty is a necessary step towards criminal legal reform and racial healing. Capital punishment, they said, is emblematic of an ineffective legal system that does not achieve what it claims to aspire to — justice.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)


COVID-19: 5 to get death sentence for obstructing mobile court

The Suspect

A Magistrate Court, sitting in Chediya, GRA, Zaria, has declared that f5 persons arraigned before it may get a death sentence or life imprisonment for obstructing the sitting of a mobile court enforcing the COVID-19 movement restriction.

According to the Magistrate, Mustapha Dahiru Isah, his court lacks jurisdiction to hear the case, but the offence was an attempt to commit homicide, which penalty was “life sentence or the death penalty.”

The court, therefore, ordered the remand of the suspects, Alhaji Bello, Ibrahim Adamu, Sadam A. Mohammed, Basiru Abdullahi and Habibu Bello, in the Nigerian Correctional Service facility pending an advice from the Kaduna State Ministry of Justice on the next line of action and adjourned the matter to September 19, 2020.

Earlier, the prosecutor, Inspector Abdullahi Rilwanu, on behalf of the state commissioner of police, said on 31st of May, 2020, Lamido Abubakar Esq, Magistrate of the mobile court, reported to the Area Command Office of the Nigeria Police in Zaria that the suspects, all of Maraban Gwanda, Sabon Gari, Zaria, had chased him away as the Magistrate of the mobile court stationed in the area.

Inspector Rilwanu also told the court that Magistrate Abubakar told the police that the suspects had attacked him and his auxiliary staff with clubs where he sustained injuries on his finger and leg.

The suspects, according to the prosecutor, also damaged parts of the Hilux bus attached to the court, saying that the acts were a criminal conspiracy, attempt to commit homicide, causing hurt, and obstruction of public servants from performing legitimate duties.

The offenses, according to him, contravened sections 59, 222, 199, 228 and 317 of the penal code of the Kaduna State laws 2017 as amended.

‘Suspects randomly picked’

Some relatives of the suspects, seen at the court premises by our correspondent, however said that their brothers were “randomly picked without any investigation.”

They said, on condition of anonymity, that the fracas happened when hundreds of motorists protested the death of a 70-year-old driver as members of vigilante attached to the court arrested him and attempted to arraign the deceased before the mobile court.

“So, our relatives were just picked because their houses were close to where the mobile court was stationed.

“Actually, those that chased away the Magistrate of the mobile court were motorists plying the Zaria-Kano express road, as their colleague died in the hands of the vigilantes attached to the court.

“They are doing this to us because we are villagers and we have nobody to stand by us.

“Allah is fully around.

“We are appealing to all well-meaning Nigerians to intervene for our relatives to have justice,” one of them said.

(source: Daily Trust)


Singaporean meth runner receives death in Vietnam

Cher Wei Hon was sentenced to death at Tay Ninh People's Court on Friday for smuggling 10 kg of methamphetamine from Cambodia.

The court found 40-year-old Cher, residing in District 5 of Ho Chi Minh City, guilty of "illegal transportation of banned substances."

According to the indictment, at 3:15 a.m. on June 29, 2019, the Southern Drug Prevention Special Force, cooperating with the Border Guard Station at Moc Bai in Tay Ninh Province that borders HCMC, stopped and searched a car driven by Duong Hung Tam, 27. Cher was in the car.

Cher subsequently identified the large amount of white crystals inside the vehicle as meth.

According to the police, the total volume of meth seized reached 9.95 kg.

Cher said he had met a woman named Quynh at a karaoke parlor in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. After borrowing VND200 million ($8,600) from her, he worked for her to pay off the debt.

At first, Quynh tasked Cher with transporting iPhones and iPads from Cambodia to Vietnam, followed by running drugs across the border for $500 to $1,000 a trip.

He was arrested en route to delivering the meth to HCMC.

Cher later stated he had conducted 5 such trips successfully before being caught.

Police have not managed to track down Quynh while Tam was set free after no connection could be established between him and Cher other than that of mere transportation.

Meth and other kinds of synthetic drugs have become more popular in Vietnam of late, favored by the hard-partying youth.

The country has become a key trafficking hub despite employing some of the world’s toughest drug laws.

Those convicted of possessing or smuggling more than 600 gm of heroin or over 2.5 kg of methamphetamines face capital punishment. The production or sale of 100 gm of heroin or 300 gm of other illegal narcotics is also punishable by death.



5 Indonesians may face death in Malaysia for allegedly smuggling 230 kg of marijuana

5 Indonesian citizens in Malaysia are facing a possible death penalty for their alleged involvement in the smuggling of 230 kilograms of marijuana, the Foreign Ministry has said.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (APMM) arrested the 5 onboard 2 wooden boats carrying the cannabis in waters off Langkawi on July 25, according to the ministry's director for citizen protection, Judha Nugraha.

They were charged for violating Section 39b of Malaysia’s 1952 Dangerous Drugs Act.

"Section 39b carries the death penalty, and thus our mission [in Malaysia] will provide legal assistance for the 5 Indonesian nationals through our embassy's lawyers," Judha said on Friday.

The Indonesian Consulate General in Penang had been notified of the arrest on July 27 and had written to the APMM on the same day to seek consular access to the detained Indonesians, he said.

Citing information from the APMM, Judha said the 5 Indonesians were currently undergoing a COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

"We are hoping that the Indonesian Consulate General in Penang can immediately get consular access [to the detained citizens]," he added.

(source: The Jakarta Post)

AUGUST 7, 2020:


Supreme Court overturns conviction in case that sent Hartford man to death row, orders new trial. State says it will retry Lazale Ashby.

Lazale Ashby, convicted of raping and murdering his 21-year-old neighbor, Elizabeth Garcia, in her apartment on Dec. 2, 2002, had his conviction overturned by the Connecticut Supreme Court. A new trial was ordered.

Lazale Ashby, convicted of raping and murdering his 21-year-old neighbor, Elizabeth Garcia, in her apartment on Dec. 2, 2002, had his conviction overturned by the Connecticut Supreme Court. A new trial was ordered.

In a decision released Thursday afternoon, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Lazale Ashby, now 35, for the Dec. 2, 2002 rape, kidnapping and murder of Elizabeth Garcia in Hartford.

The court found that Ashby was denied his 6th amendment right to counsel when a fellow prisoner, Kenneth Pladsen, got him to make admissions about the case against him.

But Ashby will not be getting out of prison any time soon. He is serving a 25-year sentence for murder for fatally shooting Nahshon Cohen, 22, on Sept. 1, 2003.

In the Garcia case, the court found that trial court Judge Carmen Espinosa erred when she declined to suppress Pladsen’s testimony. The supreme court also found she erred when she did not give the jury an instruction on 3rd-party culpability since saliva from an unidentified man was found on Garcia’s body. Ashby was 18 when Garcia was killed in her Zion Street apartment.

The high court found that Pladsen was acting as an agent for the state and as a result Ashby was entitled to representation by a lawyer.


During the trial, Espinosa conducted a hearing on the informant’s evidence and concluded Plasden had acted on his own and not at the direction of now-retired Hartford police Det. Andrew Weaver. Weaver met with the informant after receiving a letter from him, and told him would be interested in verifiable evidence of incriminating statements by Ashby and at one point asked the informant if he would wear a monitoring device with Ashby.

There was no agreement, however, and Weaver told the informant that only a state’s attorney could make a deal with him. A prosecutor subsequently told Weaver not to speak with Pladsen.

Pladsen, however, took it upon himself to obtain incriminating information from Ashby and later testified at Ashby’s trial.

“We conclude that the state either knew or should have known that such a conversation was likely to end in further deliberate elicitation,” reads the decision by Chief Justice Richard A. Robinson. He was joined by justices Richard N. Palmer, Andrew J. McDonald, Gregory T. D’Auria, Maria Araujo Kahn and Steven D. Ecker.

Prosecutor John Fahey agreed to allow Pladsen to seek a sentence modification, although he took no position on whether it should be granted. A judge ultimately decided not to alter the sentence. Still, the court found that allowing Pladsen to seek a sentence modification was evidence of a benefit for his cooperation, the court found.

Justice Raheem Mullins dissented, contending the state did not affirmatively seek information from Pladsen or offer anything in exchange for information. The court’s finding, he argued, makes “virtually every inmate who seeks out a state official to provide information ... an agent of the state unless the official responds with complete silence or affirmatively dissuades the inmate from seeking further information.”

Fahey said Thursday evening the state will try Ashby again. “The state has every intention of retrying Mr. Ashby in accordance with the supreme court’s decision,” he said.

Supreme Court overturns conviction in case that sent Hartford man to death row, orders new trial. State says it will retry Lazale Ashby.

Ashby was convicted at trial of 2 counts of capital felony, which was the state’s death penalty statute, murder, felony murder, 1st-degree sexual assault, 3 counts of 1st-degree kidnapping and 1st-degree burglary, and sentenced to death. That sentence was later changed to life without the possibility of release, plus 125 years, when the Supreme Court ended the state's death penalty.

Other evidence included DNA linking Ashby to the crime and Ashby’s confession to Weaver and Weaver’s colleague Mike Sheldon.

(source: Hartford Courant)


Scioto County couple indicted in connection with 5-year-old's death

A New Boston couple arrested in connection with the death of a 5-year-old foster child last month has been indicted by a Scioto County grand jury.

According to Scioto County Common Pleas Court records, Sonya l. Greene, 38, was charged with 22 counts, while Richard P. Greene, 46, is facing 20 counts.

• 2 counts of aggravated murder, an unclassified felony;

• 6 counts of rape, a 1st-degree felony;

• 11 counts of endangering children, a 2nd-degree felony; and

• 3 counts of felonious assault, a 2nd-degree felony.

Richard Greene was charged with:

• 2 counts of aggravated murder, an unclassified felony;

• 6 counts of rape, a 1st-degree felony;

• 3 counts of felonious assault, a 2nd-degree felony; and

• 9 counts of endangering children, a 2nd-degree felony.

Both defendants entered a not guilty plea at their respective arraignments.

An aggravated murder conviction can carry a death penalty sentence or life in prison, according to the Ohio Revised Code.

According to the New Boston Police Department, “officers received a call from the Southern Ohio Medical Center Emergency Room Wednesday, July 8 stating that a 5-year-old was brought into the emergency room with injuries. Shortly thereafter, the child was life flighted to Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, where the child died at 10:47 p.m. on July 8.”

Richard and Sonya Greene were arrested following an investigation by the New Boston Police Department, Scioto County Prosecutor’s Office and Scioto County Sheriff’s Office.

According to the police department, Scioto County Children Services had placed the victim child and two other siblings into the foster care of the Greenes and that the children had been living with the Greenes for about a month and a half, since around May 18. The children involved in this case are related to the Greenes.

It is alleged that the victim in this case had “multiple injuries and bruising … that were consistent with being physically abused and hurt.”

An indictment is merely a charge and is not evidence of guilt.

(source: The Highland County Press)


In bombshell plea, close friend admits to murdering former Arkansas state senator -- Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell has previously pleaded not guilty to murder charges.

Rebecca O'Donnell faces the death penalty after being charged with capital murder, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence in the death of former Arkansas legislator Linda Collins-Smith.

In a surprise twist to a baffling Southern murder mystery, the main suspect in the June 2019 murder of former Arkansas state Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, will spend 54 years in prison after pleading guilty to the murder in court this morning.

"I went to Linda's house, and I intentionally killed her and then hid the body," Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell, 49, told the judge, according to ABC News affiliate KATV in Little Rock.

The bombshell plea change follows one year after prosecutors in the case announced their intention to seek the death penalty against O'Donnell, who worked as both an aide to the senator, and later an employee of Collins-Smith's business. The two were considered close friends.

Still, many questions remain -- most prominently: why? Details remain sketchy.

After previously pleading not guilty to capital murder, O'Donnell changed her plea to guilty of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse during a hearing in Pocahontas, Arkansas.

O'Donnell also pleaded "no contest" to two counts of solicitation to commit capital murder in another county. Those charges stem from what prosecutors have described as a murder-for-hire plot while she was in custody. Those pleas will be treated as guilty pleas.

O'Donnell will serve 40 years for the murder, 14 years for the solicitation counts and three years for the abuse of a corpse charge.

The twists and turns in the case have confounded the small community in Pocohantas, about 145 miles northeast of Little Rock.

Numerous judges and a prosecutor have stepped down or recused themselves from the case in the 13 months since the June 2019 murder -- which left the ex-senator's body so damaged that she initially couldn't be identified by authorities, even though she was discovered outside her home.

"The condition of the body prevented any immediate positive identification," Randolph County Sheriff Kevin Bell said during a June 6 news conference.

Ken Yang, former communications director for former state Sen. Linda Collins, speaks at an event remembering Collins at the state Capitol, June 11, 2019, in Little Rock, Ark.

"I was the one that found my mother's body on June 4th 2019 at her home," Collins-Smith's son, Butch Smith, said in a statement on Thursday. "She was lying face down wrapped in one of my old comforters and shoved under a tarp in her driveway. I will never not be able to see that picture burned into my brain."

Smith said in the statement that he believes O'Donnell was stealing money from his mother and when she confronted O'Donnell, she was stabbed to death.

The initial judge overseeing the case sealed the records of the investigation before recusing himself, leaving many in the small Arkansas community wondering what could have prompted such a heinous homicide. All prosecutors have revealed to date is that the motive for the murder appeared to be financial in nature.

O'Donnell was arrested a week and a half after the murder while driving to Collins-Smith's memorial service. She was the last person to see Collins-Smith alive, her fiancé Tim Loggains told ABC News in a June 2019 interview, and the two women were so close that O'Donnell acted as a witness in Collins-Smith's divorce.

"I just told her, they found Linda dead," Loggains said in that interview. "She collapsed."

Loggains said she was the last person known to have seen Collins-Smith alive on May 28 when the woman took her to lunch. He described their relationship as being like sisters.

"She's not capable of this," Loggains told ABC News last year. "Either she is the best actress in the world and completely fooled me or there's not a chance she did this."

Late Thursday, Loggains released a statement in which he described Collins-Smith as a "beautiful soul and a dear friend to me."

"Initially, for various reasons, I believed with all my heart that Becky was innocent," he said in the statement. "No one wants to believe anyone close to them is capable of doing something so heinous. My heart at that time would not let me believe what I later learned to be true – that Becky murdered Linda. That realization was one of the most difficult of my life. To accept that I lived with someone so deviant, someone who could not only take a life but the life of someone who helped her in so many ways, without any indication of the darkness in her heart, was heartbreaking."

Still, pressing questions about the case could soon be answered.

"Everything that is not under seal will be available online," Judge John Fogleman told the court after O'Donnell changed her plea. "It will be a few days before it can get scanned and she can check to make redactions. Be patient with the court and clerk, it will be available online one week from today"

The judge then instructed everyone but the family to leave the courtroom.

Defense attorney Lee Short told reporters, "This is good for the Collins' family, they'll be able to move on."

Collins-Smith's family released a statement after the proceedings.

"Today our family has found swift justice by way of a plea deal," the statement reads in part. "We know that there will be some that will not be satisfied with that outcome today. And we realize that whatever punishment [O'Donnell] receives it will never be enough .... It will never bring my Grandpa's daughter back or my Mother back or our children's grandmother back. No amount of punishment will ever fill that void that [O'Donnell] made in our lives the day she killed our Mother."

"Today we find some shred of peace that Rebecca O'Donnell will be put away in prison for a very long time unable to hurt anyone else. If my Mother was here today I have no doubt that she would quote the Bible and tell us that we can find peace in God."

(source: ABC News)


Dak Prescott writes letter to Oklahoma governor asking for release of Black death row inmate Julius Jones

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott wrote a letter to Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt and the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board asking for the release of Black death row inmate Julius Jones, according to Time.

In the letter, Prescott, 27, says he believes “the wrong person is being punished for this terrible crime.”

After reviewing the facts of the Julius Jones case, I firmly believe the wrong person is being punished for this terrible crime; furthermore, an evaluation of the process that led to Mr. Jones’ conviction raises serious legal and ethical concerns. I implore you to right this wrong. Please don’t let another innocent black man die from the systemic mistreatment that has plagued our nation for far too long.

Jones was sentenced to death for the 1999 murder of Paul Howell — a white businessman — during a carjacking.

Dak Prescott points out issues with Julius Jones case

Jones’ case has received attention in a number of places, including a 2018 docu-series titled “The Last Defense,” which was produced by Viola Davis. The reason Jones’ case has received so much attention is due to issues and inconsistencies with how his case was handled.

Prescott lays out some of those issues in his letter:

It is my firm belief that Julius Jones’ conviction and death sentence is an egregious injustice. Mr. Jones has been on death row for 20 years, despite written affidavits from his trial lawyers describing the ways they failed him in court. Mr. Jones’ attorneys never presented the photo taken 9 days prior to the crime that could have provided clarity about the shooter’s description. They were appointed without having any experience in death penalty cases, and did not even present Mr. Jones’ alibi at trial. In addition, a member of the jury (comprised of 11 white members out of 12) has confirmed that the jury acted with racial animus – admitting that inappropriate and biased statements were made by other jurors during the trial, including the use of racial slurs.

Jones’ family insists Jones was at home on the night of the murder, playing games with his family. They were not called by Jones’ attorney to provide Jones’ alibi. Jones’ original trial lawyer admitted he was inexperienced and overwhelmed by the case.

The photo Prescott references in the letter is a picture of Jones just a few days prior to the shooting. An eye witness testified the shooter had an inch of hair sticking out under their stocking cap. The picture — which was not presented at Jones’ trial — reportedly shows Jones with close cropped hair just days before the crime.

Prescott also mentions racial animus on the jury. In a sworn affidavit, one juror on Jones’ trail claims she heard another juror refer to Jones as a racial slur. The juror who allegedly used the slur was allowed to remain on the jury.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter released a document in July which addresses those arguments, including the question of an alibi.

“Jones claims his lawyers failed to present his family as alibi witnesses,” Hunter argues. “However, this alibi was thoroughly investigated, and discredited.”

A number of athletes have asked for Julius Jones to be freed

Prescott is far from the first professional athlete to write for Jones’ freedom. Blake Griffin, Buddy Hield, Baker Mayfield, Russell Westbrook and Trae Young have all written letters on Jones’ behalf. On top of that, a petition asking for Jones to be freed has received over 6 million signatures.

(source: Yahoo News)


Execution Lawsuits Settle in Arizona and California, as Prisoners Renew Lethal-Injection Protocol Challenge in Oklahoma

Long-running execution lawsuits have settled in Arizona and California, as a renewed challenge to the state’s revised lethal-injection protocol has ramped up in Oklahoma.

The Arizona settlement addressed issues of execution transparency, while the California settlement acknowledged the impact of the state’s execution moratorium and preserved death-row prisoners’ rights to oppose any new execution plan should the moratorium be lifted. The Oklahoma litigation raises concerns about the constitutionality of the state’s latest execution protocol and whether it complies with the terms of a prior court settlement.

The Arizona Settlement

Arizona’s settlement, reached on June 26, 2020, committed the state to allow witnesses to see and hear an execution in its entirety, while keeping the identity of its drug suppliers secret. The agreement implemented a September 2019 ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in a lawsuit brought by seven death-row prisoners and a coalition of media organizations in which both sides claimed victory. That ruling, in First Amendment Coalition v. Ryan, recognized for the first time that the public’s First Amendment right to witness an execution encompasses the right for witnesses to hear the execution in its entirety. The court also expressed concern with what it called “Arizona’s checkered past with executions” and said it was “troubled by the lack of detailed information [Arizona provided] regarding execution drugs and personnel.” But while it believed that “[s]uch information would undoubtedly aid the public and death-row inmates in monitoring the constitutionality of Arizona’s execution proceedings,” it said the First Amendment right of access to governmental proceedings did not extend to that information.

The law firm Sidley Austin LLP, which provided pro bono representation to the prisoners in the suit, issued a statement July 1 saying it had prevailed in a “precedent-setting capital punishment case,” permanently ending the state’s use of midazolam in executions, imposing “limits on the state’s unchecked discretion to deviate from its written lethal injection execution procedures in violation of prisoners’ due process rights,” and “bring[ing] transparency to Arizona’s often secretive approach to capital punishment.” Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich described the Ninth Circuit ruling as “a major victory” for the state, keeping the identities of the state’s lethal-injection drug suppliers “confidential and protected from harassment or retaliation from anti-death penalty activists.” In a July 15 press release, Brnovich claimed that the settlement “allows Arizona to move one step closer” to resuming executions after a 6-year hiatus.

The Arizona lawsuit was filed in the wake of the state’s botched execution of Joseph Wood in 2015. Wood gasped, choked, and struggled to breath for 1 hour 57 minutes behind a sound-proof window that separated witnesses from the execution chamber. The inability to hear and describe the sounds inhibited defense lawyers’ efforts to halt the execution. The petitioners in the lawsuit sought the right to see and hear the execution in its entirety and to reveal the identities of lethal injection drug suppliers. Under Arizona’s old execution protocol, execution witnesses could view through a video monitor the prisoner being strapped to the execution gurney and the insertion of the intravenous execution line. They could then observe through a window the administration of the execution drugs, but they could not hear the execution.

The California Settlement

On July 24, 2020, California death-row prisoners and the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reached a conditional settlement ending the prisoners’ 14-year-old lethal injection lawsuit.

Noting that California had imposed a moratorium on executions and dismantled the state’s execution chamber, the prisoners voluntarily dismissed their challenge to the state’s execution process and agreed to vacate stays of execution that had barred the state from putting prisoners to death while the litigation was pending. In return, California agreed to provide the prisoners’ lawyers and the federal court advance written notice of any future Governor’s intention to withdraw the executive order imposing a moratorium on executions, adopting an execution protocol, or beginning to reassemble any facility to conduct executions.

The parties also agreed that the prisoners could reactivate the lawsuit if the moratorium is lifted, the state adopts an execution protocol, or any district attorney, court, or any other state actor seeks to set an execution date for any death-row prisoner. At that time, any death-row prisoner who had completed the appeals process would be permitted to join the lawsuit and seek a stay of execution until the renewed litigation is resolved.

The Oklahoma Lawsuit

As the execution-process lawsuits were being settled in Arizona and California, Oklahoma’s 6-year-old lethal-injection lawsuit was being reactivated.

Executions in Oklahoma have been on hold for five years, after a series of botched executions in 2014 and 2015 and a last-minute stay when the state obtained an incorrect execution drug. The state legislature then adopted nitrogen hypoxia as an alternate method of execution, but Oklahoma was unable to obtain supplies of the gas or develop a protocol for its use to put prisoners to death.

On February 13, 2020, the state announced it would resume executions using the same set of drugs that had been authorized at the time of the botched executions: midazolam (a sedative), vecuronium bromide (a paralytic), and potassium chloride, which stops the prisoner’s heart. Less than two weeks later, the prisoners filed suit, calling the protocol “risky and incomplete” and saying that it failed to comply with the terms of an agreement put in place when executions were put on hold in 2015. Among other missing details, the protocol provided no information on how it would train the execution team to prevent future botched executions. Judge Stephen Friot of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma ordered the state to provide those details to the prisoners by June 5, and set a July 6 deadline for prisoners to respond. Judge Friot announced at that time that Oklahoma had agreed not to seek any execution dates while the lethal-injection litigation was still pending.

After the state submitted its supplement to the protocol, the prisoners, on July 6, filed an amended complaint alleging that the protocol does not comply with the settlement agreement and violates the First, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The amended complaint reasserts some of the previous claims against the protocol, supported by new evidence that the state’s intended three-drug method creates “significant risks of pain and suffering.” The complaint alleges that midazolam fails to render the prisoner insensate and “poses an objectively intolerable risk of substantial harm that is sure or very likely to occur.” In addition, it challenges the training protocols, which it says are “unclear and incomplete.” It also argues that the protocol gives “unfettered discretion” to the Director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, allowing changes to the protocol, including the drugs to be used, until 10 days before the execution.

On July 27, the state filed a motion to dismiss the prisoners’ lawsuit. The court has set an August 10 date for a scheduling conference in the case.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)


AG Barr promises to rule out death penalty for ISIS 'Beatles', victims' families say----The decision breaks an impasse with the British government and appears to clear the way for the 2 former UK residents to be moved to the U.S. criminal justice system.

Attorney General William Barr has promised to formally rule out the death penalty for 2 notorious ISIS detainees to ensure that the British government can provide evidence against them, relatives of the victims told NBC News after speaking with Barr by phone Thursday.

Barr’s decision breaks an impasse with the British government and appears to clear the way for the two former UK residents – who were part of a group in Syria known as “the Beatles”– to be transferred from U.S. military custody in Iraq to the criminal justice system for trial in the United States.

“We just had a very promising call with the attorney general. He’s going to get the death penalty off the table in the coming days,” said Diane Foley, whose son, journalist James Foley, was beheaded in 2014 by one Beatles member.

Barr’s spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec, said she could not comment.

Foley and the parents of Steven Sotloff, another U.S. journalist beheaded by ISIS in 2014, said Barr told them he intends to notify British Home Secretary Priti Patel in the coming days, having already spoken to her about his intentions.

The attorney general was very gracious and now that the families are unanimous, he’s willing to move forward,” Foley said. “He’s going to make the request for evidence from the UK Home Secretary. He wants to use the evidence as soon as possible.”

The families now hope the UK will act in a timely manner, they said.

“The ball will be in the UK's court,” said Shirley Sotloff, the mother of Steven. “If we take the death penalty off the table--and we all agree on that—then it’s up to the Brits.“

Art Sotloff, Steven’s father, said Barr appeared eager to prosecute the 2 former British nationals, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh.

“I’m excited that he’s excited about it,” Art Sotloff said, referring to Barr.

“We would like to add how deeply grateful we are for the AG and DOJ," Marsha and Carla Mueller, the parents of another victim, Kayla Mueller, said in a statement. "They have helped us a great deal.”

The Washington Post reported July 31 that Barr was “willing to consider” dropping the death penalty in the case.

A UK court ruled in March that the British government must not turn over evidence if capital punishment was a possibility. The death penalty remains a feature of the U.S. justice system, but it has been abolished in Europe.

The leading Beatle, and the man believed to have wielded the knife in those killings, was Mohammed Emwazi, who was killed by Hellfire missiles fired from a CIA drone in 2015. They were dubbed the Beatles because of their British accents. The fourth Beatle, Aine Lesley Davis, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison in Turkey in 2017.

In interviews obtained exclusively by NBC News, Kotey and Elsheikh incriminated themselves in the mistreatment of Western hostages in Syria, including Mueller and Foley.

They also for the 1st time admitted their involvement in the captivity of Mueller, an aid worker who was tortured and sexually abused before her death in 2015.

"She was in a room by herself that no one would go in,” Kotey said.

Elsheikh got into more detail, saying, "I took an email from her myself," meaning he got an email address the Islamic State militant group could use to demand ransom from the family. "She was in a large room, it was dark, and she was alone, and … she was very scared."

In one email reviewed by NBC News, ISIS demanded the Muellers pay 5 million euros and threatened that if the demands weren’t met, they would send the family “a picture of Kayla's dead body.”

Captured by Kurdish forces, Kotey and Elsheikh were turned over to U.S. troops and have been in U.S. military custody in Iraq amid questions over how and when they will face justice. U.S. prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia have been investigating the case, officials say.

The families of the Americans killed by ISIS have been pushing for the prosecution of two men since they were transferred into U.S. custody last year.

U.S. and British authorities say the Beatles were responsible for 27 killings, including the beheadings of Americans Foley, Sotloff and Peter Kassig, and British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.

Kotey and Elsheikh have denied involvement in the killings and torture, describing themselves in interviews as “liaisons” between the hostages and the guards.

(source: NBC News)


Urgent Action Update: 3 Men Executed, 4 Others at Risk (USA: UA 26.20)

On 14 July, the US authorities carried out the first federal execution in 17 years, with 2 others following closely on 16 and 17 July. Two of them were executed hours after their original death warrants had expired, following the lifting by the US Supreme Court of temporary injunctions put in place by lower courts. As a fourth man remains at risk of execution on 28 August and a new execution has been set for 26 August, we urge the US Attorney General to call off the death warrants and abandon any plans to pursue further executions.


Write a letter in your own words or using the sample below as a guide to one or both government officials listed. You can also email, fax, call or Tweet them.


Attorney General William Barr

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20530-0001

Department Comment Line: (202) 353-1555


Michael Carvajal

Director, Federal Bureau of Prisons

320 First St., NW

Washington, DC 20534

Phone: (202) 307-3198



Dear Attorney General Barr,

I am writing to ask you to do all in your power to call off the executions of 4 men convicted under US federal law, currently set for 26 and 28 August and 22 and 24 September, and abandon any plans to pursue further death warrants.

The three executions carried out over four days in July have provided new evidence of flaws and arbitrariness that have long affected the US death penalty system. Racial bias and flawed legal representation are some of the common factors that have contributed to unreliable judicial decisions on life or death, including for people with severe mental and intellectual disabilities. I ask you to intervene and lead the urgent review of the broken US death penalty system.

As of today, 22 US states have now abolished the death penalty, and 11 others have not carried out executions in more than 10 years. 2019 figures on executions and death sentences confirmed that yearly US totals remain within historical lows. Similar trends are reflected at a global level, where 86% of all confirmed executions in 2019 (excluding China) were recorded in just 4 countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt.

I encourage you to do everything in your power to call off the scheduled executions and end the cycle of violence.

Yours sincerely,



Canada 'profoundly concerned' over China death sentence for citizen in drug case

Canada is "profoundly concerned" about a Canadian citizen sentenced to death Thursday on drug charges in China, a spokesman for the federal government says.

Canada is "profoundly concerned" about a Canadian citizen sentenced to death Thursday on drug charges in China, a spokesman for the federal government says.

The Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate Court announced Xu Weihong's penalty on Thursday and said an alleged accomplice, Wen Guanxiong, had been given a life sentence.

The brief court statement gave no details but media in the southern Chinese city at the heart of the country's manufacturing industry said Xu and Wen had gathered ingredients and tools to make the drug ketamine in October 2016, then stored the final product in Xu's home in Guangzhou's Haizhu district.

Police later confiscated more than 120 kilograms of the drug from Xu's home and another address, the reports said. Ketamine is a powerful pain-killer that has become popular among club-goers in China and elsewhere.

"Canada opposes the use of the death penalty in all cases, everywhere," said Global Affairs Canada spokesman John Babcock. "Canada has consistently raised our firm opposition to the death penalty with China and will continue to do so."

He said Canadian diplomats have given Xu consular assistance and were present for the sentencing. Canada is seeking clemency.

Death sentences are automatically referred to China’s highest court for review.

Relations between China and Canada soured over the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, an executive and the daughter of the founder of Chinese tech giant Huawei, at Vancouver's airport in late 2018. The U.S. wants her extradited to face fraud charges over the company's dealings with Iran. Her arrest infuriated Beijing, which sees her case as a political move designed to prevent China's rise as a global technology power.

In apparent retaliation, China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor, accusing them of vague national security crimes.

Xu was arrested 2 years before Canada detained Meng and relations deteriorated. Death sentences when cases involve large amounts of drugs are not rare in China.

In April 2019, China gave the death penalty to a Canadian citizen identified as Fan Wei in a multinational drug smuggling case.

But China did hand a death sentence to convicted Canadian drug smuggler Robert Schellenberg in a sudden retrial following Meng's arrest, after he had already been sentenced.

China has also placed restrictions on various Canadian exports to China, including canola seed, in an apparent attempt to pressure Ottawa into releasing Meng.

These tensions, and how the Liberal government has handled them was the subject of a hearing by the House of Commons Canada-China relations committee later Thursday.

David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to Beijing, told the committee that he had hoped the federal government would use the period of increased tensions to rethink Canada's relationship with China and more realistically assess the Chinese government's strategy to suppress human rights domestically and exert economic and diplomatic blackmail to expand its influence on global affairs.

"But old approaches die hard," he said.

"It's not clear that the government has completely given up the fiction that China is our friend. Nor has it consistently summoned the courage to speak and act with integrity."

Referring to a letter signed in June by former federal ministers, diplomats and academics urging the government to release Meng in exchange for freedom for the 2 Michaels, Mulroney added: "Powerfully placed Canadians continue to argue that if we appease China just one more time, all will be well."

He said "dangerous myopia" about China is also evident among provincial and municipal governments, noting the Ontario city of Markham's decision last year to raise the Chinese flag on that country's national day.

"Something's wrong here and it has to change. People need to remember that the ultimate objective of foreign policy is not to flatter, not to obscure inconvenient truths, but to advance and protect Canadian interests and values."

Mulroney said he's not suggesting Canada should provoke or insult China. But he said Canada should reduce its dependence on Chinese trade by working with allies to establish new supply chains in vulnerable sectors and launching trade diversification efforts.

Canada should also take steps to combat Chinese interference in this country, adopting something like Australia's Foreign Influence Transparency Act, he said. The act requires any citizen who chooses to work for a foreign entity and former politicians and diplomats who do anything to share their expertise with a foreign country to publicly report their activities.

2 other former ambassadors to China, John McCallum and Robert Wright, declined the committee's invitation to appear. Committee members voted unanimously Thursday to summon both men at a later date.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said there was no connection between Xu's sentencing and current China-Canada relations.

"I would like to stress that China's judicial authorities handle the relevant case independently in strict accordance with Chinese law and legal procedures," Wang said at a daily briefing Thursday.

"This case should not inflict any impact on China-Canada relations."

Wang added that "death sentences for drug-related crimes that are extremely dangerous will help deter and prevent such crimes."



China Sentences th Canadian to Death on Drug Charges

4 China has sentenced a 4th Canadian citizen to death on drug charges in less than 2 years following a sharp downturn in ties over the arrest of an executive of Chinese tech giant Huawei.

Ye Jianhui was sentenced Friday by the Foshan Municipal Intermediate Court in the southern province of Guangdong. Ye had been found guilty of manufacturing and transporting illegal drugs, the court said in a brief statement.

Another suspect in the case was also given the death penalty and 4 others sentenced to between seven years and life in prison, it said. Death sentences are automatically referred to China’s highest court for review.

Ties between Canada and China have nosedived over Canada's late 2018 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a company executive and the daughter of Huawei's founder, at Vancouver’s airport at the request of the U.S., which wants her extradited to face fraud charges over the company’s dealings with Iran. Her arrest enraged Beijing, which calls it a political move aimed at constraining China's rise as a global technology power.

Ye's sentencing came a day after fellow Canadian Xu Weihong was given the death penalty by the Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate Court, also in Guandong province. Convicted Canadian drug smuggler Robert Schellenberg was sentenced to death in a sudden retrial shortly after Meng's arrest, and a Canadian citizen identified as Fan Wei was given the death penalty in April 2019 for his role in a multinational drug smuggling case.

China also detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor weeks after Meng's arrest, accusing them of vague national security crimes. China has also placed restrictions on various Canadian exports to China, including canola seed oil, in an apparent attempt to pressure China into releasing Meng.

The court statement gave no further details of the charges against Ye and the others. However, the website of the Yangcheng Evening News based in the neighboring metropolis of Guangzhou said Ye and co-defendant Lu Hanchang conspired with others to manufacture and transport drugs between May 2015 and January 2016.

Police seized roughly 218 kilograms (480 pounds) of white crystals infused with the designer drug MDMA from a room used by the 2, and found another 9.84 grams of the drug in bags and residences used by Lu and others, the newspaper said.

China, like many Asian nations, hands out harsh punishments for making and selling drugs, and the country's rising wealth and transformation into a center for world trade has attracted growing numbers of foreigners to its domestic market for illegal substances.

In December 2009, Pakistani-British businessman Akmal Shaikh was executed after being convicted of smuggling heroin, despite calls for clemency on the grounds that he was mentally disturbed.

China is believed to execute more criminals each year than all other nations combined. Although the actual figure is a state secret, estimates put it at around 2,000.

Commenting Thursday on Xu's sentencing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the matter had been handled “independently in strict accordance with Chinese law and legal procedures.”

“This case should not inflict any impact on China-Canada relations,” Wang said.

(source: Associated Press)


Lawmakers hit for rushing talks on death penalty

The ease with which lawmakers responded to President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for the reimposition of the death penalty is alarming and disturbing, according to the Archdiocese of Manila.

In a statement dated Aug. 4, the Manila clergy said that while they agreed that it was the duty of legislators to enact laws and state policies, “we condemn the lack of independence and imprudence of some of them who decided to immediately bow to the wishes of President Rodrigo Duterte.”

“We see such acts as betrayal of the people’s interests and an implicit support to the creeping authoritarian tendencies exuded by this administration,” they said. The House committee on justice on Wednesday began tackling bills pushing for the revival of the death penalty for some heinous crimes even as the country struggles against the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The House panel started debates on 12 bills on the highly controversial measure less than 2 weeks after Duterte once again asked Congress to reimpose capital punishment through lethal injection for drug-related crimes in his 5th State of the Nation Address on July 27.

The Catholic Church is one of the strongest voices against the death penalty.

The archdiocese said that while it agreed that crime deserved punishment and that the State had authority to administer appropriate punishment to those judged guilty of crimes, there were many reasons why it objected to the reimposition of capital punishment.

UN protocol

It noted that international law prohibits the Philippines from withdrawing its 2007 ratification of the United Nations Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights (ICCPR), which aims to abolish the death penalty.

“Doing so will weaken our moral and legal standing in other international bodies or treatises. Our assertion of victory in the West Philippine Sea will be the height of hypocrisy if we cannot even honor this commitment with the UN ICCPR,” the Manila priests said.

They added that the death penalty does not effectively deter crime.

“What deters crime is the certainty of conviction and the imposition of punishment. What the country needs, therefore, is a reform of the criminal justice system with the eradication of crooked, corrupt and unprincipled practices in law enforcement agencies, judiciary, and penal systems,” the priests said.

Likening it to the dreaded war on drugs, which victimizes mostly the poor, death penalty, they added, was “biased and unfair.”

Legalized extermination

“[It] simply legalizes the extermination of the marginalized in the society,” the priests said, adding that it was also an unjustified form of retribution.

“We believe that only God has the right to take life away from us. Hence, we condemn criminals who took the lives of their victims and they must be punished for it,” they said.

But punishment, they stressed, should not anymore include death saying there are other means already available to punish criminals and to protect society from them.

The Manila clergy also cited the fallibility and imperfection of the country’s justice system as another reason why they do not want to revive the death penalty.

“As pastors, we recognize the heartache, distress, and anguish experienced by victims of violent crimes, and we deeply empathize with them. We want to help them in their search for justice. However, our support for victims and their families does not oblige us to push for the reimposition of the penalty of death,” the clergy said.

“Instead, we call the attention of our leaders and lawmakers to make every effort to establish a system of justice that brings restoration and harmony and not death,” they added.



Labourer gets death penalty for triple murder

High Court judge Justice Anselm Charles Fernandis found Shahrul Pitri Jusoh guilty of committing triple murder after hearing submissions from the prosecution and defence teams.

Justice Fernandis said the prosecution had proven the case beyond reasonable doubt.

“The accused claimed that he was unaware of what he had done and had no intention of committing the crime.

“But statements from witnesses proved otherwise, hence the defence has failed to raise reasonable doubt,” he said.

Justice Fernandis added that the accused was also found to be under the influence of drugs during the incident.

Shahrul Pitri, 37, was charged with killing Muhammad Faqih Zahirulhaq Mohd Fadzil, 5, Muhammad Firash Zafrill, 3, and Nur Zia Fasihah, 2, at a house in Kampung Sungai Haji Muhammad on May 17, 2018, between 2.30pm and 2.40pm.

He was also found guilty of causing hurt using a weapon on three people, including 2 children, and another charge for the attempted murder of Zuraidah Mat Ali with a parang.

For these 4 charges, Justice Fernandis ordered the accused to be jailed for 12 years starting from the date of his arrest, which was the same day as the incident.

In mitigation, lawyer T. Ellanggovan pleaded for a lighter sentencing for his client, saying that Shahrul Pitri had to look after his 82-year-old mother.

“He has no other previous conviction apart from drug usage.

“He is also remorseful and apologises to the victims’ family,” he added.

When met outside, Ellanggovan said they would appeal the sentence.

“We have a month’s time to file an appeal,” he added.

The prosecution was represented by deputy public prosecutor Ainul Wardah Shahidan.



Prisoner Mehrzad Jalalvand executed at Rasht Central Prison

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

According to Iran Human Rights, on the morning of Thursday, August 6, a man was executed in Rasht Central Prison. His identity has been established as Mehrzad Jalalvand, aged around 35, was sentenced to qisas (retribution in-kind) for murder.

An informed source has told IHR: "Mehrzad was from Khorramabad, but they lived near Lahijan for many years. In 2015, after a neighbour's son stabs Mehrzad's father twice during a fight, he goes to the neighbour's son and pushes him. The neighbour's son had a cerebral haemorrhage and died."

According to the source, Mehrzad had repeatedly stated in court and in letters to the judiciary from inside the prison, that he had no intention of killing the victim.

At the time of publication, the execution of this prisoner has not been announced by local media or officials.

According to Iran Human Rights’ Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran, 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.


Prisoner Jaffar Tayebi executed in Qom

A prisoner sentenced to qisas (retribution in-kind) for “premeditated murder” has been executed in Qom Central Prison (Choobindar).

According to Iran Human Rights, a prisoner was executed in Qom Central Prison this morning. His identity has been established as Jaffar Tayebi, who had been sentenced to qisas (retribution in-kind) for “premeditated murder.”

An informed source told IHR: “Tayebi killed his landlord’s son about 3 years ago and he was unable to obtain the consent of the victim’s family.”

The source also talked about the health conditions at Qom Central Prison during the COVID-19 outbreak: "No measures were taken to disinfect the wards during the corona outbreak, and even masks and gloves were not provided to the prisoners. The prison infirmary does not take care of sick prisoners and returns the sick prisoner to the ward immediately."

"Most of the prisoners who returned from furlough were infected with the coronavirus and spread it to other prisoners, and some prisoners are coughing from morning till night, and the authorities do not provide masks to these prisoners. None of the prisoners with corona were transferred out of prison for treatment and are being kept among other prisoners."

At the time of publication, the execution of Jaffar Tayebi has not been announced by officials or domestic media outlets.

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 for both:


Executed Iranian Protester Tortured to Make False Confession----Iranian authotities hanged Mostafa Salehi, one of the protesters arrested during the Dec 2017-January 2018 protests, in Dastgerd prison in Isfahan.

New information from inside Iran indicates that Iranian protester Mostafa Salehi who was hanged on August 5, 2020, in Isfahan had been subjected to vicious tortures to confess the killing on an IRGV member.

He never accepted the charges but was still hanged despite the lack of evidence.

A source said that Mostafa Salehi had been severely tortured in the past 2 years to confess the killing of Sajjad Shahsanaei a member of the IRGC Basij forces.

“Mostafa’s hand and both legs had been broken during interrogations. Agents also used needles to puncture under his nails,” the source said.

“The tortures were so severe that his neck and spinal cord became injured. They tortured him to confess but he never did,” the source said.

According to the source, Mostafa’s family were told to stay silent and that “it would be bad for Mostafa” if they talked to anyone about his plight.

“His family stayed silent, but in the end they still executed him,” the source added.

The human rights website said that Mostafa was the father of a 6 year old boy and a 4 year old girl.

Despite facing persistent pressure and enduring long periods of torture while he was held at the Isfahan Police Department, during interrogations by the Isfahan Intelligence Agency, Salehi refused to confess, as the Najafabad (Isfahan) prosecutor later confirmed. No weapons, ammunition, or other evidence were found. He pleaded not guilty in court.

Torture and other ill-treatment are absolutely prohibited under international law including Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party.

However, the Iranian regime is notoriously renowned for making up scenarios and extracting forced confessions from political prisoners to justify their execution.

The regime’s Judiciary confirmed on Friday, July 10, the death sentences for three young protesters, Amir Hossein Moradi, Saied Tamjidi, and Mohammad Rajabi, arrested during November 2019 nationwide uprising. The regime later stepped back due to the worldwide campaign.

The trial of the three men, which took place on 5-6 January 2020, was grossly unfair, according to Amnesty International.

The regime’s oppressive state security forces identified and arrested 25-year-old Moradi using CCTV footage obtained during the November 2019 protests. He was held for a week in a detention center of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) in Tehran before being transferred to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison for a month. Moradi was then placed under torture and other ill-treatment, including beatings, electric shock treatment and even an interrogator standing on his chest.

Less than 2 weeks ago, a worldwide twitter campaign, in which users tweeted 12 million times the hashtag #donotexecute, called for the halt of the death sentences for three youths arrested during the November 2019.

In another developement Iran’s Supreme Court upheld the death sentences of five other men in Isfahan arrested by security forces during the 2017-2018 and January 2019 protests.

The protesters, Mehdi Salehi Ghale Shahrokhi, Mohammad Bastami, Majid Nazari Kondori, Hadi Kiani, and Abbas Mohammadi have each received two death sentences on charges of “waging war against God” and “baghi” (taking up arms against the government).



‘Do Not Execute’ campaign rocks Iran judiciary ---- The regime's violent response to demonstrations, including condemning protesters to death, prompted a Twitter storm

November 2019 marked one of the gloomiest junctures of the 21st century for Iranians, when in a timespan of less than two weeks, angry protests by large groups of people against the overnight spike in the price of fuel triggered a violent response by the government and some 230 people were killed, according to the official statistics, while a report by Reuters put the number of casualties at 1,500.

The protests, which first erupted in oil-rich Khuzestan province and quickly mushroomed across the country, were initially an expression of outrage over the 300% rise in the price of gasoline, in a country gripped by international sanctions and deep-seated economic disparities.

However, they soon evolved into a venue for disgruntled Iranians to voice their dismay at an array of other challenges facing them, including the dearth of civil liberties, entrenched corruption in government institutions, state unaccountability, unbridled hyperinflation and spiraling inequities.

The government of President Hassan Rouhani, in a rush to quell the revolt and restore calm, shut down Internet connectivity for a total of 10 harrowing days, allegedly to prevent the “rioters” from organizing on social media, and armed forces opted for violent clampdowns, the details of which have been elaborately documented by advocacy organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and by global media.

The United Nations reported one month after the national fury subsided that at least 7,000 people had been arrested at the height of the tensions.

The protests and the ensuing response unmasked the social rifts in a highly divided Iran and testified to a new level of confrontation between the government and the people.

Although there were extremists who exploited the civil movement to sow mayhem and destruction in some cities, including by damaging public property, the government’s botched handling of the episode and its resort to harsh measures to stifle dissent laid bare the deficiency of transparent procedures for the expression of grievances by the public, bringing to the fore the letdowns of the state’s relationship with civil society.

Now, many observers of Iran contend that four decades after the 1979 revolution, almost no protest movement has cropped up in the country that the authorities have not attributed to foreign “enemies,” and while the leadership asserts it recognizes peaceful dissent, there have been few instances of such campaigns that were not crushed with the disproportionate use of force.

‘Do Not Execute’

On February 21 this year, it was announced that three protesters of the November 2019 uprising, Amirhossein Moradi, 26, Saeed Tamjidi, 28, and Mohammad Rajabi, 26, had been sentenced to death on charges of “taking part in destruction and burning, aimed at countering the Islamic Republic system.” The spokesman to Iran’s judiciary also accused them of “armed robbery, kidnapping and harassment of the public.”

On July 10, one of the defendants’ lawyers revealed that the Supreme Court of Iran had upheld the verdict for the 3 young men, giving rise to speculations that they would be executed shortly.

The announcement was inflammatory enough to stir up massive protest activity, this time online, with people confined to their homes in the taxing days of the Covid-19 pandemic finding Twitter an appropriate platform to voice their communal rage at the ruling.

Regardless of what the 3 young men had perpetrated, the course of their legal proceedings, which involved their lawyers not having access to their files and a trial that many activists claimed was not fair, spawned a gigantic sympathy movement on Twitter with people posting tweets carrying the hashtag “Do Not Execute” in Persian.

Launched on July 14, the Twitter storm soon ended up trending internationally, and over the course of 5 days, more than 11 million tweets were posted decrying the confirmed death sentence for Moradi, Tamjidi and Rajabi.

The explosive online thrust was not merely an objection to the execution of the three men, about whose background and role in the November events few details are available; rather, it was a denunciation of the frequent use of capital punishment in Iran, which had cast its dark shadow this time over the doomed fate of 3 men in their 20s.

Iranians from all walks of life – artists, actors and actresses, journalists, university professors, politicians, lawyers, athletes, teachers, students and activists – as well as members of the Iranian diaspora weighed in on the online campaign and exhibited exceptional unity at a time when they continue to have polarizing differences on a number of issues, including the future of the country’s contentious nuclear program.

In a rare decision that was perceptibly a reaction to the wave of online protest, Iran’s judiciary announced on July 19 that it had suspended the planned executions, and as said by Babak Paknia, the lawyer of Amirhossein Moradi, the Supreme Court accepted the lawyers’ request for a retrial, reviving hopes that the verdict could be overturned.

The judiciary’s announcement represented the acknowledgement of a civil demand that was expressed in the most peaceful, refined manner by millions of Iranians at home and abroad. It was an endorsement of the conviction that even a fractured society like Iran can emerge successful in delivering shared objectives in difficult times.

Implications for the future

Iran is a country where the highest number of executions in the Middle East takes place. After China, Iran recorded the most executions in 2019. According to Amnesty International, 251 people were condemned to death in Iran last year, slightly down from 253 people in 2018.

Things have significantly improved since the turn of the century. The World Coalition against the Death Penalty reported that at least 317 people were executed in 2007, and in 2008, as many as 346 executions were documented.

Although the majority of those executed are criminals involved in drug trafficking or individuals who have committed rape and murder, there are still people who wind up on death row for political activism or opposition to the government.

The global momentum to abolish the death penalty might not soon head into Iran, as the country strictly enforces sharia laws, which prescribe capital punishment for major offenses. However, to expect Iran’s judicial processes to be reformed so that the country’s blemished image can be brushed up and gaps between the government and the public are bridged is not a tall order.

Lengthy prison terms or execution decrees for citizens who have differences of opinion with the Islamic Republic leadership or are charged with vague crimes such as acting against national security, espionage for foreign governments or disturbing the public opinion that in many cases remain legally unsubstantiated serve no good cause, rather than portraying Iran as an ultra-conservative nation-state with an intolerant Islamist government.

This is neither helpful to the global standing of Iran nor conducive to praise for the religion it officially promotes.

Saudi Arabia, also a conservative Middle East kingdom, has in recent years reformed and revised many of its judicial processes, and is treading on the path of imparting a more nuanced impression of itself.

It should not be difficult for Iran to replicate Saudi Arabia’s reforms in its local context and come up with improvements in its definitions of crime and transgression, join international pacts such as the United Nations Convention against Torture, to which it is not currently a party, and particularly restructure its approach to what it calls “security crimes,” which is a thinly veiled rewording of “political crimes,” and embrace more moderation and clemency in legal judgments.

A melting pot of subcultures, ethnic groups, religious minorities and lingual communities, blessed with a young, dynamic and educated population, Iran enjoys all the features of a thriving society. Judicial reforms in pursuit of making contemporary Iran a more inclusive, pluralist and tolerant entity are the prerequisite to ensuring this society can unleash all its potentials.

Of course, a new engagement with the international community is the seminal and urgent need of Iran in the realm of foreign policy, about which much has been said in the media and academia.

(source: Kourosh Ziabari is a journalist based in Iran. He is the recipient of a Chevening Award from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He is also an American Middle Eastern Network for Dialogue at Stanford (AMENDS) Fellow----Asia Times)


Journalists under attack in Yemen, says UN rights chief----UN human rights chief says her office is ‘appalled’ by killings, disappearances and death sentences

The UN’s human rights chief said on Thursday she is appalled by the number of human rights violations against journalists across Yemen -- including killings, disappearances, and death sentences.

Since the start of April, the UN Human Rights Office said, it had documented one assassination, one abduction, three arbitrary arrests and detentions, the sentencing of 4 journalists to death in violation of international human rights law and jailing of six others, three physical assaults and threats of physical violence.

“It is with great sadness we have seen the situation in Yemen slide from bad to worse, to the point now where it is considered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

“Those responsible for reporting on the atrocities committed during the armed conflict and the accompanying pain and suffering endured by civilians are themselves being targeted.”

She said that journalists are under attack from all quarters.

“They are killed, beaten, and disappear; they are harassed and threatened, and they are jailed and sentenced to death for merely trying to shine a light on the brutality of this crisis.”

Death sentences

On April 11, the Specialized Criminal Court in Sana’a, under the jurisdiction of the Houthi rebels, sentenced four journalists to death and six others to jail.

They were jailed on charges of “publishing and writing news, statements, false and malicious rumors and propaganda with the intent to weaken the defense of the homeland, weaken the morale of the Yemeni people, sabotage public security, spread terror among people and harm the country’s interest.”

Concerns are growing that the authorities there might carry out the death sentence against the four journalists, despite a pending appeal of the conviction before the Appellate Division of the Specialized Criminal Court.

The UN opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances. It says the death penalty is an extreme form of punishment reserved for the “most serious crimes,” appertaining only to crimes of utmost gravity involving intentional killing.

During their 5-year detention, the four journalists were denied family visits, access to their lawyers, and healthcare. They were also reportedly tortured and subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

In April, the Specialized Criminal Court ordered that the other 6 journalists who received prison sentences be released and placed under police surveillance. Only one of them was released.

Yemen has been beset by violence and chaos since 2014, when Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including Sanaa. The crisis escalated in 2015 when a Saudi-led military coalition launched a devastating air campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi territorial gains.

Tens of thousands of Yemenis are since believed to have been killed in the conflict, while another 14 million are at risk of starvation, according to the UN.

(source: Middle East Monitor)

AUGUST 6, 2020:

TEXAS----new execution date

Child sex killer will be executed after failed attempt to milk his own bad childhood for sympathy

A child sex killer who raped and murdered a 16 year-old girl will be executed after an unsuccessful attempt to milk his own abusive childhood for sympathy. Ramiro Rubi Ibarra will, 66, be executed on March 4 2021 for the March 1987 murder of Maria De La Paz Zuniga in March 2021.

Ibarra faces execution after 34 years on death row in Texas after the US Supreme Court last week declined to hear his appeal against his death penalty.

Afterwards, Judge Matt Johnson of Waco’s 54th District Court green-lighted prosecutors’ latest request for the killer to to be executed, the Waco Tribune-Herald reported.

In 2012, Ibarra unsuccessfully fought to have his death sentence commuted to life behind bars after claiming his defense attorneys should have flagged up the abuse he’d suffered at the hands of his father as a child during his 1997 murder trial.

Ibarra, who also has a conviction for sexually assaulting his nephew, raped and murdered Maria with a yellow electrical cord while the youngster babysat 2 young nephews. Maria’s body was found by her brother Francisco as he picked her up to take her shopping.

She was bloodied and bruised, with the youngsters dress pulled up over her face and her underwear ripped off by her assailant, according to the Texas Tribune. DNA evidence identified Ibarra – an illegal immigrant from Mexico who was 32 a the time – as the killer. Shockingly, Ibarra managed to evade justice for 9 years after an improper arrest warrant was used to gather evidence against him. That saw him remain free until 1996, when he was re-arrested.

Ibarra’s lawyer Russ Hunt Jr said the killer wanted to continue to try and appeal his execution with the dwindling avenues left open to him.

Hunt said: ‘Of course we are very disappointed that as of this point we have not been able to get him relief through the appellate process.’



Executions under Greg Abbott, Jan. 21, 2015-present----52

Abbott#--------scheduled execution date-----name------------Tx.

53----Sept. 9---------John Ramirez-----------------571

54----Sept. 30--------Carlos Trevino---------------572

55----Jan. 21---------Blaine Milam-----------------573

56----Mar. 4----------Ramiro Ibarra----------------574

(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)


Defense files for bond reduction in death penalty case

Defense attorneys for Arnett Baines, the Owensboro man facing the death penalty in connection with a January 2019 triple homicide on Audubon Avenue, are asking for his bond to be reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Baines, 32, of the 0-100 block of Dixiana Court, is charged with murder, 1st-degree assault, tampering with physical evidence, possession of a handgun by a convicted felon and more in the deaths of Robert D. Smith, 35, Jay Michael Sowders, 43, and Christopher Carie, 18. All died of gunshot wounds to the head the morning of Jan. 17 in the basement of Sowders’ home in the 900 block of Audubon Avenue.

A 2nd person, Cylar L. Shemwell, 33, also of Owensboro, is charged with murder and 1st-degree assault in the incident.

The assault charges against both stem from injuries to a woman at the home who was also shot in the head but survived.

The motion will be heard Thursday, Aug. 6 in Daviess Circuit Court. The motion says Baines was assessed as low risk of not appearing for future court dates. The assessments say Baines has a 78% likelihood of appearing for future court dates and an 84% likelihood of not being arrested on new charges if released.

The motion says: “To require Mr. Baines to stay in custody puts him at substantially greater risk of contracting COVID-19.” Because Baines is in the Daviess County Detention Center, he is unable to control whether he is near “others who may have been exposed or are asymptomatic carriers.”

Baines’ family might be able to put up a reduced bond and Baines could be placed on electronic monitoring, the motion says.

Baines uses bathrooms also used by other inmates, bunks near inmates and could be exposed to the coronavirus because “people regularly cycle in and out of jails,” the motion says.

Kentucky is under a state of emergency because of the pandemic and cases have recently been on the rise, the motion says.

“Every person is a potential carrier that could cause an outbreak in the Daviess County Detention Center,” the motion says.

Because of Baines’ inability to pay his bond, the bond amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment," because it creates a situation where Baines can’t distance himself from inmates who potentially have the coronavirus, according to the motion.

It also asks that Baines’ bond be reduced from $265,000 to $100,000, with him being released if he or his family can pay 10%.



Reform Prosecutor Kimberly Gardner Wins St. Louis City Circuit Attorney Primary Election

In a primary election that was regarded by many as a referendum on reform prosecutors, St. Louis City Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner (pictured) beat back a challenge by the circuit’s former chief homicide prosecutor, Mary Pat Carl. Election returns from the August 4, 2020, Democratic primary in St. Louis showed Gardner, the city’s 1st African-American Circuit Attorney, with 61% of the vote, while Carl received 39%.

The race was a rematch of the 2016 primary in which then State Representative Gardner launched her bid to restructure the St. Louis City criminal legal system and reform its prosecutorial practices. Carl placed 2nd to Gardner in a 4-candidate field in that election.

Gardner’s win in the 2016 election put her in a pioneering first wave of reform prosecutors. She has said that she personally opposes the death penalty but would carefully review individual death-eligible cases. She has sought the death penalty 3 times. In November 2017, she authorized the capital prosecution of Cornelius Green and Philip Cutler in the alleged murder-for-hire of Green’s pregnant girlfriend. In August 2018, she approved seeking the death penalty against Ollie Lynch Jr. for three homicides. However, no death sentences have been imposed in St. Louis City during her tenure as Circuit Attorney.

In a statement released by her campaign after the election victory, Gardner said that she would continue her efforts to “transform [the St. Louis City Circuit Attorney’s] office into one that is focused on community well-being and treats everyone with dignity” and promised to “work every day for a criminal legal system that is fair and just for all of St. Louis.”

“Tonight,” she said, “the voters of St. Louis used their voice to send a message that they want to continue on the path of reform we started four years ago.”

Gardner has been in the vanguard of the prosecutorial reform movement and has faced backlash from police unions, hard-line prosecutors, and politicians who are opposed to her policies.

In July 2019, after the Midwest Innocence Project and Gardner’s newly created Conviction Integrity Unit developed evidence that Lamar Johnson had been wrongfully convicted of murder, she filed a motion in St. Louis City Circuit Court seeking to overturn Johnson’s conviction. “When a prosecutor becomes aware of clear and convincing evidence establishing that a defendant in the prosecutor’s jurisdiction was convicted of a crime that the defendant did not commit — the position in which the circuit attorney now finds herself — the prosecutor is obligated to seek to remedy the conviction,” she wrote. The court denied the motion and Missouri’s Attorney General is opposing Gardner’s appeal, claiming that reversing the conviction would undermine confidence in the courts.

In January 2020, Gardner filed a federal lawsuit under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 charging the city of St. Louis and its police union with trying to “intimidate, silence, and sideline her” for pushing reforms like “an independent team to investigate all police-involved shootings.” The lawsuit said that Gardner had been elected “on a promise to redress the scourge of historical inequality and rebuild trust in the criminal justice system among communities of color,” but that “entrenched interests in St. Louis … have mobilized to thwart these efforts through a broad campaign of collusive conduct.”

In June 2020, Gardner received death threats after President Trump tweeted that it was “a disgrace” that she filed criminal charges against a white couple who stood outside their home brandishing guns when Black Lives Matter protestors walked by.

Gardner’s solid victory showed that the backlash had not resonated among voters in the heavily Democratic city. “We are proud of our first term achievement but know there is so much more work to be done,” Gardner said. “I am thankful for all of my supporters and all of St. Louis, as we continue together in this fight for a better, safer, more just tomorrow.”

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)


Opinion: Concerns at Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board

Friday is Steve Bickley’s last official day as executive director of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. After saying he would do the job for 90 days, Bickley stayed 13 months and accomplished much. Now, however, his departure is clouded by controversy.

In his letter of resignation, Bickley told the board he had been threatened for doing his job and that board members were trying to create conflict between him and his staff.

“I cannot tolerate my current work environment,” the letter said. “Policy disagreements have turned into personal attacks rather than public discussion.”

The 5-member board selected Bickley in July 2019, with a unanimous vote. He had been vice president of marketing, finance and administration for the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., part of a resume that included two decades of national and international executive leadership experience.

The Tulsa World reports that board member Allen McCall, a retired judge, emailed Bickley and accused him of injecting anti-death penalty options on the board. “Shame on you for the underhanded and deceitful way you have used your position to impose your personal beliefs on your staff and Board,” the email said.

McCall said in his email he would move to have Bickley removed, and asked to appear before the state’s multicounty grand jury to present evidence of several violations of law by Bickley and others, the World reported.

Bickley helped the parole board handle an influx of commutation applications and implement legislation regarding administrative parole and a law that made retroactive a state question making certain drug and property crimes misdemeanors instead of felonies.

In May 2019, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill directing the parole board to establish an accelerated, single-state commutation docket for people convicted of crimes that had been reclassified from felonies to misdemeanors. After the bill became effective in November, the board recommended commutation for 527 nonviolent offenders who qualified for the single-stage docket. Stitt granted commutation to most of those, clearing the way for the release of more than 450 inmates in what was hailed as the nation’s largest single-day commutation ever.

Support for Bickley is evident among some board members. One is Adam Luck, who noted that Bickley managed a large increase in cases and ensured the board kept working during the pandemic. “I understand his reasons for resigning and also find it hard to imagine working in the environment created by this situation,” Luck said on social media.

The board’s chairman, Robert Gilliland, who said after Bickley’s appointment that the board “couldn’t have found a better choice,” said that for the most part, Bickley “had unwavering support of a majority of board members.”

It is clear, however, that Bickley felt the environment had become toxic. The board will need to address that before it looks for a new executive director.

(source: Opinion: The Oklahoman Editorial Board)

IDAHO----female may face death penalty

Lori Isenberg murder trial set to begin in January 2021

A jury trial has been set in early 2021 for Lori Isenberg, a convicted embezzler who is facing murder charges in the death of her husband Larry.

A pre-trial conference is set for Friday, Dec. 18, 2020 prior to the jury trial beginning on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021.

Lori Isenberg appeared in court back in March, but stood silent, with the judge ruling the silence as a plea of not guilty.

A judge has expected the trial to last about 6 weeks. If Lori is found guilty, she could face life in prison or the death penalty. If she is found not guilty, she would still serve the 5-year sentence for embezzlement charges.

Lori claimed Larry fell overboard while they were on a boat in Lake Coeur d'Alene in February 2018. Larry was presumed drowned, but an autopsy later showed his cause of death was actually a lethal amount of Benadryl.

KHQ recently obtained court documents indicating that was not the first time Lori allegedly attempted to poison her husband, also attempting to do so in Florida.

In 2019, Lori Isenberg pleaded guilty to wire fraud and theft for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the North Idaho Housing Coalition, where she once worked. Four of her daughters also pleaded guilty for receiving embezzled funds. Each of them received 3 years of probation, along with 100 hours of community service, and repayment of the embezzled money.



130 Years Of the Electric Chair ---- The search for a constitutional way to execute people has failed

William Kemmler, who was convicted of murdering his common-law wife in Buffalo, didn’t want to die in the electric chair, a new invention that had never been tried on a human before. He appealed his death sentence on the basis that it was cruel and unusual punishment, but in May, 1890 the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his challenge. “Punishments are cruel when they involve torture or a lingering death,” the court wrote. But when, 130 years ago today, they pulled the switch on Kemmler in the basement of the Auburn prison facility in upstate New York, his death was a cruel and unusual one by any reasonable standard.

Kemmler, intellectually disabled, was the guinea pig for the beta test of a new killing machine that Thomas Edison had pushed as a more humane alternative to hanging, the traditional American way of executing criminals. It was supposed to be quick and painless. After 17 seconds of 1000-volt AC electric current, a doctor declared Kemmler dead. But Kemmler wasn’t dead, so they upped the charge to 2000 volts and zapped him a second time. Kemmler’s skin began to bleed. The foul odor of burning flesh filled the room. The witnesses to the execution were traumatized. 8 minutes after the procedure had begun, Kemmler died.

Newspapers called it a “historic bungle” and “disgusting, sickening and inhuman.” Despite its inauspicious, inhumane start, the electric chair quickly caught on. But the glitches never got ironed out. Approximately 2 % of U.S. executions by electric chair in the period from 1890 to 2010 were botched.

Convicts who weren’t killed by the first power surge have had to wait up to 6 minutes to receive the second surge. That’s how long it took for their bodies to cool down from up to 200° so a doctor could examine them. Syringes have come out of arms, spraying deadly chemicals toward witnesses. Cables have been connected improperly, prolonging the execution to 19 minutes. This is just a small sample of the mishaps that have occurred during state-ordered electrocutions.

If the government asserts it has the right to kill selected citizens, then it needs to proceed with the task with seriousness. But few accomplished people want their names sullied in this way. The government has ended up taking whomever it could get, with predictable results.

How could the Supreme Court have been so confident about a new killing technique not yet supported by any empirical evidence? It’s the same confidence that government authorities have exhibited since that time regarding their ability to oversee a humane way to carry out the death penalty. All these years later the evidence is conclusive—that confidence is false confidence.

A guillotine would be a more humane method of execution, but the problem is in the aesthetics. Unlike during the French Revolution, American witnesses to executions don’t want to see heads rolling on the floor. In a sense, the feelings of the spectators trump the pain of the executed party. Some experts believe that the most humane way to execute someone would be to administer a massive dose of barbiturates. Such a death would be virtually painless, but the problem is that this process would be much harder on the witnesses because it takes longer for the prisoner to die. This is the twisted logic that the death penalty invites.

One reason that the horrific deaths caused by the electric chair haven’t had a great impact on society is the perception that people who are suffering deserve it, even though the American Constitution forbids this approach to the death penalty. To some, the slow and torturous deaths are a feature, not a flaw. In 1997, after a fire during an electrocution in Florida, that state’s attorney general warned: “People who wish to commit murder better not be doing it in the state of Florida, because we may have a problem with our electric chair.” While the law-and-order crowd might cheer those words, states that have the death penalty don’t have lower crime or murder rates than states without such laws.

Today the United States is the only remaining Western nation with the death penalty. Since 2018, 4 inmates have been put to death by the electric chair. After more than a century of trying, this nation has been unable to find a way of killing that is acceptable on the moral and constitutional level. Since the introduction of lethal injection in 1980, the latest “advancement” in execution technology, 7 % of those executions have been botched. It’s time to accept the fact that killing someone who’s no longer a threat to society isn’t humane.

(source: Chris Beck,


Why Conservatives Are Turning Against Capital Punishment

The death penalty does not align with values like the sanctity of human life, individual liberty, and limited government.

There is a nationwide trend of Republican state lawmakers rethinking the death penalty, and their faith is playing a central role. From Catholics to evangelicals, Christian lawmakers on the Right are abandoning capital punishment like never before.

Take Colorado as an example. For years a bill to repeal the death penalty ran into a wall in the state Senate. This year three Republican senators co-sponsored the bill and provided the crucial votes for it to pass. The Colorado House of Representatives approved it and the governor signed it into law in March—making Colorado the 22nd state to abolish the death penalty.

Why did they do it? These Republican lawmakers decided the death penalty does not align with their Christian or conservative values: the sanctity of human life, individual liberty, and limited government. They see a system that exonerates 1 person on death row for every 9 it executes, with more than 160 people in the U.S. being freed from death row due to wrongful convictions since 1973. They see a bloated government program that does nothing to make people safer.

“We were created in the image of God and that is a very good thing. And part of what that means, in my understanding, is it is against the natural order for one created in the image of God to willfully take the life of another created in the image of God,” said state Sen. Owen Hill. “My conscience demands that I vote to abolish the death penalty in Colorado.”

(source: Sojourners)


Reinstate Tsarnaev’s death penalty

The decision Friday by a federal appeals court to reverse the death sentence of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev must have landed like a gut punch to the loved ones he and his brother killed and the scores of others they injured.

The ruling by the 3-judge panel had no effect on his conviction. Tsarnaev, now 27, will remain incarcerated in a federal maximum-security prison for the rest of his life.

Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan carried out their terrorist attack on April 15, 2013, killing 8-year-old Martin Richard; Lingzi Lu, 23, a graduate student from China; and Krystle Marie Campbell, 29, of Arlington, while maiming 260 other innocent victims.

Days later, the brothers killed MIT Police officer and Wilmington native Sean Collier while they were on the run in Cambridge.

The appeals court vacated Tsarnaev’s death sentence based on disclosures that at least 2 of the 12 jurors did not fully reveal what they knew about the case, or had discussed it on social media before they were selected for the jury.

The 3 judges also concluded U.S. District Court Judge George A. O’Toole Jr., who presided over the 2015 trial, erred when he declined to question jurors thoroughly about social media posts, and instead relied on their claims that they could decide the case impartially.

It’s now up to the Justice Department to decide whether it will pursue reinstating the death penalty and force another punishment phase of the trial.

Federal prosecutors could also petition the Supreme Court to review the federal appeals court decision, which could possibly eliminate the need for another go-around in court.

Or they could just let the appeals court decision stand, which would spare the families of the deceased and injured the pain of reliving those traumatic events.

There will undoubtedly be considerable pressure on Attorney General William Barr from those who support the death penalty in this case and those who oppose it categorically.

Although it will be an emotionally painful experience, as long as the death penalty remains a legal remedy, it must be reinstated in this horrific case.

Many legal pundits at the time believed the trial should not have occurred in Boston — or anywhere in Massachusetts.

They said due to the blanket media coverage of the bombings and subsequent events, that Tsarnaev couldn’t receive a fair hearing.

We should all understand that since Tsarnaev had already admitted to his role in the bombings, the only legal loose end concerned whether or not he deserved the death penalty, which federal law allows.

Perpetrators of such heinous acts shouldn’t believe that the sheer magnitude of their barbarity can shield them from the punishment they justly deserve.

We don’t want this appeals court decision, though made on perceived specific legal grounds, to become a blueprint for infamous criminals’ defense lawyers to circumvent their clients’ proper fate on some technicality, rather than be held accountable by the weight of the evidence.

In this case, it’s the death penalty.

And though we realize his execution may never happen, due to the seemingly limitless appeals process, it nonetheless sends a message to scum like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that their life could be the ultimate price paid for their monstrous crimes.

(Editorial, Lowell Sun)


Death penalty still option for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Friday’s federal appeals court decision to vacate Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death sentence is a serious setback for federal prosecutors, but it may not be a permanent road block.

A panel of 3 federal judges on Friday threw out the convicted Boston Marathon Bomber’s death sentence on several grounds, among them, a ruling that the trial judge did not fully weed out anti-Tsarnaev bias on the jury.

Boston US Attorney Andrew Lelling has not signaled what his next step might be.

However, former federal prosecutor Brad Bailey tells me, he thinks the US Attorney might first go to the US Supreme court, rather than seek a new penalty phase trial.

“There’s a conservative majority there,” Bailey said. “I think they areaware of the issues that may be involved if they attempt to do the retrial here.”

Friday’s decision did not overturn Tsarnaev’s guilty verdict.

A new Tsarnaev trial, with new jurors, would only focus on whether Dzhokhar should get the death penalty.

And while re-trial could be rocky for federal prosecutors, Bailey tells me, Friday’s decision could actually give prosecutors a road map to what went wrong the 1st time.

And that could strengthen the Government’s expected attempt to keep a new trial in Boston.

“The U.S Attorney’s office may say, ‘Listen we’re not going to cart family members at their inconvenience elsewhere in the United States. We’re not going to have some of those 269 living victims inconvenienced and have to go elsewhere. This is where it should be, we can get it right,’ " Bailey said.

Another option: the Government could argue its case in front of the full 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

However, three of those judges already ruled against them last week.



Execution rate is 17 times greater for killers of white rather than Black victims, study says

Killers of white people are executed at a rate 17 times greater than killers of Black victims, according to a new study building on the work of a law professor who analyzed racial disparities in the Georgia death penalty.

The new study, published in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, combined Georgia death sentence data studied by University of Iowa law professor David Baldus with information on actual executions carried out. The New York Times has coverage.

The new study found that 22 out of 972 defendants convicted of killing a white victim in Baldus’ study were ultimately executed, but only 2 out of 1,503 defendants convicted of killing a Black victim were put to death.

“Thus, the overall execution rate is a staggering 17 times greater for defendants convicted of killing a white victim,” write the authors of the new study, professor Scott Phillips and law professor Justin Marceau of the University of Denver.

Phillips and Marceau say the new data is important because a 1976 Supreme Court decision upholding Georgia’s death penalty downplayed racial disparities by emphasizing the role of appellate review. The new research “shows that post-sentencing proceedings exacerbate, rather than remediate, the problems of arbitrariness,” the authors write.

Baldus, who died in 2011, had analyzed sentencing in more than 2,000 murders in Georgia from 1973 to 1979. He found that killers of white victims were four times more likely receive a death sentence that killers of Black victims. He did not analyze how many executions were actually carried out because so much time passes between sentencing and execution.

The U.S. Supreme Court considered Baldus’ findings in McCleskey v. Kemp, a 1987 decision that found the death penalty is constitutional despite statistical disparities in the system.

(source: ABA Journal)


Should we give the government the power of life and death?

I’ve been writing about capital punishment for about 20 years now, which is about 20 years too long. It’s easy enough to poke holes in the ideas that drive the practice itself; it’s expensive, it doesn’t deter crime, it hits the poor and people of color harder, the rest of the world abandoned the practice long ago, etc.

Likewise, when you’re writing about a death row exoneree who was actually innocent but was sentenced to die anyway, that’s an easy sell. Most people understand that it’s wrong to kill someone for a crime they didn’t commit (though some judges are on the fence about this; Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in 2009, “This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.” That passage can be translated to: “It’s OK to kill innocent people, so long as the process looks fair.”).

Then, there are the real murder cases with the really guilty people and really horrific circumstances. When you examine those cases, high-minded policy arguments tend to dissolve, sympathy wanes and the reader is left thinking, “Well, maybe the death penalty isn’t so bad after all.” This, I suppose, is what keeps a few alt-weekly-reading liberals on the fence about the continued viability of American capital punishment.

Take, for example, the execution of white supremacist scumbag Daniel Lewis Lee in Terre Haute last month. Lee was convicted of murdering two parents and their 8-year-old daughter during a home invasion. He and an accomplice tied plastic bags around their victims’ heads and watched them suffocate to death. Then, they pitched the bodies into an Arkansas river.

Getting people to oppose his death sentence — now there’s a challenge. Since I’m annoyed about capital punishment still making headlines and even more annoyed by the federal government using my home state to stage its gratuitous PR stunts, that’s the ball and chain I’ve elected to affix to my wrist for this week’s column.

First, there’s the simple question of: Why? Why kill this guy instead of keeping him locked up? The family of Lee’s victims, like most victims’ families, didn’t want it. The mother of the woman killed wrote to President Trump asking for last-minute clemency. She even filed suit to stop Lee’s execution. Not only did she think it would tarnish her daughter’s memory, but at age 80, she couldn’t make the trek from Arkansas to Indiana and sit in a cramped viewing room without risking exposure to you-know-what. An Indiana judge pushed pause but was undone by a higher court in an emergency ruling. Lee’s case, which had languished in appeals for nearly 25 years, simply could not wait through a global pandemic, victims be damned. What the hell for? What good did it do?

Then, another district court put the execution on hold because of U.S. Attorney General Barr’s new-and-improved lethal injection protocol, which might result in not only death but prolonged torture. Again, an appellate court promptly shredded that opinion, because the forced shuffling-off of this particular mortal coil was an urgent need. Maybe you don’t much care about how a child killer dies. America’s a violent place, and if one experiences a little extra pain on the way out, them’s the breaks.

Still, you might pity Daniel Lee’s circumstances before his demise, if just a bit. He was 17 when he aided in his first murder and 23 when he helped kill that family in Arkansas. He grew up like nearly all murderers: poor, abused, with traumas that never would have been diagnosed had he not been under the microscope of a capital defense team (because after all, even if you could afford to diagnose your kid’s neurological disorders, you have to care enough about that kid to go do it, and Lee’s parents didn’t). Even one of the doctors who testified against him later recanted, citing new medical evidence about Lee’s undiagnosed, untreated seizure disorder.

Tough luck, right? Everybody had a terrible childhood. But what about the way the system reacts to killers who want to explain those circumstances to a jury? Lee could have gotten life without parole if he had pleaded guilty. Accused murderers who are brave, stupid or mentally ill enough to insist on going to trial are almost always the ones who get death. Lawyers call this the “trial penalty.”

That brings us back to actual innocence. The trial penalty means that the wrongfully accused — defendants who want to go to trial instead of plea bargaining — are more likely to be executed than the guilty. Combine that with the fact that the only people allowed to serve on capital cases are people who support the death penalty (no overdeveloped moral compasses or devout Catholics allowed), and you get a system that has real potential for all kinds of massive fuck-ups. Lee insisted on trial and maintained his innocence until he was strapped to a table and pumped full of pentobarbital. His last words were, “You’re killing an innocent man.”

Was he really innocent? Probably not. Even so, why did this particular guy get the ax? Over 1,000 children are murdered in the U.S. every year, but only a small handful of the murderers are chosen to die. This was the first federal execution since the Oklahoma City bombing, an operation which made Lee’s aggravated murder charge look like a game of “Clue” that got out of hand. Even in the context of this particular case, it doesn’t make sense. Lee’s accomplice, a man prosecutors described as the mastermind of the murders, was another white supremacist who had robbed the same family once before. But he dressed in a nice suit in court, and, unlike Lee, he didn’t have SS tattoos on his neck or a missing eye. The same jury that sentenced Lee to death gave the “mastermind” life in prison.

The system threw a dart, and it landed on Lee. I don’t want a justice system that throws darts and neither do you. And because capital punishment can’t be revoked, it won’t matter if we find out later that Lee was telling the truth. Some might say that no one is beyond redemption. A nice thought, but that’s not what I’m arguing here. I’m saying that neither the federal government, nor a panel of “death-eligible” jurors, should decide who is redeemable.

Even if I’ve convinced you that Lee shouldn’t have been executed, you may be inclined to think that this case is exceptionally nuanced. But I promise you: There isn’t a murder case without nuance. There are always questions of innocence. There are always questions of procedural fairness. There are always mitigating factors that should make any decent person stop and say “wait, do we really need to do this?” or at least “should we give the government the power of life and death over regular slobs, even the ones we don’t like?” The rest of the world has figured out the answer to those questions. Maybe someday we will, too.

(source: Dan Canon is a civil rights lawyer and law professor;


What Do We Know About the Case of 5 Young Iran People Sentenced to Death?

These days, the news of the confirmation of the death sentence of 5 or 8 young Iranians in Isfahan is the first news of many media outlets, while the regime’s Judicial authorities are trying to carry out their work in silence with continuous denials of these verdicts.

Now we want to look at the case of 5 of these young people and see why the government is committed to the execution of these young people.

The names of the 5 young people who arrested in the nationwide protests in December 2017

•Mehdi Salehi Qaleh Shahrokhi, born in 1983, resident of Yazdanshahr, business owner, married. He is the father of a 7-year-old girl.

•Hadi Kiani, son of Sahn Ali, born in 1990, resident of Khomeini Shahr, freelance, married.

•Mohammad Bastami, son of Sharifi, born in 1992, resident of Isfahan, freelance, married.

•Majid Nazari Kondari, born in 1994, resident of Mal Khalifa, Amiran village, freelance, single.

•Abbas Mohammadi, born in 1991, resident of Khomeini Shahr, freelance, married. He has 2 children.

During the nationwide protests in December 2017 in Khomeini Shahr, one of the protesters, Asghar Haroon Al-Rashidi, was shot dead. Mr. Rashidi's family complained about the Basij elements, the IRGC, and the police about killing their child.

After a while, a number of Rashidi's friends, including; Mehdi Salehi Qaleh Shahrokhi, Hadi Kiani, Mohammad Bastami, Majid Nazari Kondari, Abbas Mohammadi, Saeed Salehi, Vahid Salehi, Bahman Doisti, Alireza Ispareh, Milad Ostad Mamzani, Bahram Barakatipour, Soheil Haroon Al-Rashidi, Ismail Harun Al-Rashidi due to participation in the protests of December 2017 were arrested.

Among them, Mehdi Salehi Qaleh Shahrokhi on 3 November 2019, Hadi Kiani on 10 March 2019, Mohammad Bastami on 12 March 2019, Majid Nazari Kondari on 14 March 2019, and Abbas Mohammadi on 11 April 2018 were arrested. They are still in custody.

According to an informed source from the Isfahan Central Prison (Dastgerd), Hadi Kiani is one of the five youths detained since the December 2017 uprising who was sentenced to be executed twice by the Second Branch of the Revolutionary Court of Isfahan in February 2020. This case has resulted in imprisonment and flogging sentences for 8 other defendants.

Hadi was a construction worker since he was a teenager, and after years of working as a laborer, he was able to rent a car wash to support his family.

Hadi's relatives said: "We did not hear from him until 40 days after his arrest. Hadi later said that he was tortured in solitary confinement during this time."

The arrest of Hadi Kiani dates to the nationwide protests in December 2017 in the Joyabad neighborhood near the city of Sedeh in Isfahan.

"I am innocent," he told the court. But in court, he was sentenced to two death for moharebeh (waging war on God) and Armed insurgency Against the Imam or Islamic ruler.

According to the verdict issued by the Revolutionary Court of Isfahan on 8 February 2020, Mehdi Salehi Ghaleh Shahrokhi, Mohammad Bastami, Majid Nazari Kondari, Hadi Kiani, and Abbas Mohammadi were charged with "Armed insurgency, moharebeh, and corruption on earth through community and disrupting public and private security." Each of them was sentenced to two death sentences and 5 years in prison.

Also, Saeed Salehi, Vahid Salehi, Bahman Doisti, Alireza Ispareh, Milad Ostad Mamzani, Bahram Barakatipour, Soheil Haroon Al-Rasheedi, Ismail Harun Al-Rasheedi have been sentenced to imprisonment and flogging.

Vahid Salehi, Bahman Doisti, Alireza Ispareh, Milad Ostad Mamzani, and 2 others have also been acquitted of the charge of "Armed insurgency through effective efforts and activities to advance the goals of the rioters."



Iranian Protester’s execution must be met with global condemnations----Mostafa Salehi had denied allegations of involvement in the murder of Sajjad Shahsanayi at all stages of the trial

Mostafa Salehi, a protester arrested in the December 2016/ January 2017 protests, and sentenced to qisas (retribution in-kind) for allegedly "killing a guard", was executed at Isfahan Central Prison this morning. Mostafa had consistently denied all charges.

Iran Human Rights calls for the immediate condemnation of this execution by the international community.

IHR Director, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said: "The execution of Mustafa Salehi is part of the authorities’ plan to implement death penalties against protesters in order to prevent new protests. The silence of the international community in the face of this execution can be considered a green light by the Iranian authorities to carry out more executions. The only way to stop this progression is for Iranians to continue the campaign against the executions and for the international to show a swift and appropriate reaction."

Noting that Mustafa Salehi’s case had received less media attention, Amiry-Moghaddam said: "The families and lawyers speaking out can be crucial in saving the lives of the death row protesters."

According to the official IRNA news agency, Mostafa Salehi was executed at Isfahan Central Prison this morning, Wednesday, August 5. He was arrested at the December 2016/ January 2017 protests in the city of Kahrizsang, Najafabad (Isfahan), and was sentenced to death for alleged charges of killing a guard.

Mostafa Salehi was sentenced to death by the First Branch of the Criminal Court of Isfahan Province, presided over by Morad Ali Najafpour in February 2019, which was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court.

According to HRANA news agency, Salehi was charged with "murdering an IRGC officer named Sajjad Shahsedayi and also injuring six other people" during the December 2016/ January 2017 protests.

According to the report, during the December 2016/ January 2017 protests and after the road from Najafabad to Isfahan was blocked by the protesters, Sajjad Shahsanayi was sent to the area along with a number of other Revolutionary Guards forces to deal with the protesters and open the road and was shot dead by unknown people. An informed source told IHR: “Mostafa Salehi was under pressure for more than a year in the solitary confinement cells of IRGC intelligence to make a forced confession.” According to the source, the only evidence used against Mostafa was the testimony of a female detainee who was forced to make confessions and give incriminating accounts against other detained protesters.

Mostafa Salehi had denied allegations of involvement in the murder of Sajjad Shahsanayi at all stages of the trial. Shahsanayi’s family lawyer, Arab, stated in court that Salehi "denies all charges... and keeps saying to bring a witness or check the surveillance cameras.”



Man sentenced to death for strangling infant daughter

A 41-year-old man was sentenced to death today (04) after being found guilty of killing his infant daughter in 2014.

The defendant, Somasundaram Suresh, was a resident of Ragala, Nuwara Eliya, and was accused of strangling his three-and-a half-year-old daughter upon discovering his wife was having an affair.

The Ragala Police had filed a case in the Nuwara Eliya High Court regarding the murder.

The order was issued by Nuwara Eliya High Court Judge, Pramila Ratnayake today.



Cayetano: Death penalty tabled; Bayanihan 2, stimulus packages prioritized

For now, the House of Representatives would not prioritize the passage of the death penalty bills as it has more pressing issues to tackle, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said on Wednesday.

Cayetano said the House would instead prioritize tackling the proposed Bayanihan 2, the overhaul of the Local Government Code and economic stimulus packages.

“I promised that we will have full debates on everything but right now, Bayanihan is on our plate and number two we will prioritize also the overhaul of the Local Government Code,” he said.

“I will leave it up to the committee [on justice] to schedule it but hindi ko gustong matamaan right now ‘yung priorities ( I don’t want the priorities to be affected),” he added.

The House Committee on Justice on Wednesday began to work on bills for the revival of the death penalty for certain heinous crimes even as the country fights the coronavirus pandemic.

This is only less than 2 weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte called for Congress to reinstate capital punishment via lethal injection for drug-related crimes.

Cayetano told opponents of the death penalty that the proposal would help the government “prevent crime,” adding that there would always be someone who would come forward to propose the revival of capital punishment as long as people continue to commit heinous crimes, such as rape.

“Help us prevent crime. Help us have the mentality of following the law because kung walang gumagawa ng karumaldumal na krimen, walang dahilan para sa death penalty (if no one would commit heinous crimes there is no point to legislate the death penalty measure),” he said.

This is not the first time the House pushed for the reinstatement of the death penalty under President Duterte’s administration.

In 2017, the House earlier approved on 3rd and final reading the bill seeking to impose capital punishment on drug-related crimes. However, it did not progress in the Senate.

The Makabayan bloc lawmakers in the House had vowed that they will oppose any bill that will revive the death penalty in the country, dismissing such a measure as not a deterrent against crime. The group said it will only be used to further oppress Filipinos’ human rights.

The death penalty was abolished in 2006 under the administration of former President and Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.



Barbers: Death penalty is ‘only thing that even the most hardened criminals fear’

For House Committee on Dangerous Drugs chair Robert Ace Barbers, only the death penalty would bring “shivers to the bones” criminals.

Barbers expressed his support to the reinstatement of capital punishment as the House Committee on Justice resumed its hearings on the pending death penalty bills at the Congress.

This was over a week after President Rodrigo Duterte renewed his call to reimpose the death penalty for drug-related offenses during his fifth State of the Nation Address.

The committee was deliberating on 12 pending death penalty bills wherein six were for violations of RA 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

“I am for death penalty no matter who our president is. I believe this is the only penalty that would bring shivers to the bones of the evildoers,” Barbers said.

“[This is] the only deterrent to the commission of heinous crimes, the only thing that even the most hardened criminals fear,” he added.

Barbers dismissed the argument of those who opposed the death penalty that only the poor, who could get a lawyer, would receive the punishment.

“Lawyers are not the only ones inside the court. There are judges who see and observe the trial and who can propound questions to witnesses and can control the phase and direction of the trial, to see to it that justice is served,” he said.

“The law provides that if the accused cannot get a lawyer, the judge can even appoint one for him. The Public Attorneys Office is there,” he added.

Barbers also lambasted claims that the country could not reinstate the death penalty due to its agreement to international agreements, and that reimposing capital punishment would violate said commitments.

“The last time I checked, we are still a sovereign nation. Last time I checked too, our Constitution allows death penalty,” he said.

“No other nation can dictate how it runs its own government. It is free to chart its own destiny,” Barbers added.

Minority Leader, Benny Abante Jr., also supported the revival of the death penalty “in defense of human life, honor and dignity, preservation of peace and order in society, and respect for law and authority.” He was also a pastor at the Metropolitan Bible Baptist Ekklesia.



Manila clergy condemns lawmakers favoring reimposition of death penalty

The clergy of the Archdiocese of Manila said the ease with which lawmakers responded to the call to re-impose death penalty in the country is “alarming.”

In a statement dated August 4, the Manila clergy said while they agree that it is the duty of legislators to enact laws and State policies, they expressed their consternation to the lack of independence and imprudence of some of the lawmakers.

“We see such acts as betrayal of the people’s interests and an implicit support to the creeping authoritarian tendencies exuded by this administration,” the statement read.

While they agree that crime deserves punishment and that the State has authority to administer appropriate punishment to those judged guilty of crimes, the Manila priests cited different reasons why they object to its re-imposition.

One of the reasons they cited is that death penalty does not effectively deter crime.

“What deters crime is the certainty of conviction and the imposition of punishment. What the country needs, therefore, is a reform of the criminal justice system with the eradication of crooked, corrupt and unprincipled practices in law enforcement agencies, judiciary and penal systems,” the priests said.

Death penalty, they said, is also “biased and unfair” even likening it to the dreaded war on drugs which victimizes mostly the poor.

The Manila clergy added that death penalty simply legalizes the extermination of the marginalized in the society.

They said death penalty is also an unjustified form of retribution.

“We believe that only God has the right to take life away from us. Hence, we condemn criminals who took the lives of their victims and they must be punished for it,” said the priests.

But punishment, they said, should not anymore include death saying there are other means already available to punish criminals and to protect society from them.

The Manila priests also cited the fallibility and imperfection of the country’s justice system as another reason why they reject capital punishment.

They said as pastors, they recognize the heartache, distress, anguish experienced by victims of violent crimes; deeply empathized with them, and want to help them in their search for justice.

“However, our support for victims and their families does not oblige us to push for the re-imposition of the penalty of death,” the clergy said.

Instead, they said, they want to call the attention of the country’s leaders and lawmakers to make every effort to “establish a system of justice that brings restoration and harmony and not death.”

The House Committee on Justice on Wednesday revived the hearings on death penalty bills weeks after President Duterte called for its re-imposition.

(source: Manila Bulletin)


CHR says death penalty an ‘utmost form of torture'

In response to President Rodrigo Duterte's call for the reimposition of the death penalty, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Wednesday said that capital punishment is the ultimate form of torture.

At the panel inquiry on the revival of the death penalty at the House of Representatives, the CHR argued that domestic and international laws prohibit torture.

"We believe that death penalty is the utmost form of torture," CHR Commissioner Karen Dumpit said. "We have already enacted an anti-torture act to implement the convention against torture."

Constitutional issues surrounding capital punishment were also raised during the hearing.

Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez said bringing back the death penalty will violate Articles 2 and 3 of the 1987 Constitution.

Rodriguez said that when the Philippines signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), it committed to abolish the death penalty.

Since the Senate concurred to this treaty, Rodriguez said passing a death penalty bill will violate the Doctrine on Incorporation under Article 2 of the Constitution.

"If we are going to impose the death penalty, then we therefore violate not only our Constitution, because it adopts generally accepted principles of international law, which are the treaties signed by many countries...our country would violate customary international law," the Mindanaoan congressman said.

He added that Article 3 of the Philippine Constitution, prohibits physical, psychological and degrading penalties.

But those who favor the death penalty measure insisted that the Constitution also allows its imposition if there is a compelling reason to do so.

Both the Department of Justice and the Public Attorney's Office supported it.

"The Department of Justice sees no legal or constitutional impediment to Congress' reimposition of death penalty,” said Justice Assistant Secretary Nicholas Felix Ty.

“There are 2 main reasons for this position of the Department of Justice," he said. "The 1st reason is that the imposition of death penalty is within the powers of Congress and 2nd, the imposition of death penalty is allowed by the Constitution.”

Drug menace as compelling reason to reinstate capital punishment?

Rep. Vicente Veloso, chairman of the House Committee on Justice, said it is Congress that will determine whether or not there is a compelling reason to legislate the death penalty.

He added that the President has the power to veto the bill in case he thinks there is no sufficient reason to enact it.

During his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA), the President himself asked Congress to reinstate capital punishment by lethal injection for drug-related violations.

But the CHR said there is no need to resurrect it.

"There is no compelling reason, your honor," said Dumpit when Minority Leader Benny Abante--who also filed a bill that will revive capital punishment--asked her if the current drug menace is compelling enough to reinstate the death penalty.

"There is a provision in the Constitution, of course, that says heinous crimes and we equate that to most serious of crimes," she said. "And in the most serious crimes in international law, if you'll have a listing of that, drugs are not found in those list."

Wrong timing

Meanwhile, Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon said it is not the right time to discuss the death penalty with the entire country bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biazon, who also authored a death penalty bill for drug offenders, asked the committee not to include his bill during Wednesday's House inquiry.

The House of Representatives under the speakership of Pantaleon Alvarez passed the death penalty for drug-related cases in 2019.

The bill, however, was stalled in the Senate.



Death Penalty Danger in the Philippines ---- Reinstating Capital Punishment Risks International Condemnation, Sanctions

The plummeting human rights situation in the Philippines got even worse this week as the government began considering bills to reinstate the death penalty. The move by the House Committee on Justice came a week after President Rodrigo Duterte used his State of the Nation Address to call for capital punishment by lethal injection for drug offenders.

For years, the Philippines put people to death, particularly in cases of so-called heinous crimes. But President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, under pressure from the Catholic Church, abolished the death penalty in 2006. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because it is inherently cruel and irreversible.

In 2007, the Philippines ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which requires countries to abolish the death penalty. Countries that are parties to the covenant and the protocol cannot reinstate the death penalty without violating their obligations under international human rights law. Doing so would also likely result in more than just statements of concern from foreign trade partners such as the European Union.

The Duterte government’s overwhelming majority in Congress and continuing efforts to promote its campaign against illegal drugs means the justice committee is likely to support death penalty bills. Duterte’s “war on drugs” has resulted in the deaths of more than 6,000 persons at the hands of the Philippine National Police and thousands more by unidentified gunmen. Accountability for these police killings, including those that victimized children, is practically nonexistent.

Adopting the death penalty will mean spilling more blood in the name of Duterte’s “drug war.” It will lead the Philippines to descend further into a rights-violating abyss. And the government will lose credibility and leverage to negotiate on behalf of Filipinos who face execution abroad.

Along with the Philippines’ withdrawal from the International Criminal Court in March 2019 and its human rights disinformation campaign at the United Nations Human Rights Council, reimposing the death penalty would only serve to further cement the country’s growing reputation as an international human rights pariah.

(source: Human Rights Watch)


Youth groups slam push for death penalty amid worsening pandemic

Youth groups and individuals from all over the Philippines denounced the push for the revival of the death penalty, especially as the country is brought to its knees by to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a unity statement led by Akbayan Youth, groups asserted how the administration’s efforts to revive the death penalty during a pandemic is “another trick to maneuver our attention away from the swell of the COVID-19 cases.”

Heeding to the call of President Rodrigo Duterte, the House of Representatives began their debates on the return of death penalty for certain heinous crimes on Wednesday, August 5. At least 12 death penalty bills have been filed in the lower chamber after Duterte urged Congress to reinstate capital punishment for violators of the country’s anti-drugs law in his 5th State of the Nation Address.

Pro-death penalty bill legislators say that the death penalty will not only punish criminals but supposedly also deter people from committing heinous crimes.

The push for the death penalty comes as the country continues to face rapidly increasing numbers of coronavirus cases.

As of August 5, the country’s tally of COVID-19 cases has soared past 115,000. The cases are expected to continuously pile up as the daily recorded cases remain in the thousands.

“We need to save more lives, not compete with the virus in killing more Filipinos,” the youth groups said.

Ineffective punishment

Other than the “abysmal” performance in handling the pandemic, the groups also argued that death penalty’s effectiveness in deterring crime is a myth.

Citing studies done on other countries where the capital punishment is present such as in US, Singapore, and Hong Kong, the groups said the death penalty has shown no correlation in the rise and fall of crime rates.

They asserted how countries with low crime rates such as those in Scandinavia were able to keep their numbers low even without the death penalty. Youth groups emphasized how these countries were able to do so because they focused more on curtailing conditions which allow crimes to persist and strengthening their justice system to ensure likelihood of conviction.

“We should be fighting poverty itself – not the poor who are victims of a cruel, unjust social system,” the unity statement added.

The groups also highlighted that the “flawed” justice system in our country would likely enable the poor to suffer from the irreversible effects of the death penalty more than their wealthier counterparts.

The statement raised how appeals on death penalty convictions showed the majority of people sentenced to death were mistaken convictions.

It especially cited the 2004 Supreme Court (SC) decision of People v Mateo that detailed how 71.77% of death penalty verdicts handed by lower courts were erroneous.

“The death penalty is a ploy to wage a war against the poor...In a justice system as flawed as ours, people can fall victim to mistrials and erroneous sentencing...The death penalty will only add to the killing machine that targets the most vulnerable,” the groups said.

Watch those in power

Slamming the push for the death penalty, the youth groups reiterated in their unity statement how people’s vigilance against crimes should instead be directed at those in power.

“We should be protecting Filipino families against the greedy who profit off of the pandemic, the powerful who endanger workers’ health and safety, and the paranoid who terrorize ordinary citizens for asking questions,” they said.

The youth groups emphasized how the measures put forward by the administration during the pandemic are already akin to the death penalty.

Despite widespread disapproval, the government had enacted the Anti-Terror Law in July. Experts believe this law can allow authorities to go after those who express dissent due to the measure’s overly broad definition of terrorism.

Even before the law took effect, several protesters participating in rallies have been apprehended, despite observing health protocols like physical distancing.

“The incompetence of the Duterte administration is already a death penalty in itself. Day by day, Filipinos are not only dying due to the government’s abysmal performance in protecting families, but also of hunger and desperation to return to work and school,” the group said.

“We need to put an end to the system of governance that has done nothing but to perpetuate a culture of violence and oppression,” they added.

The unity statement has been signed by more than a hundred individuals and youth groups including Youth Resist, Adamson University Student Government, yFactPH, and We the Future PH.



Miri police: Duo arrested for drug trafficking operate 2 drug labs -- Assortment of drugs found by police in Miri condo raids.

2 suspects who were arrested for drug-related offences on Aug 3 operated two drug-processing laboratory cum drug distribution centres here.

The suspects, a female China national, 28, and her male Malaysian partner, 43, were found to have used 2 high-class condominiums for their illegal drug trade.

Police arrested the duo in a condominium unit in Miri and found RM1.33mil worth of drugs, plus an array of drug-processing equipment.

Sources told The Star that subsequent investigations found that the duo have another centre in another condominium unit close to the one where they were arrested.

"Drugs worth over RM1.33mil and drug-processing machines were found in the first unit.

"After interrogation, the suspects led police to another unit nearby where more drugs worth at least RM750,000 were found," said the source.

Sarawak Deputy Police Commissioner Datuk Dev Kumar had said that the duo are suspected of using the condominium as a drug processing and packaging facility.

He said drugs seized included ecstasy, ketamine, eramine and syabu.

The duo are being investigated under Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act for drug trafficking.

They face the death penalty if convicted.



Jiangxi Man Acquitted After 27 Years, China’s Longest Wrongful Conviction----After being sentenced to death in 1995 for the murders of 2 children, Zhang Yuhuan served 9,778 days in prison before his conviction was overturned due to lack of evidence.

Zhang Yuhuan served nearly 27 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. On Tuesday, he was finally set free.

The 53-year-old was acquitted by a court in the eastern Jiangxi province, which determined there was insufficient evidence he had killed 2 boys from his village over two decades ago. By the time Zhang was released, he had spent 9,778 days in prison — the longest-ever unlawfully served term in China.

“I was a young man back then, now I’m an old man,” Zhang told the woman he had been married to at the time of his arrest, according to Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper. “Nonetheless, I’d like to thank the authorities for restoring my innocence and upholding justice.”

In October 1993, Zhang, then 26, was apprehended by police in Zhangjia Village — administered by the provincial capital of Nanchang — on suspicion of murdering 2 boys. 2 years later, the Nanchang Intermediate People’s Court sentenced him to death with a 2-year suspension.

Zhang immediately appealed for a retrial, protesting his innocence, but it wasn’t until Tuesday that the Jiangxi High People’s Court finally ruled to acquit him.

Family members have accused local police of torturing Zhang into confessing to a crime he didn’t commit. They say he was interrogated for hours on end, beaten up, and even attacked by dogs.

Wang Fei, who is now Zhang’s lawyer, told The Paper that when his client was sentenced in 1995, he wasn’t represented by legal counsel — an oversight Wang described as a “major procedural violation” of Chinese law, which mandates that courts must assign a lawyer to any defendant facing the death penalty.

On Wednesday, Wang told Sixth Tone that Zhang and his family are planning to apply for 7 million yuan ($1 million) in state compensation. The lawyer added, however, that pursuing accountability for his client’s wrongful detention will be a challenge, as the officials involved in the case are likely dead or retired by now.

The main reason (it’s difficult to hold officials responsible for wrongful convictions) is the judiciary’s unwillingness to initiate accountability proceedings. - Wang Fei, lawyer

“It’s extremely difficult to pursue responsibility in wrongful conviction cases, and Zhang Yuhuan’s case will be no exception,” Wang said. “The main reason for this is the judiciary’s unwillingness to initiate accountability proceedings and hold the officials involved responsible.”

In recent years, China has seen a number of people acquitted in high-profile wrongful imprisonment cases. Though most of them have been granted state compensation, few have been successful in holding authorities responsible for their lost years, or even having their names publicly revealed.

“My recommendation is to pursue the most severe punishments for judicial officials who commit crimes,” Wang said, referring to a stipulation that anyone found to have extracted a confession through torture may face up to three years in prison. “I think this is the most effective way to prevent injustice and wrongful conviction cases.”

Shang Manqing, another lawyer representing Zhang, said the absence of accountability also stems from the victims being unwilling to dredge up the past.

“Given deep-seated habits of burying the hatchet, it isn’t hard to understand why they (the victims) don’t want those officials to be held accountable,” Shang told Sixth Tone. “All they want now is to live well in the years they have left.”

On Tuesday, the Jiangxi High People’s Court apologized to Zhang for the initial, incorrect verdict, with the chief judge calling Zhang’s acquittal “an inevitable decision to protect human rights, and a progressive move for China’s judicial system.”

When Zhang returned to his hometown of Zhangjia as a free and innocent man, it was not to be with his wife, who had divorced him and started another family. And Zhang’s son — who was just 4 when he went to prison — was barely recognizable to the now-middle-aged man.

“Even if I get money, I can’t buy back 27 years of my youth,” Zhang said during a conversation with his ex-wife after they were reunited. “Over the years, our younger son visited me twice in prison, but our elder son didn’t see me until yesterday. I didn’t recognize him at first. He wasn’t happy about that, but I can understand.”



China Sentences Canadian to Death on Drugs Charges

China has sentenced a third Canadian citizen to death on drug charges amid a steep decline in relations between the 2 countries.

The Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate Court announced Xu Weihong’s penalty on Thursday and said an alleged accomplice, Wen Guanxiong, had been given a life sentence.

Death sentences are automatically referred to China’s highest court for review.

The brief court statement gave no details but local media in the southern Chinese city at the heart of the country’s manufacturing industry said Xu and Wen had gathered ingredients and tools and began making the drug ketamine in October 2016, then stored the final product in Xu’s home in Guangzhou’s Haizhu district.

Police later confiscated more than 120 kilograms (266 pounds) of the drug from Xu’s home and another address, the reports said. Ketamine is a powerful pain killer that has become popular among club goers in China and elsewhere.

Relations between China and Canada soured over the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, an executive and the daughter of the founder of Chinese tech giant Huawei, at Vancouver’s airport in late 2018. The U.S. wants her extradited to face fraud charges over the company’s dealings with Iran. Her arrest infuriated Beijing, which sees her case as a political move designed to prevent China’s rise as a global technology power.

In apparent retaliation, China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor, accusing them of vague national security crimes.

Soon after, China handed a death sentence to convicted Canadian drug smuggler Robert Schellenberg in a sudden retrial, and in April 2019, gave the death penalty to a Canadian citizen identified as Fan Wei in a multinational drug smuggling case.

China has also placed restrictions on various Canadian exports to China, including canola seed oil, in an apparent attempt to pressure Ottawa into releasing Meng.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said there was no connection between Xu’s sentencing and current China-Canada relations.

“I would like to stress that China’s judicial authorities handle the relevant case independently in strict accordance with Chinese law and legal procedures,” Wang said at a daily briefing Thursday. “This case should not inflict any impact on China-Canada relations.”

Like many Asian nations, China deals out stiff penalties for manufacturing and selling illegal drugs, including the death penalty. In December 2009, Pakistani-British businessman Akmal Shaikh was executed after being convicted of smuggling heroin, despite allegations he was mentally disturbed.

“Death sentences for drug-related crimes that are extremely dangerous will help deter and prevent such crimes,” Wang said. “China’s judicial authorities handle cases involving criminals of different nationalities in accordance with law.”

(source: Associated Press)

AUGUST 5, 2020:


Rep. Blanco against death penalty for accused Walmart gunman

Now that the Borderland has endured a full year of disbelief, grief, anger and healing, our attention turns to justice.

The man seen on video walking into the Cielo Vista Walmart toting an assault rifle on August 3, 2019 has been charged with murder and hate crimes at both the state and federal level.

Just days after the massacre, longtime El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza announced he would pursue the death penalty. However, almost a month prior to the shooting, Esparza announced something else. After nearly 28 years in office, Esparza had decided not to seek reelection.

In July, Yvonne Rosales captured the winner-take-all Democratic primary runoff election and will replace Esparza on January 1, 2021. Rosales has not yet officially decided if she, too, will seek the death penalty in this case.

Prior to the 1-year anniversary of the mass shooting at the Cielo Vista Walmart, CBS4 On Your Side conducted an extended interview with El Paso Rep. César Blanco on a variety of topics. One of the questions we asked Blanco is if he believes the accused gunman should be sentenced to die if he is eventually convicted of the crime.

I'm personally against the death penalty. I think as a society we need to move away from individuals saying it's o.k. to kill another human being,” said Blanco. “I think this individual should spend the rest of his life in prison and I think justice will be served from that perspective.

In February, the U.S. Attorney’s office filed 90 counts, including hate crimes, against the accused gunman. Federal prosecutors may either seek the death penalty or life imprisonment. The final decision will be left up to the U.S. Attorney General.

(source: CBS News)


Alleged Regal Cinemas killer asks York judge not to let DA seek death penalty

Attorneys for Anu-Malik Johnson, who is accused of murdering a man inside a theater at Regal Cinemas in West Manchester Township, have asked a York County judge to take the death penalty off the table in their client's case.

West Manchester Township Police said he fatally shot Andre White Jr. on Dec. 2 and that animosity existed between the 2 men.

Johnson, 21, of no fixed address, remains in York County Prison without bail, charged with 1st- and 3rd-degree murder, attempted 1st-degree murder, aggravated assault, being a felon in illegal possession of a firearm and five counts of reckless endangerment.

On Thursday, attorney Jon White — who is jointly representing Johnson with attorney Korey Leslie — asked presiding Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock not to allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty, should Johnson be convicted of 1st-degree murder.

Trebilcock is reviewing arguments from both sides and has reserved judgment, according to court records.

Jon White argued in his written motion that because of COVID-19 restrictions, "prisons have limited their contacts and ability with which attorneys can safely and adequately have contact with their client."

Sixth Amendment: "These limitations on Mr. Johnson's right to counsel — over a period of months and with no light at the end of the tunnel — lead to only one conclusion: that he has been constructively denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel in violation of (federal law)," the motion argues, going on to say Johnson has suffered from a "complete denial of counsel."

Prosecutors Chuck Murphy and Melanie Wiesman, in their motion asking the judge to deny the defense's request, argue that Johnson has been represented by counsel at his hearings and that the defense has been filing motions on his behalf.

"Defendant fails to explain or specify how he has been denied contact with counsel during the COVID-19 pandemic," prosecutors wrote. "(He) also fails to specify any steps taken or attempts made by his attorney to have contact during the COVID-19 pandemic that were unsuccessful due to prison restrictions."

The defense also argued Johnson shouldn't face a possible death penalty because prosecutors have cited just one aggravating circumstance that would allow them to make it a capital case.

'Grave risk of death': The cited circumstance is that Johnson allegedly created a grave risk of death to someone in addition to victim Andre White.

Pennsylvania has a specific list of aggravating circumstances that prosecutors can cite to seek the death penalty. Defense attorney Jon White said he doesn't believe the sole aggravating factor cited by the DA's office is sufficient to move forward with a capital case.

According to the defense motion, "Mr. Johnson contends that ... the shots that were fired at the decedent, Mr. White, (were) directed solely at him and did not present imminent danger of death to others."

2 stray bullets from Johnson's gun struck surviving victim Luisa Torres, 22 at the time, police allege. One bullet grazed her right cheek, and the other struck her in the shoulder.

She was merely a bystander, police have said, and one of eight people in the theater when gunfire erupted.

Prosecutors argue she was clearly in jeopardy of suffering real harm, "since she was actually shot twice."

The background: Johnson went to the Regal Cinemas on Dec. 2 with acquaintance Jalen Bellaflores, who testified against Johnson at the alleged killer's preliminary hearing.

Bellaflores 19, of York, is charged with hindering Johnson's apprehension, obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence and conspiracy to obstruct justice, but his original homicide charge was withdrawn.

He has admitted that after the shooting, he drove Johnson from the scene.

Andre White Jr., 22, of Carlisle, suffered 5 gunshot wounds in Theater 6 about 10:15 p.m., West Manchester Township Detective Sgt. Sean Conway has said.

Investigators recovered a total of nine spent shell casings at the scene — all .40 caliber, according to Conway.

According to Bellaflores' preliminary-hearing testimony, Johnson and Andre White saw each other and said "what's up" in a "confrontational" manner, which Bellaflores said caused him to walk out of the theater.

He testified he heard gunshots after leaving Theater 6, and that afterward Johnson ran up to him and urged him to go. They left together, according to Bellaflores.

Members of the U.S. Marshals Service's fugitive task force captured Johnson in New Jersey on Dec. 18.

(source: York Dispatch)


State takes death penalty off table in 2018 murder case

The Houston County District Attorney’s Office will not seek the death penalty in a capital murder case against a Dothan man in the March 2018 shooting death of Breunia Jennings, 23.

The capital murder case against Jamie Townes did not meet certain criteria needed for the state to seek the death penalty, said Houston/Henry County District Attorney Pat Jones.

“In order to seek the death penalty criteria must be met and in this case it does not,” Jones said. “Shooting into an occupied vehicle does not meet the criteria and 2 are more were not killed. We don’t have the qualifying criteria to utilize in this case to seek the death penalty for Mr. Townes.

Townes was indicted March 15, 2019, by a Houston County grand jury and entered a plea of not guilty on April 9.

Police believe Townes fired the shots that killed Jennings. Another man, community activist Kenneth Glasgow, awaits a decision on indictment by the Houston County grand jury.

Glasgow was arrested in January and charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance, second-degree assault, and tampering with physical evidence. Glasgow was out on bond when he was arrested.

Police say Glasgow drove the vehicle carrying Townes, who officers believe subsequently shot and killed Jennings after he asked Glasgow to help him look for his car, which he believed had been stolen.

Townes remains at the Houston County Jail.

A handful of extenuating circumstances trigger a capital-murder charge under Alabama law. A person can be charged with capital murder if the victim was shot inside a vehicle.

A person convicted of a capital crime can be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Dothan police Chief Steve Parrish told the Dothan Eagle that officers were responding to a suspicious vehicle report March 25, 2018, when they arrived at what initially appeared to be an automobile accident on Allen Road near Lake Street.

Parrish said a closer look indicated a shooting had taken place.

Jennings suffered a gunshot wound to the head. Several rounds were fired at the vehicle she was driving, but one struck her in the head that caused critical injuries, Parrish said.

Townes has several previous arrests for drug and theft offenses. He was most recently arrested in 2015 for stealing around $2,000 worth of merchandise from Burlington Coat Factory at Wiregrass Commons Mall. He was sentenced in 2016 to 30 months in prison on the offense and 3 others.

Court records indicate he was paroled in Sept. 12, 2016.

Townes has a status hearing scheduled on Dec. 8.

(source: Dothan Eagle)


Coronavirus crisis at San Quentin is a California nightmare----San Quentin’s Death Row is shrinking at an unprecedented rate. Shouldn’t we all be pleased with that outcome?

The recent mortalities on Death Row came by extrajudicial means, namely COVID-19 complications, and that’s why depleting the ranks of Condemned Row should not give anybody, even death penalty advocates, any comfort. Death row is a microcosm of the larger society. The COVID-19 virus is out of control, and several measures taken to control it only made matters worse.

Clinton T. Duffy, warden of San Quentin Prison during the 1940s and 1950s, executed 88 men and 2 women during his time of office under several governors. That was an average of just over 7.5 executions per year during Duffy’s 12 years as warden.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration has easily topped Clinton Duffy’s execution rate with 11 deaths on his watch this year, and the end is nowhere in sight. Newsom, in surpassing the legendary Duffy’s kill rate, would gain the particularly dubious distinction of thinning the ranks of California’s condemned prisoners by inadvertence.

When you read the rap sheets of the Death Row inmates, you cannot help but be horrified. A court sentenced each man to die for his crime. Since the defendant was condemned, why not let “nature” take its course? This kind of logic is widespread in the press and the public, but nobody speaks openly about it. This bad thinking is not just morally wrong; it is socially destructive.

It does not help that Newsom says he opposes capital punishment and has declared a moratorium on carrying out executions while he’s in office. Those 11 members of San Quentin’s Condemned Row are every bit as dead as Clarence Ray Allen, 76, who was put to death Jan. 17, 2006, the last time the death chamber was used.

The truth is that the Death Row fatalities reflect a much bigger crisis in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

State prison is almost a perfect locale for incubating and spreading the virus. Most San Quentin inmates are confined in a space the size of a walk-in closet. Social distancing is impossible. Three shifts of prison correctional officers enter and leave the prison on a daily basis, and many of them have fallen ill as well, at least 200 at San Quentin alone.

But Newsom as well as the federal judge overseeing the beleaguered prison system have done little more than wring their hands and make token gestures toward addressing the basic problem.

Releasing prisoners is politically sensitive, and COVID-19 has added an extra layer of public concern. County officials are especially wary of releases from state prison.

“We have done everything we can to contain the virus, but they aren’t helping,” Richard Egan, Lassen County administrative officer, told the Los Angeles Times, referring to CDCR.

Obviously, Duffy carried out executions intentionally. With no margin for error, Newsom’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation proved to be error-prone.

As recently as mid-May, San Quentin and other state prisons north of Fresno were COVID-19 free. At the end of May, 121 elderly inmates from the Chino prison were taken by bus to San Quentin. An unknown number of the Chino prisoners were infected, and the COVID virus spread quickly once it hit the San Quentin mainline population.

Within a few weeks San Quentin and other state prisons were transformed into the largest network of field hospitals in state history.

Newsom has been forthright in acknowledging the blunder.

“It is incredibly frustrating that we had one person make the decision to transfer a few patients from one prison, Chino, into San Quentin,” he said earlier in July. “That decision created a chain of events that we are now addressing and dealing with. I’m not here to sugarcoat that.”

Assemblyman Marc Levine, a Democrat who represents Marin County, was more impatient. He called the Newsom administration’s actions “an unacceptable and unmitigated disaster delivered by a lack of planning and preparation.”

U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tiger wiped away tears last month as he addressed conditions at San Quentin prison, calling the recent transfer of infected prisoners to the facility a “significant failure of policy and planning.” The judge urged authorities to find ways to transfer or release more prisoners to avoid unspeakable carnage. The CDCR reported on Monday that more than 8,287 prisoners statewide have tested positive for COVID-19, including 49 deaths. San Quentin reported 145 active cases and 21 deaths.

But neither Tigar nor Newsom was prepared for the release of large numbers of state prisoners, even those who claim to be vulnerable because of age or other infirmities.

(source: Opinion; William Drummond is a professor of journalism at UC Berkeley and author of “Prison Truth: The Story of the San Quentin News.”----The San Francisco Chronicle)


ACLU of Indiana objects to protest barriers at federal prison----Files federal lawsuit against State Police

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana today filed a lawsuit against the Indiana State Police on behalf of Death Penalty Action, Indiana Abolition Coalition, Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Indiana and individuals who protested and stood vigil in opposition to the July executions at the Terre Haute Federal Penitentiary.

The ACLU stated protesters had planned to hold vigils outside the gates of the federal prison and contends the Indiana State Police put significant barriers in place ahead of the executions, forcing demonstrators to protest nearly 2 miles away from the prison.

The lawsuit claims the restrictions violate the protesters’ First Amendment rights.

The lawsuit contends the only other option for protesters to get close to the facility was to ride a bus to a fenced area on prison grounds. The area would have been far removed from the death chamber and would have required protesters to stay for an unknown amount of time, with little shelter in extreme heat, until the execution occurred, the lawsuit contends.

“These restrictions obstruct one of the most fundamental rights protected by the Constitution, political speech," Kenneth Falk, legal director for the ACLU of Indiana, said in a statement. "There is absolutely no justification for this overly broad ‘no-protest zone.’ The Indiana State Police are severely compromising protesters’ ability to express themselves and to express their opposition to the death penalty while in sight of the prison.”

Said Sister Barbara Battista of Sisters of Providence, "I, and we, feel strongly that we deserve to exercise our first amendment rights which is to gather at a site that is doing something so heinous as to kill someone in our name.

"So, as the death penalty is being carried out at the federal penitentiary, we deserve to the right to gather near that penitentiary, inside that penitentiary to register our dismay to say not in our name, to say this is an affront to human dignity and we do not agree. The Bureau of Prisons does offer a place that you can actually go on their property in a caged in area that does not seem safe for a hot, humid summer afternoon in Indiana," she said.

"On top of that the pandemic measures that we are implementing make the idea of getting on a bus with other people that has been occupied or is run by the Bureau of Prisons staff adds another level level of risk that we are not willing to entertain," Battista said.

The lawsuit requests that the U.S. District Court of Southern Indiana enter a preliminary injunction allowing the organizations and individual plaintiffs to engage in protests immediately outside of the main entrance of Terre Haute Prison. The plaintiffs plan to protest at upcoming executions scheduled for Aug. 26 and 28 and Sept. 22 and 24.

“Donald Trump wants these executions to go forward because he thinks he can use them in his campaign, and he wants to stop people from exercising their First Amendment rights because he can’t stand dissent. It’s all anti-American, and it all must stop," Abraham J. Bonowitz, co-director of Death Penalty Action said in a statement.

Stephanie Quiring of the Indiana Abolition Coalition said its members "have long stood in protest and vigil at execution sites. The U.S. federal government's decision to resume executions in July, and carry out three over the course of only five days, is abhorrent. Through this lawsuit, IAC joins with other members of our Indiana communities to protect our right to bear witness to these executions and bring attention to the government's actions behind prison walls," Quiring said.

Indiana State Police Sgt. Matt Ames said the Indiana State Police does not comment on any pending litigation.

(source: Tribune-Star)


Anti-death penalty groups sue, say roadblocks impede speech

Anti-death penalty activists asked a judge in a Tuesday lawsuit to order Indiana State Police to stop blocking roads to a prison where federal executions have resumed after a 17-year pause, arguing that the roadblocks constitute unconstitutional no-protest zones and impede protesters’ free-speech rights.

Hours before 3 July executions, troopers cut off public roads to the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, where all federal executions are carried out by lethal injection. 4 more executions are planned for this month and September as part of the Trump administration’s resumption of federal executions.

The federal lawsuit filed in Indianapolis by ACLU of Indiana lawyers on behalf of the activists says blocked roads have forced demonstrators to gather nearly 2 miles (3.22 kilometers) from the prison by a car dealership next to a highway, preventing them from mounting credible protests. It seeks an injunction permitting protesters to gather just outside prison gates.

“The image of persons protesting and holding vigil alongside a car dealership on a state highway hardly compares to the image of persons doing the exact same thing outside the entrance to a federal prison,” written arguments filed with the lawsuit say.

Indiana State Police is the sole defendant named in the suit. Sgt. Matt Ames, an ISP spokesman, said the state agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons did set aside a fenced-in area within the sprawling prison grounds for demonstrators. But the lawsuit says it is too restrictive and too isolated, making it impossible for protesters to be seen by and interact with members of the public and media.

Bureau of Prisons rules approve only a short list of items protesters can bring into the designated protest site. It includes Bibles, rosaries and candles. It specifically bans cellphones and recording devices, as well as signs made of wood or metal.

Abraham Bonowitz, director of Death Penalty Action, one of the plaintiffs, said he has protested executions in a dozen states and has never seen such restrictions. He speculated that there may be discomfort about what he said was President Donald Trump’s push to restore executions to burnish a reputation as a law-and-order president.

“Executions used to be in public because there was a belief that if people could see it, it would scare them into behaving,” he said. “I think what is happening here is the people who are scared now are the ones carrying out the executions. Perhaps they don’t want to be seen as tools of the Trump campaign.”

Those suing also include the Indiana Abolition Coalition and the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Security was tight during the first federal executions in nearly 20 years in mid-July. The 1st execution on July 14 was of former white supremacist Daniel Lewis Lee. 2 others, Wesley Purkey and Dustin Honken, were executed later the same week.

Heavily armed guards encircled the small execution building inside the prison. A high black curtain was also draped around the building, completely blocking views of the death house.

Rules for journalists attending the execution include that they leave their pens and notebooks at a media center before heading to the death-chamber facility. Prison officials provided pens and paper only minutes before the executions began.

The executions of Christopher Andre Vialva and William Emmett LeCroy are scheduled for in late September.

Vialva was convicted in the 1999 kidnapping and killing of an Iowa couple in Texas. LeCroy was convicted of raping and killing a 30-year-old nurse in 2001.

The only Native American on federal death row, Lezmond Mitchell, is scheduled to be put to death on Aug. 26. Keith Dwayne Nelson’s execution is set for the same week.

Mitchell was convicted of killing of a woman and her 9-year-old granddaughter. Nelson was convicted of kidnapping a 10-year-old girl in Kansas, raping and then strangling her.

Lee, Purkey and Honken’s victims also included children.

(source: Associated Press)


Execution set for sole Native American on federal death row

The only Native American on federal death row is scheduled to be executed in late August, the U.S. government announced July 29.

Lezmond Mitchell, who is Navajo, had been among the first of a handful of inmates set to be put to death after the Trump administration restored federal executions after an informal, 17-year moratorium. Mitchell has been spared temporarily by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where his attorneys argued they should be able to interview jurors for potential racial bias.

Mitchell lost the bid in late April, but the case hasn't technically been closed, preserving a stay of execution. His attorneys have asked the appeals court to essentially keep the stay in place while they seek review at the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. attorney in Arizona urged the appeals court July 29 to make a quick decision.

The execution date for Mitchell, who was convicted of the 2001 murder of a Navajo woman and her 9-year-old granddaughter, now is Aug. 26 at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terra Haute, Indiana, where he's being held.

Despite the grisly nature of the killings, tribal officials and even the victims' family opposed the death penalty. Native American tribes for decades have been able to tell federal prosecutors if they want a death sentence considered for certain crimes on their land. Nearly all, including the Navajo Nation, have rejected that option.

Mitchell was convicted of carjacking resulting in death — a crime that carries a possible death sentence no matter where it happens, meaning the tribe had no avenue to object.

"The federal government's announcement that it now plans to execute Lezmond Mitchell demonstrates the ultimate disrespect for the Navajo Nation's values and sovereignty," his attorneys, Jonathan Aminoff and Celeste Bacchi said in a statement July 29.

Mitchell is scheduled to be put to death in the same week as Keith Dwayne Nelson, who was convicted of kidnapping a 10-year-old girl while she was rollerblading in front of her Kansas home and raping her in a forest behind a church, then strangling her.

3 other federal inmates were put to death earlier this month — Dustin Honken, Wesley Purkey and Daniel Lewis Lee. All were convicted of killing children.

Mitchell and an accomplice abducted Alyce Slim, 63, and her granddaughter in October 2001 with plans to use Slim's vehicle in a robbery. Prosecutors said the two fatally stabbed Slim and slit the girl's throat. Their beheaded, mutilated bodies were found in a shallow grave on the Navajo Nation.

Mitchell's attorneys have said he had no history of violence and wasn't the primary aggressor. They said they'll continue to pursue avenues for relief from the convictions and death sentence.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr noted July 29 that courts repeatedly have ruled against Mitchell.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Carl Slater, whose grandparents testified against capital punishment in Mitchell's trial as educators, has been pushing the tribe to request clemency from the federal government and affirm its position against the death penalty.

If the execution moves forward, Slater said it would send a message that the federal government has no problem using loopholes to infringe on the tribe's sovereignty.

"This completely conflicts with our values," he said. "The government has an obligation to express our values and reflect them. That's not just to our citizens, that's to other sovereigns that have these relationships." (source: Navajo-Hopi Observer)


Resumed federal executions further divide country

On July 14, after a 17-year hiatus, the federal death penalty was resumed. 3 men would be put to death that week, exposing yet another rift in an already divided country.

The deaths of Daniel Lewis Lee, Wesley Ira Purkey and Dustin Honken roused the anger of civil liberties lawyers, who say the executions were carried out in a rushed and even unlawful manner. The overarching question in public discussion has been “why” — why did Attorney General William Barr make the executions a priority? And why were they carried out while the country was dealing with a pandemic, racial unrest and a looming election?

The Department of Justice has defended its actions, saying the executions were vehicles to carry out justice and uphold the rule of law. Advocates for the men, however, say there were still motions pending at the time their clients died, so the full measure of justice was never carried out.

“More than anything else, courts exist to ensure fair process,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “You can’t look at these executions objectively and have a sense that they were legitimate.”

The men

The 1st federal prisoner to be executed since 2003, Lee maintained his innocence until the end. As he was strapped to a gurney in the execution chamber at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Lee declared that he was wrongly being put to death for the 1990s murder of an Arkansas family, carried out as part of a plot to build a whites-only nation in the Pacific Northwest.

Late-night and early-morning court proceedings attempted to delay the execution, but five justices of the United States Supreme Court ruled at 2:30 a.m. that the lethal injection could be administered. Just shy of 6 hours later, Lee was pronounced dead.

Purkey’s execution followed on July 16. Like Lee, Purkey’s death was preceded by last-minute court filings, focusing on his capacity to understand his sentence.

Purkey’s death sentence was based on his conviction for kidnapping and killing a 16-year-old girl, though he had also been convicted of killing an 80-year-old woman. After a 5-4 panel of the Supreme Court gave the go-ahead, Purkey expressed remorse for the killing of the teenager before he was pronounced dead at 8:19 a.m.

Honken, who killed key witnesses expected to testify against him in a drug trial, was executed July 17. Unlike Lee and Purkey, Honken did not split the Supreme Court along ideological lines. Rather, he received a 7-2 denial of his petition for review, with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting.

The deaths came about a year after Attorney General Barr announced that his department would resume federal executions. After a review period, the DOJ announced in June that executions would begin in July with Lee.

As of IL deadline, the next scheduled execution scheduled to be carried was that of Lezmond Mitchell on Aug. 26.

Asked why the Justice Department moved so quickly in resuming executions, Ruth Friedman of the Federal Capital Habeas Project said she couldn’t answer that question.

“You need to ask the DOJ,” Friedman, who represented Lee, said. “It’s their move, and it’s their decision.”

Dunham attributes the sudden resumption to politics. He opined that the Trump administration believed carrying out executions would be politically beneficial.

Notre Dame Law Professor Jimmy Gurule, however, doesn’t see one specific event that triggered Barr to act. Especially at a time of great national unrest, Gurule said it was surprising and concerning that the attorney general would make executions a priority.

“You think the attorney general would be laser-focused on those (other) issues,” he said.

The reasons

The Department of Justice did not respond to submitted questions from IL about the resumption of executions at the Terre Haute prison. However, in publicly released statements, the department has defended its decision.

In Lee’s case, the DOJ said the execution would bring closure to the victims’ family. The family, however, publicly asked that he not be put to death in their name.

Legally, one person’s request to stop the death penalty should not be the reason a court delays or halts an execution, Friedman said. But what it should do, she continued, is prompt the government to take a closer look at the reasons behind the execution.

Gurule pointed to two central arguments in favor of the death penalty: deterrence and retribution. The law professor questioned both of those arguments, noting that specifically in Lee’s case, the retribution argument doesn’t fit if the victims’ families don’t want the sentence to be carried out.

What’s more, even the judge and lead prosecutor in Lee’s case did not think death was appropriate, Friedman said. In her 30 years of capital habeas work, she said she’s never encountered that kind of resistance.

“To me, that says maybe there’s a problem here,” she said.

Mental health

Purkey’s execution presented a different set of issues, namely, whether his mental state was such that his execution would be unconstitutional.

In Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986), a 5-4 Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment prohibits executions if the convicted defendant does not understand the reason for the execution at the time it is carried out. Applying that principle to Purkey’s case, his counsel argued that dementia kept Purkey from understanding his punishment.

That argument is always raised late in the litigation process, said Friedman, who did not represent Purkey but was familiar with his case. Dunham, however, said there were inconsistencies in the government’s response to Purkey’s mental capacity argument: at one point the DOJ said the argument was raised too early, then later said it was raised too late.

And, Dunham claimed, the department “had information in their possession about his competence and did not turn it over until the very last minute. … There was evidence supporting the allegation that he was incompetent, and they did not make it timely available.”

The DOJ did not respond to a submitted question about whether Purkey’s mental state was considered before carrying out the execution.

National divide

Adding to these legal questions is the fact that national support for the death penalty is waning, Gurule said. A recent Gallup poll found that 54% of American adults think capital punishment is morally acceptable, the lowest % in the 20-year history of the poll.

If the goal of the death penalty is to deter criminals, Gurule said, then the deterrent should be compared to that of life in prison without parole. There’s no data to measure those deterrence levels, he said, though he opined that a person intent on committing murder likely isn’t thinking ahead to a court sentence.

Still, some argue that mandatory LWOP sentences often do not match the severity of the underlying crimes. Robert Blecker, a professor at New York Law School and known death penalty advocate, declined an interview with Indiana Lawyer but pointed IL to a recent column he wrote for Newsweek.

“… Lifers move up to the favored supervisory positions in the industry — earning the most money for the least work,” Blecker wrote. “… By contrast, the time, short-term first offender, who deserves it the least, often suffers the most.”

But Friedman noted that the last-minute review of Lee, Purkey and Honken’s crimes did not reach the merits. Rather, the decisions were based on procedural bars.

That fact is what strikes Dunham the most. “A majority of the court (didn’t) seem to care whether there was an opportunity for the process to determine whether the execution protocol is legal or constitutional,” he said, further opining that had the U.S. Senate confirmed Obama nominee Merrick Garland to the high court in 2016, the 5-4 votes would have gone the other way.

If any portion of the executions was unlawful, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to sue the federal actors involved, Gurule said, though Dunham raised the possibility of disciplinary actions against the government lawyers. But the real consequences, Dunham said, are likely dependent on the outcome of the upcoming election.

“We will find out in November whether there is going to be an opportunity to bring about reform,” he said.

(source: The Indiana Llawyer)



Voices of Experience on the Death Penalty will feature a special discussion about the recent federal executions and the one scheduled in 3 weeks, on August 26, another on August 28 and now 2 more in September. What happened, what's next, and what can we all do about it?

Special Guests include Rob Dunham, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center, Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr. of the Ohio Council of Churches, Sylvester Edwards of the Terre Haute Unit of the NAACP, and your hosts Abe Bonowitz, Ashley Kincaid Eve and Bill Pelke.

SEND QUESTIONS IN ADVANCE to - or post them in the comments on the live stream.

Watch LIVE (or afterwards) on the Voices of Experience on the Death Penalty Facebook page at

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Learn More about the Voices of Experience on the Death Penalty and see links to past episodes at

(source: AAC)


Protester Accused Of Killing Paramilitary Member Executed In Iran -- Mostafa Salehi who was accused of shooting a paramilitary member has been executed in Iran.

The news agency of Iran's Judiciary on Wednesday announced that Mostafa Salehi, one of the protesters arrested after nation-wide December 2017-January 2018 protests, has been executed in Najafabad, Isfahan Province.

Mostafa Salehi was arrested following the protests in Kahriz-Sang in Isfahan Province and was accused of shooting Sajjad Shah-Sanaei, a member of the Basij militia, with a hunting gun.

Very little is known about Salehi's trial, court proceedings and even the name of the lawyer who defended him against the murder charge. The Judiciary statement announcing his execution does not reveal any details except the charges brought against him.

On Tuesday the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) quoted Salehi's family members as saying that they were worried he was put on death row as his contact with his family had ceased.

In December 2017 and early 2018 large-scale anti-government protests engulfed the country which many believed was a revolt against the entire ruling system. Unlike the post-election protests in 2009, these protests did not reflect factional fighting within the political groups inside the system.

Human rights observers have repeatedly said that the most fundamental rights of defendants including the right to legal representation are grossly ignored in the Islamic Judiciary. They also allege that many verdicts are based on forced confessions extracted through psychological and physical torture.

The Judiciary staunchly refutes such allegations and has repeatedly underlined that they will not "give in to such pressures".

Iran, after China, has the highest number of executions. Judges pass the death penalty on defendants on vague charges such as "acting against national security" after summary trials held behind closed doors.

In security-related cases, defendants' chosen lawyers are often not allowed to participate in the rial, leaving their role to court-appointed lawyers.

The news of the imminent execution of three young men for participating in November 2019 in July raised international concern and many Iranians joined a very successful online campaign to stop executions. The death sentences have been put on hold for the time being.

Currently there are serious concerns about the execution of five more protesters whose families rallied in front of the Justice Department of Isfahan on July 30 to protest.



Iran Executes Man Arrested in December 2017 Protests in Isfahan----Political prisoner Mostafa Salehi, detained for participating in late 2017, early 2018 protests was hanged at dawn today in a prison in Isfahan, central Iran.

Mostafa Salehi was one of the protesters arrested during the nationwide protests in 2017-18 in the city of Kahrizsang, in Isfahan province.

He was accused of killing a member of the Revolutionary Guards using a “hunting rifle” during the protests in 2017-18, the judiciary’s Mizan News Agency reported.

“Mostafa Salehi, who had murdered Sajad Shahsanayi with a bullet during the riots of (December 2017-January 2018), was executed this morning upon the request of the victim’s family,” Mizan said.

Salehi had constantly denied the charges raised against him of killing the member of the regime’s IRGC Basij forces.

According to a source who is one of Mustafa Salehi’s relatives, the 30-year-old construction worker pleaded not guilty to murder and was acquitted of the charges nearly 1 year after his arrest.

“Under pressure from IRGC intelligence, the case was reopened and he was sentenced to death,” the source said.

“He is innocent, he was forced to confess in front of the camera against himself, he did not plead guilty in court, there was no evidence. They executed him at the request of Shahsanayi’s family,” the source added.



Young woman, 32, was hanged in Mashhad after 6 years on the death row

A young woman, 32, was hanged in the Central Prison of Mashhad on Sunday, August 2, 2020. The woman identified only by her 1st name, Mehri, had already served 6 years in prison on the death row.

The state-run reported the woman’s execution on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. The executed woman was accused of murdering her husband.

The Iranian Resistance has registered 106 women executed during the tenure of the mullahs’ President, Hassan Rouhani, since he took office in 2013.

The substantiated information is based on the news and information published in the state-run media in Iran, human rights activists, and other reliable sources inside Iran with ties to the Iranian opposition movement. The actual figure must be considered higher, as most executions in Iran are carried out secretly out of the public eye with no witnesses but the executioners who carry them out.

The Women’s Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran has published a list of the women executed during Rouhani’s tenure.

The 1st woman who was executed in 2020 was Sara M. who was also hanged in the Central Prison of Mashhad. The 2nd woman was Maliheh Haj Hassani, 29, whose death sentence was carried out in the Central Prison of Shiraz.

In 2019, in step with ramping up suppression and executions in Iran, the clerical regime hanged 16 women, 6 of them only in the month of December.

Iran holds the world record for the execution of women. Because of the clerical regime’s failure to categorize murders according to their degrees, anyone committing murder is sentenced to death, regardless of their motives.

These executions are cruelly unjust. As the NCRI Women’s Committee has formerly noted, Many of the women convicted of murder in Iran are themselves victims of domestic violence against women and have committed murder in self-defense.



Iran Executes Woman After 6 Years on Death Row

A young woman was executed on August 2, 2020, in the Central Prison of Mashhad, the state-run media reported today.

The woman identified only by her 1st name, Mehri, had already served 6 years on the death row.

According to the state-run Khorasan daily the executed woman was accused of murdering her husband.

With this execution, the total number of women executed during Rouhani’s tenure reaches 106. This is the 3rd execution of women in 2020 which has been announced by the state media.

Iran has the highest rate of executions per capita.

Iran Human Rignts Monitor’s records indicated that a total of 273 executions took place in Iran in 2019, including 16 women and 9 juveniles.

The substantiated information is based on the news and information published in the state-run media in Iran, human rights activists, and other reliable sources inside Iran. Nevertheless, the actual figures are definitely higher, as most executions in Iran are carried out secretly without anyone knowing except those who carry it out.

According to the latest annual Amnesty International report released in April 2020, about 1/3 of executions worldwide are carried out in Iran. Amnesty International has listed Iran as “the world’s second most prolific executioner” in 2019.

(source: Iran Human Rights Monitor)


Urgent Action: Tortured Iranian Kurd at Risk of Execution (Iran: UA 124.20)

Arsalan Khodkam, from Iran’s Kurdish minority, is at risk of execution in West Azerbaijan province. He was sentenced to death for “spying” after a grossly unfair trial that lasted about 30 minutes and relied on “confessions” he says were obtained under torture. He has never been allowed access to a lawyer of his own choosing. The use of the death penalty for “espionage” violates international law.


Write a letter in your own words or using the sample below as a guide to the government official listed below. You can also email, fax, call or Tweet them.


Head of Judiciary Ebrahim Raisi

c/o H.E. Majid Takht Ravanchi

Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran

622 Third Avenue, 34th Floor

New York, NY 10017

Phone: 212 687-2020 I Fax: 212 867 7086

Email: // Twitter: @Iran_UN


Dear Mr Raisi,

Arsalan Khodkam, 47, from Iran’s Kurdish minority, is at risk of execution in Urumieh prison in West Azerbaijan province. He was sentenced to death on 14 July 2018 for “spying” for the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), an armed Kurdish opposition group, while working as a low-ranking officer for the Revolutionary Guards. He denied the charge and said that the authorities accused him of espionage after they learned that he was in communication, via Instagram, with one of his wife’s relatives, who was a member of the KDPI. He was sentenced to death less than three months after his arrest in a grossly unfair trial that lasted 30 minutes and relied on “confessions”, which he said were made under torture. In February 2020, his lawyer attempted to access his court documents and prepare a clemency application. The prosecution authorities told the lawyer that he could not represent Arsalan Khodkam and a clemency application previously submitted from inside prison had been rejected. In May 2020, his relatives were warned that his execution may be carried out at any moment.

Following his arrest on 23 April 2018, Arsalan Khodkam was transferred to a Revolutionary Guard’s detention facility in Almahdi military barracks in Urumieh where he was held in solitary confinement for 36 days, without access to his family and a lawyer. The alleged torture included repeated episodes of flogging, punching and kicking, including on his back where he has a surgical implant. As a result, he fainted multiple times. The interrogators also allegedly handcuffed him in a painful manner for prolonged periods, and while doing so, they denied him access to toilet facilities, which forced him to either urinate on himself or hold his urine leading to bladder and kidney pain. He also said that he was deprived of sleep. Arsalan Khodkam was convicted of “enmity against God” (moharebeh) through “espionage” by Branch 1 of the Military Court in West Azerbaijan. He met his court appointed lawyer for the first time at his trial and said that the lawyer did not present any defense in court. Branch 32 of the Supreme Court dismissed his appeal summarily, without addressing the unlawful use of torture-tainted “confessions” as evidence. The use of the death penalty for “espionage” violates international law and restricts its use to “most serious crimes” involving intentional killings.

I urge you to quash Arsalan Khodkam’s conviction and death sentence and grant him a fair retrial, without recourse to the death penalty and excluding “confessions” obtained under torture and other ill-treatment. Please ensure access to a lawyer of his own choosing and order an independent and impartial investigation into his allegations of torture.

Yours sincerely,



Iran Human Rights: Germany must react to the kidnapping of Iranian-German citizen

Should state kidnappings go unpunished, we will see an increase in such unlawful acts, which are contrary to international laws and customs Iran Human Rights: Germany must react to the kidnapping of Iranian-German citizen

Iran Human Rights (IHR); August 4, 2020: The kidnapping of Iranian dissidents from neighbouring countries is becoming a regular occurrence. Failure by the international community to respond adequately to these unlawful acts will lead to its normalisation/legitimisation.

The kidnapping of Jamshid Sharmahd, an Iranian-German citizen from neighbouring soil is the latest case in this trend. He has been accused by state media outlets of being involved in several "terrorist operations".

Noting that there are no standards of a fair trial in the Islamic Republic, that the state’s interrogation apparatus is based on extracting false confessions under torture and that the death penalty is widely used, Iran Human Rights calls on the international community to intervene to save the life Sharmahd and to prevent further kidnappings of dissidents.

IHR Director, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, said: "The German government has a responsibility to protect Jamshid Sharmahd’s life, like its other citizens and must take every necessary step to save his life. If Jamshid Sharmahd has committed any crimes, he deserves the right to due process and a fair trial in a jurisdiction free of torture and execution. Should state kidnappings go unpunished, we will see an increase in such unlawful acts, which are contrary to international laws.”

On August 1, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence issued a statement announcing the arrest of Jamshid Sharmahd, "the head of Tondar group, following a complex operation." Tondar Media is the broadcasting platform for “Kingdom Assembly of Iran”, which is considered an opposition group to the Islamic Republic. Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence has called the assembly a “terrorist” organisation.

In a television program aired on Saturday, August 1st, the Minister of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Alavi, claimed that Sharmahd had been arrested in Iran. However, in an interview with Iran International TV, Jamshid Sharmahd's children said that their father had been abducted in the United Arab Emirates.

Jamshid Sharmahd is a German citizen who has lived in the United States for some time.

Arresting political dissidents outside of Iran is not unprecedented. Ruhollah Zam, the director of Amad News Telegram channel, was arrested in Iraq in October 2019 and transported to Iran. A political refugee living in France, he was recently sentenced to death in the court of the first instance.



July 2020: Iran Executed 1 Person per Day

July witnessed ongoing human rights violations by the regime, with an average of 1 person executed each day and the horrendous suppression of individual freedoms, especially against prisoners and religious minorities.

Death penalty

At least 31 people were executed in July. 24 of those were convicted of murder, but it’s important to remember that the Iranian regime secures convictions using unfair trials and confessions extracted under torture.

However, 7 people were executed for offences that are not capital offences under international law and some that are not crimes at all.

On July 15, Amnesty International said: “There has been an alarming escalation in the use of the death penalty against protesters, dissidents and members of minority groups in Iran.”

2 Kurdish political prisoners were executed on July 13, Urmia prison, West Azerbaijan, after confessing under torture in 2015. The lawyer of Diaku Rasoulzadeh and Saber Sheikh Abdollah said they were innocent and that no evidence had been produced against them.

On July 8, Hossein Habibi Shahri, Morteza was hanged in Central Mashhad Prison, northeastern Iran, for “consumption of alcohol”, being in possession of alcoholic beverages, and driving without a licence. He’d been in prison for two years at the time of his execution.

The Judiciary Spokesperson also confirmed that the Supreme Court had upheld the death sentence for young protesters from the November 2019 uprising - Amir Hossein Moradi, Mohammad Rajabi and Saied Tamjidi – whose sentences were delayed after the initial ruling caused outrage online, especially after the UN said they’d received “unfair trials” and were tortured into confessing.

The Supreme Court earlier upheld the death sentences of 5 other protesters - Mohammad Bastami, Hadi Keyani (Kiani), Abbas Mohammadi, Majid Nazari Kondori, and Mehdi Salehi- Qaleh Shahrokhi – arrested during the January 2018 protests. They were given “2 death sentences” each for “waging war against God” and “taking up arms against the state”.

Over the past few years, the Iranian regime has routinely upheld execution sentences for peaceful protest, financial crimes, and, honestly, whatever they can get away with under vague security charges, in order to suppress the people and ensure that the regime remains in power.


Meanwhile, the regime cracked down on freedom of expression by firing tear gas into a crowd of peaceful protesters in Behbahan, arresting 50 of them. This is especially worrying because dissenters are often given heavy flogging and prison sentences and are treated exponentially worse inside the prison.



Despite threat of losing tariff perks, lawmaker says death penalty 'not costly'

House Minority Leader Bienvenido "Benny" Abante on Wednesday, August 4, said death penalty is "not costly" even in the face of warnings it could lose tariff perks from the European Union in a €1.9-billion market.

"The death penalty is not cruel, neither costly," Abante said in his sponsorship speech on Wednesday as the House justice committee revived hearings on death penalty bills, slammed by their own colleagues as unnecessary distractions from responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Abante said that without the death penalty, Filipinos effectively fund through their taxes "murderers, robbers, rapists, kidnappers, hijackers, plunderers, drug lords, drug pushers, etc in prison."

"How much does the government spend for one convict serving life sentence or reclusion perpetua in prison? How much is lost because of the death or destroyed life or family of just one victim of a convict? I submit that the death penalty is not cruel, neither costly," said Abante.

Abante did not present hard data.

The Philippines is a state party to the 2nd protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which says "no one within the jurisdiction of a State Party to the present Protocol shall be executed" and that "each State Party shall take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction."

Losing tariff perks

Human Rights Commissioner Karen Gomez Dumpit said during the hearing that the Philippines actually stands to lose trade incentives if we pass the death penalty law.

The Philippines has a trade agreement with the European Union (EU), under which the country has a Generalized Scheme of Preference Plus (GSP+) status where "we enjoy zero tariffs."

In the latest assessment report of the GSP+, Dumpit said "the reintroduction of the death penalty would be a major step backwards and raise questions regarding the Philippines' international commitments."

"The reinstatement of the death penalty may cause the withdrawal of benefits," said Dumpit.

Dumpit said preserved tuna is a major export to the EU and if the Phiippines loses its GSP+ status, "tuna exporters would be required to pay 20.5% tariffs."

Dumpit said in 2018, the EU imported €1.9-billion worth of products under GSP+, including coconut oil, pineapple products, footwear, optical products, and electrical machinery.

"At this point in time that we are in the pandemic, we cannot afford the repercussions that the reinstatement of death penalty will cause," said Dumpit.

Justice Assistant Secretary Nicholas Felix Ty said the Department of Justice (DOJ) is "not yet convinced" that the reimposition of death penalty will lead to concrete economic consequences under GSP+.



Tackling death penalty bill an ‘unnecessary distraction’ amid pandemic — solon

Muntinlupa City Rep. Ruffy Biazon on Wednesday asked the House committee on justice to exclude his death penalty bill from the hearing agenda, saying the revival of the discussion on the matter is an “unnecessary distraction” while the country faces a public health crisis.

The House panel opened debates on bills pushing for the reinstatement of the capital punishment just days after President Rodrigo Duterte urged Congress to revive the death penalty via lethal injection for drug-related crimes.

Biazon pointed out the timing of the death penalty bills, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

“I believe that at this point, a contentious social issue such as the death penalty may be an unnecessary distraction in the effort to consolidate public and private sector support and focus against the pandemic,” Biazon said during the hearing.

“A socially and politically divisive debate on the death penalty will be detrimental to the Heal as One mantra. The public expects Congress to give priority measures that directly address the public health emergency we are currently facing,” he added.

The lawmaker also said the online hearings, which is being currently used in light of pandemic, is very limiting in terms of debates on a highly contested issue.

Biazon, despite rescinding his bill from the agenda, maintained his stance in pushing for the revival of the death penalty. He said he still believes capital punishment is the “appropriate and commensurate” penalty for high-level drug traffickers.

“However, I also believe that there’s a time for everything, even in legislation. With two more years remaining in the mandate of the 18th Congress and the term of the President, I believe there is still time for the consideration of the bill after the pandemic has been placed under control or has died down,” he said.

With Biazon’s withdrawal of his bill, his name will also not be included in any consolidated measure of the death penalty bills in the chamber.

At present, there are 12 bills in the House pushing for the death penalty for certain heinous crimes.

The death penalty was abolished in 2006 under the administration of former President and Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.


CHR: No ‘compelling reason’ to revive death penalty----DRUGS NOT ON LIST OF MOST SERIOUS CRIMES IN INTERNATIONAL LAW

There is no compelling reason to reinstate capital punishment in the country, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said Wednesday.

During a House panel hearing on bills pushing for the death penalty, CHR Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit pointed out that under the Constitution, the death penalty shall not be imposed “unless, for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes” – not even due to drugs because “drugs are not found on the list” of so-called most serious crimes in international law, according to the CHR official.

“The Constitution says for compelling reasons, and it is our position that there is no compelling reason to reintroduce the death penalty,” she said.

“In the most serious of crimes in international law, if you will have a listing of that, drugs are not found on the list. So we believe there is no compelling reason to impose the death penalty,” Gomez-Dumpit added.

She further pointed out that the Philippines would violate international law if it reimposes the death penalty as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Second Optional Protocol to ICCPR, to which the Philippines is a signatory, bar the reintroduction of the capital punishment.

“If we go ahead and reimpose the death penalty, we will be found to be in serious breach of international law,” she said.

“It is a state obligation to be able to comply with the human rights treaties that we have acceded to or we have ratified,” she added.

Overseas Filipino workers currently on death row in other countries will also be indirectly affected by the reimposition of the death penalty, Gomez-Dumpit claimed.

She reasoned that it would be “hypocritical” of the Philippine government to impose the death penalty while it seeks to save the lives of OFWs on death row abroad.

“If the death penalty is reinstated, the ability of the Department of Foreign Affairs to negotiate on behalf of our OFWs will be undermined,” Gomez-Dumpit said.

“Moreover, our country will be considered as hypocritical if we will impose the death penalty and at the same time, seek the lives of our OFWs who are in death row abroad,” she added.

In response to Gomez-Dumpit, House justice panel chairman Vicente Veloso III said it is Congress who will eventually decide if there is a compelling reason to reimpose the death penalty.

President Rodrigo Duterte, in his fifth State of the Nation Address, urged Congress to pass the reinstatement of capital punishment for drug-related crimes.


Int’l rights group urge PH lawmakers to oppose death penalty

An international human rights group composed of members across Southeast Asia called on Philippine legislators to strongly oppose efforts aimed at reintroducing the death penalty in the country.

There have been 13 bills related to the death penalty filed in the House of Representatives while 11 are pending in the Senate following President Rodrigo Duterte’s wish during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) to revive capital punishment in his efforts to curb crime rates.

Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian parliament and chair of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said reinstating the death penalty in the Philippines is in direct violation of the country’s human rights obligations.

“When considering bringing back the death penalty, Philippine lawmakers must remember that it is an inhumane and ineffective punishment, and reinstating it will be in total violation of the Philippines’ human rights obligations,” said Santiago in a statement.

“Instead of finding new ways of adding to the long list of casualties of the drug war, the Philippine government should focus its efforts on tackling the root causes of crime and drug use. This starts with ending impunity for police violence, strengthening the criminal justice system, and developing health-focused based policies.”

Many of the legislators are pushing for the death penalty for crimes including drug-related offenses, murder, rape, kidnapping, and treason.

Congress’ plans to revive the death penalty, which was abolished in 1987 and again in 2006 after it was revived in 1993, is concerning especially with the Philippines still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic that has so far infected upwards of 100,000 people in the country.

“Studies have shown that there is no link between capital punishment and any deterrent effect on crime. Rather, those that will be impacted most heavily will, once again, be the poor or underprivileged who cannot afford legal representation to protect their rights,” said Santiago.

There’s also the issue of the Philippines’ status as a member of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that has Second Optional Protocol aimed at the abolition of the death penalty.

(source for all:


Nusakambangan prison has sufficient vacant cells for drug offenders

The Indonesian Legal and Human Rights Ministry hinted its support for transferring convicted drug dealers and producers to the maximum-security prison in Cilacap District's Nusakambangan Island since it has adequate number of vacant prison cells.

"Many empty prison cells are available (at the Nusakambangan Penitentiary) for them," Head of the Legal and Human Rights Ministry-Central Java Office Priyadi noted in a press statement that ANTARA quoted here Wednesday.

Those empty prison cells were reserved for the Human Rights Ministry’s officials involved in drug offenses, he noted, adding that his office supports the National Narcotics Agency's (BNN's) war on drugs.

Owing to its status as Indonesia's maximum-security prison, one inmate will be placed in each prison cell at the Nusakambangan Penitentiary, he revealed.

In Central Java Province, some 5,678 of at least 11 thousand inmates are serving prison terms at various penitentiaries for drug offenses, he remarked.

Domestic and transnational drug dealers view Indonesia as a potential market on account of its huge population and millions of drug users. Drug trade in the nation is valued at nearly Rp66 trillion.

People from all sections of society are falling prey to drugs, regardless of socio-economic and professional backgrounds.

The drug crisis has also engulfed those from the country's entertainment industry, as is apparent from the arrests of several entertainers over consumption and also trade of illicit drugs.

In the face of the grave threat posed by drug lords, National Narcotics Agency (BNN) Chief Commissioner General Heru Winarko sought capital punishment for those involved in drug trade in the country.

National Police Chief General Idham Azis recently highlighted that district courts in different parts of Indonesia had awarded capital punishment to at least 100 drug offenders in the first half of 2020.

"May they soon be executed by firing squads to deter others," he stressed while bearing witness to the National Police special task force’s move to destroy 1.2 tons of crystal methamphetamine, 35 thousand ecstasy pills, and 410 kilograms of marijuana in Jakarta on July 2, 2020.


AUGUST 4, 2020:


A New Hanover County post-conviction court has granted a new trial to North Carolina death-row prisoner Keith Wiley, sentenced to death in May 1999. Judge R. Kent Harrell ruled that the trial court improperly refused to allow defense counsel to strike an impaneled juror after the trial started when a juror who had previously denied knowing anyone associated with the case later indicated that he knew the victim and that his sister and mother knew the victim’s mother through the family’s business. The court also ruled that Wiley’s appeal lawyer was ineffective when she failed to raise the issue during his direct appeal.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)


Travis Soto lawyers file motions to discuss death penalty and close proceedings

Travis Soto is back in Putnam County Common Pleas Court for the 1st time since the Supreme Court declined to hear his case.

Travis Soto lawyers file motions to discuss death penalty and close proceedings

Soto's lawyers filed 14 different motions as they get back to the case, now headed for a trial. Among those motions are to determine the eligibility for the death penalty, have law enforcement turn over all information from their investigation, and to close all pretrials and prohibit any photograph or video recording of the proceedings. The state will respond to the motions by Aug. 28 and a hearing will be set in September.

Travis Soto lawyers file motions to discuss death penalty and close proceedings

Soto served 5 years in prison for child endangerment after saying his 2-year-old son died in an ATV accident. Years after serving his time, he admitted to law enforcement he staged the accident and beat his son to death. Soto was then indicted again, he now faces aggravated murder and four other charges.

No double jeopardy determined in Soto's case.



Half of Oklahoma Is Now Indian Territory. What Does That Mean for Criminal Justice There? Tribal courts and federal prosecutors face a flood of new cases after the Supreme Court ruling.

When police officers found the bodies of 2 children inside a hot pickup truck in Tulsa, Oklahoma, blame quickly fell on their father. Dustin Lee Dennis was supposed to be watching the 3- and 4-year old; instead, he slept the June afternoon away while they climbed into the truck, prosecutors said.

The children died June 13 from heat exhaustion as the temperature outside rose to 94 degrees. Tulsa County prosecutors charged Dennis with second-degree murder and felony child neglect.

But a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upended the case. The court ruled July 9 that, under treaties dating back two centuries, much of eastern Oklahoma is Indian Country. That means tribal law and federal law, apply there in criminal cases involving Native citizens—not state law.

The children were members of the Cherokee Nation. So the district attorney, Steve Kunzweiler, had to dismiss the case.

When he gave their mother the news, he recalled, “She just had this thousand-yard stare. And I didn’t have any better answer. I can’t do anything to help them anymore.” The mother, Cheyenne Trent, declined to comment.

The Supreme Court ruling is a long-awaited triumph for the Five Tribes, which were forced from their homes and onto the Trail of Tears in the early 1800s by the U.S. government. Today, half a million tribal citizens live in dozens of Oklahoma counties covering more land than the state of South Carolina.

For tribal citizens, the ruling involves much more than the boundaries of criminal jurisdiction; it constitutes an important victory in the struggle to strengthen tribal sovereignty. Meanwhile, Indigenous plaintiffs are already using the Supreme Court’s decision to bolster legal cases for sovereign and tribal rights. A lawsuit filed in July by the Native American Rights Fund and several tribes builds off the decision to challenge President Donald Trump’s massive reduction of the Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah.

But questions remain about what the decision means for the quality of justice in Indian Country, for Natives and non-Natives. An unknown number of tribal citizens who were convicted of felonies in state courts can now seek to be retried in U.S. District Court in Tulsa or Muskogee, Oklahoma. The case the Supreme Court ruled on,McGirt v. Oklahoma, involved the sexual abuse of a child.

It’s not entirely clear how prosecutions will work, because of tension between the state and the tribes over what is best for both public safety and tribal sovereignty. And there are questions about how federal prosecutors will handle what could be an influx of unfamiliar legal cases.

State officials are also worried that the court ruling could bring even more sweeping changes to Oklahoma. When Gov. Kevin Stitt created a new commission to examine the potential impact of the McGirt ruling, he did not include law enforcement officials or tribal leaders. Instead, he appointed several energy industry executives. A spokesperson for Stitt declined to elaborate on how the commission’s members were chosen.

Across the country, tribes and their citizens have been fighting—physically, legally, morally—to protect and increase their sovereign rights for generations; they see the Supreme Court’s decision as a major victory in that battle.

When it comes to the legal system, tribes ultimately want to regain their power to administer justice according to their own laws and traditions, said Sarah Deer, a legal scholar on criminal justice in Indian Country and a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

“So they can prosecute any crime, sentence whatever is appropriate for that community, they can develop unique ways to resolve disputes without punitive measures,” Deer said.

Even after the Supreme Court decision, tribal courts in Oklahoma and on reservations across Indian Country rarely have the authority to try felony cases and have very limited authority over people outside the tribe even in incidents that occur on tribal lands.

Until the Supreme Court ruling, most felonies in eastern Oklahoma, including cases involving tribal citizens, had been prosecuted in state courts by district attorneys.

Now, the U.S. attorney’s offices will have to handle serious crimes, including murder and assault, as their peers do in cases involving tribal reservations in more than a dozen states. While the federal prosecutor in Tulsa says his staff is willing to pick up these cases, critics note that the Justice Department has had a long history of documented lapses in handling cases in Indian Country. For example, in the past it has declined to prosecute almost half the violent crimes committed on reservations.

The Dennis case may be one of the first to test the new jurisdictional reality in Oklahoma. Shortly after Tulsa County dropped the charges against him, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma announced that his office would prosecute Dennis for child neglect, taking the case before a federal grand jury within 30 days.

It’s an unusual crime for that office to try; the federal government generally devotes its prosecutorial resources to uncovering drug rings, human trafficking and multimillion-dollar financial crimes. There’s no federal statute on child neglect, just a law governing major crimes in Indian Country. Researchers at Syracuse University who track federal prosecutions found that in 2019, U.S. attorneys prosecuted only 20 cases nationwide under that law; the previous year, there were only 5.

Trent Shores, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, acknowledges the decision has presented his office with challenges. His office has received 92 cases to handle in less an a month; his office only has 22 prosecutors and typically handles 15-20 indictments a month.

A citizen of the Choctaw Nation, Shores also happens to be the only Native American U.S. attorney, with a background of prosecuting cases in Indian Country. But now, his office is dispatching FBI agents to the scene of domestic violence complaints and figuring out what to do with juveniles who commit serious crimes in Indian Country. (His office is asking for help from Tulsa County’s juvenile prosecutors.)

“I’m having to triage cases as they come through the door,” Shores said. “I want people to remember that in the meantime, when they call 911, somebody’s gonna show up.”

Shores filed federal murder charges this week against a man who killed a Cherokee Nation citizen within the new boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation.


In 1834, Congress originally defined Indian Country—the legal designation for Native land—as “all land within the limits of any Indian reservation under the jurisdiction of the United States Government.” Thirty years later, the federal government forced tribes to break apart their communally held lands, and the eastern half of what would become Oklahoma was divided into individually owned allotments that were given to members of five tribes: The Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole and Muscogee (Creek).

In 1881, in what is now South Dakota, a chief of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe was murdered by a tribal member named Crow Dog. The tribe’s leaders, who relied heavily on a system of restorative justice, decided that Crow Dog’s family would make restitution to the victim’s family. The Supreme Court affirmed the tribe’s power to do so in*Ex Parte Crow Dog*.

In response, Congress passed a law known as the “Major Crimes Act,” which gave the federal courts jurisdiction over violent felonies involving tribal citizens, such as murder and kidnapping.

Around the same time, the federal government was also allowing White settlers to stake claims in Indian Territory. By 1907, when Oklahoma became a state, the settlers had taken most of the land.

“Oklahoma had been for decades treating that reservation as if it had been ‘disestablished’ basically with statehood,” said Lindsay Robertson, a professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. But in the McGirt ruling, the Supreme Court agreed that Congress never explicitly dissolved the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation.

In the eyes of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation attorney general’s office, the reservation has always existed. “That’s been our position since 1866,” then-Attorney General, Kevin Dellinger said in 2018, when the Supreme Court first accepted the Murphy case.

Most non-Native people don’t realize the tribes have prosecutors, courts and law enforcement, Dellinger said. “Our police force operates like any other police force in the county.”

Because of the Supreme Court ruling, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Lighthorse Police Department, which employs nearly 60 officers, now has a jurisdiction that spans 11 counties. “Ideally, we’d hire 1,000,” said Deputy Chief Daniel Wind III.

Lighthorse officers patrol areas across those 11 counties, as well as the tribe’s government complex in Okmulgee, a city south of Tulsa, where they have worked in partnership with the city’s police department through a “cross-deputization” program. (The department has such agreements with 45 law enforcement agencies.).Partnerships and agreements between the state and tribes also exist for hunting and fishing licenses, water rights, tobacco and gas taxes and license plates.

Mark McBride III, a lawyer and former attorney general of the Seminole Nation, said the Supreme Court’s decision could ultimately restore the tribes’ ability to tailor their justice systems to their unique histories. Exercising that power is a key component of nationhood, he said.

“Almost all the tribes in Oklahoma and across the country have constitutions, and almost all of them reference courts or court powers,” McBride said. “Adjudicating and resolving disputes according to your own laws, customs and traditions—that’s a very important thing.”


In 2000, a jury convicted Patrick Murphy of murder for ambushing, killing and mutilating a romantic rival. While he was on death row, his lawyers argued that the state of Oklahoma never had jurisdiction over his case. Because he and the victim were both citizens of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and the killing occurred within the boundaries of tribal land, only a federal jury could prosecute him. Lower courts rejected the claim, but in 2017 the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

Meanwhile, a similar argument was making its way to the Supreme Court in the case of Jimcy McGirt. A jury in Wagoner County, southeast of Tulsa, had convicted him of the 1996 sexual assault of a 4-year-old Seminole girl and sentenced him to life—plus 1,000 years—in prison; it wasn’t his first conviction for sex crimes against a child.

McGirt spent years in an Oklahoma prison before filing a new claim to overturn his conviction: Because he is a citizen of the Seminole Nation and the crime happened in Indian Country, his case should have been prosecuted in federal court.

Lawyers for the state argued that rulings in favor of McGirt and Murphy would lead to anarchy for the court system and “open the floodgates to countless attacks on convictions.” Tribal lawyers and prosecutors called that claim ludicrous, noting that any prisoners in Oklahoma who successfully challenged their convictions would still be subject to re-prosecution in federal court.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of both McGirt and Murphy. Both men remain in state prison in Oklahoma; their lawyers did not respond to requests for comment. They are likely to be retried in federal court, where last week, prosecutors filed criminal charges against both men.

Under federal law in Indian Country, tribes must opt-in to have the death penalty as a punishment option—none of the Five Tribes has.

Legal scholars argue that the Major Crimes Act helped drive over-incarceration of Indigenous people in the federal prison system. Native men are four times more likely to be incarcerated than their White counterparts, and that rate is six times higher for Native women, according to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, a nonprofit social research organization.

Because of federal sentencing guidelines, people convicted in federal courts often receive much longer sentences than people convicted of similar crimes in state courts. Federal prisoners are often sent to prisons far from their homes, fraying their connections to their children and families.

“Kids are going years without seeing a parent when they have one in federal prison,” said Isabel Coronado, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, who studies the effect of criminal justice policy on Native communities for Next100, a progressive think tank.

“I’m hoping with the big criminal justice discussion that’s been going on in Oklahoma that they’ll be looking to the prevention side instead of just sending people off to the federal side to serve time.”

Outside Oklahoma, Native men and women are frequently prosecuted in federal court for low-level drug crimes that occured on reservation land. That’s how Andrea Circle Bear, a pregnant mother of five and citizen of the Cheyenne Sioux River tribe, ended up in a federal prison outside Fort Worth, Texas, far from her family in South Dakota. She died after contracting COVID-19 in the federal prison system in April, shortly after giving birth to her youngest daughter.

Still, there are financial benefits to federal jurisdiction, said Sara Hill, attorney general for the Cherokee Nation. “You can see it all across eastern Oklahoma, the roads that are built, the bridges, the hospitals that are built. We’re pretty good at using federal money to raise all the ships in the harbor.”

Hill said existing partnerships between federal and tribal prosecutors provide a framework for a more adequate justice system for tribal citizens, though the changes will definitely require offices like hers to increase staff.


After the Supreme Court verdict, Oklahoma officials announced that they had an “agreement in principle” with tribal leaders and the state’s delegates to Congress to share prosecutorial power, essentially returning the system to the way it operated before the ruling.

Mike Hunter, the attorney general for the state of Oklahoma, had told reporters that “this decision is not going to impact the mutual interest of public safety for both Indians and non-Indians in the state.”

But almost as soon as the agreement was announced, it fell apart.

Within hours, the Seminole Nation issued its own statement, saying that it “does not consent to being obligated to an agreement between the other four tribes and the state.” Pressure built on other tribal leaders.

“Now is the time to stand for sovereignty, not to give it away,” wrote Suzan Harjo, a prominent Cheyenne and Hidulgee Muscogee advocate for Indigneous rights, in an open letter to Muscogee (Creek) Nation Chief David Hill.

Chief Hill (who did not respond to interview requests), issued a statement shortly after the Seminole Tribe’s announcement, saying he no longer agreed with the “agreement in principle.” The other tribes pulled out as well.

Meanwhile, Kunzweiler, the district attorney for Tulsa County, is dealing with the new post-McGirt reality. His staff is going through every pending criminal case to look at where the crimes occurred and whether the accused or the victim is a tribal citizen, he said. His office prosecuted nearly 6,000 felonies last year.

The U.S. attorney’s office announced that it would prosecute Dennis and a non-Indian man who allegedly killed his Cherokee girlfriend. But Kunzweiler said he wonders how many more cases federal prosecutors can handle. Are they going to start prosecuting felony drunk-driving charges?

“Mostly, I’m worried about victims,” he said. “We’ll sort out the jurisdictional issues, but I don’t want to traumatize them anymore than they already have been.”

Hill, the Cherokee Nation attorney general, said there are day-to-day issues to be worked out, but the tribes already work regularly with federal prosecutors.

“There’s always people who want to see this as ‘We’re just going to open the jails, and Indians don’t have to follow the law anymore,’” she said. “That’s just not the case.”



2 California prisoners die of suspected virus complications

2 more inmates at San Quentin State Prison near San Francisco died from what appear to be complications of the coronavirus, corrections officials said Monday.

The inmates, including one on death row, died Sunday at outside hospitals, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said.

Orlando G. Romero, 48, had been sentenced to death in 1996 for 1st-degree murder and 2nd-degree robbery while armed with a firearm. He was sent to death row in 1996 after a judge found him and his brother, Christopher Self, then 21, guilty of choosing victims at random during a violent string of robberies.

Riverside residents Joey Mans, 26, and Kipp Jones, 24, were shot to death near Lake Mathews in 1992. Jose Aragon, 22, of Redlands was gunned down by the brothers about a month later in San Timoteo Canyon, near Beaumont, the Press-Enterprise reported.

A general population inmate at San Quentin also died Sunday. No further details were provided.

The prisoners were the latest of 21 at San Quentin, including nine condemned inmates, to die of complications related to COVID-19. The virus has killed more than 2/3 the number of condemned inmates executed since 1978, when California reinstated capital punishment. A total of 13 death row inmates have been executed in four decades. The last inmate to be executed was Clarence Ray Allen in 2006.

The prison is the hardest-hit in California and has reported that 2,181 inmates, about 2/3 of the population, have contracted the virus. San Quentin has reported more cases than the next 2 hardest-hit prisons combined. The prison also has the highest number of infected staff with 258 employees testing positive for the virus.

Across the state, 49 inmates have died. There have been nearly 8,300 cases among inmates, including nearly 1,400 that are considered active cases of infection.

More than 1,000 prison employees have active cases, authorities said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause pneumonia and death.

(source: Associated Press)


A split panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has granted a new trial to California death-row prisoner Marvin Walker, who has been on the state’s death row for 40 years. Judges Susan P. Graber and Ronald Lee Gilman court ruled that Santa Clara County prosecutors had impermissibly exercised their discretionary jury strikes on the basis of race to remove all 3 Black potential jurors from service in the case.

In dissent, Senior Circuit Judge J. Clifford Wallace wrote he would have upheld Walker’s conviction because “the California Supreme Court was not ‘objectively unreasonable’ in concluding that substantial evidence supported the trial court’s determination that the prosecutor exercised his peremptory challenges for race-neutral reasons.”


The California Supreme Court granted a new trial to Paul Henderson, sentenced to death in Riverside County in May 2001. The direct appeal process took the California courts 19 years to complete. The court ruled that Henderson’s conviction was tainted by statements obtained as a result of police questioning after he had invoked his right to counsel, in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

(source for both: Death Penalty Information Center)


Oregon’s only woman on death row re-sentenced to life in prison

The only woman on death row in Oregon was re-sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole last week.

The Eugene woman, Angela McAnulty, now 51, was originally sentenced to death in February 2011 after pleading guilty to aggravated murder of her 15-year-old daughter Jeanette Maples.

In 2009, Maples was found lifeless in a Eugene home, weighing 50 pounds, dehydrated and with more than 100 injuries. The emergency room physician called it the worst case of child abuse they had ever seen.

However, as a result of years of appeals from McAnulty arguing her lawyers erred in representing her and 2019 legislation reducing the penalty for those “who murder children through intentional maiming and torture,” McAnulty is no longer on death row.

Lane County District Attorney Patty Perlow announced the development in a news release Monday afternoon.

“In summary, the settlement agreement provides that the sentence of death is vacated, and Angela McAnulty is sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole,” the release stated. “Both parties dismiss their appeals in the Oregon Court of Appeals and Angela McAnulty agrees ‘she will never attempt to challenge in any court her aggravated murder conviction or the stipulated true-life sentence.’”

The original death sentence was automatically reviewed by the Oregon Supreme Court on appeal in 2014 to determine whether there were any errors in the process, but it upheld the conviction in October 2014. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case the following year.

In 2016, new attorneys filed a petition for post-conviction relief in Washington County, claiming her first attorneys did not adequately represent her.

This led to a back and forth when a judge decided after a 12-day trial in 2018 that McAnulty’s lawyers didn’t adequately represent her. The judge said her guilty plea should be vacated and the case re-prosecuted from the beginning.

Oregon’s Department of Justice in 2019 appealed and challenged that judge’s order and McAnulty’s laywers filed a cross-appeal.

The case took another turn after the 2019 Oregon legislative session when SB 1013 passed. It reduced the potential penalties for people who murder children through intentional torture. The new legislation was retroactive.

Both parties met July 29 in Washington County Circuit Court in Hillsboro to finalize an agreement between prosecution and McAnulty to re-sentence her to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole — the new maximum sentence for the crime under the 2019 law.

McAnulty was the 1st and only woman sentenced to death in Oregon since voters restored capital punishment in 1984.

Richard McAnulty, Jeanette’s stepfather, pleaded guilty to murder by abuse in April 2011 and was sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole before at least 25 years in prison. He did not appeal his sentence, according to Perlow.

(source: The Register-Guard)


Death date set for Killeen man in carjacking, murder of church youth ministers

Federal authorities have scheduled an execution date for a former Killeen gang member who was sentenced to death 20 years ago in the carjacking, abduction and murder of 2 church youth ministers from Iowa.

Christopher Andre Vialva, now 40, was sentenced to death after his 2000 trial in Waco’s U.S. District Court. His execution is set for Sept. 24 in the murders of Todd and Stacie Bagley in 1999.

Trial testimony showed the Bagleys, visiting the Killeen area from Ottumwa, Iowa, were using a pay phone at a store when Vialva and several accomplices approached them and ask for a ride. Vialva pulled a gun and forced the Bagleys into the trunk of their car, then drove around for hours while trying to use their ATM cards and attempting to pawn Stacie Bagley’s wedding ring.

Brandon Bernard, 39, 1 of Vialva’s 5 co-defendants, also was sentenced to death in the double murders. His execution date has not been set.

Bernard, Vialva and 4 Killeen teenagers were charged in the June 1999 incident. 2 of the teens provided vivid testimony against Vialva and Bernard, telling jurors that Stacie Bagley read the Bible to her captors as she and her husband pleaded for their lives. Vialva drove to a remote area on Fort Hood, shot them both in the head and set the car on fire while Stacie Bagley was still alive, according to trial testimony.

Vialva is scheduled to be executed at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

After a 17-year hiatus, the federal government resumed executions on July 14 with the execution of former white supremacist Daniel Lewis Lee. Two others, Wesley Purkey and Dustin Honken, were executed later the same week.

There are currently 58 men and 1 woman on federal death row, all of them in Terre Haute. Compared to many states, including Texas, the federal government has not been prolific in carrying out the death penalty.

States have combined to execute thousands of people over decades. The federal government executed 37 between 1927 and 2003, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. 34 were executed between 1927 and 1963, including Julius and Ethel Rosenberg — put to death in 1953 after their convictions for passing nuclear secrets to the Soviets.

No federal executions were carried out from 1963 to 2001. 3 were executed from 2001 to 2003, including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Vialva and Bernard tried to get their death sentences set aside 2 years ago by claiming in writ filings that former U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. was “not functional” because of his alleged drinking and “unfit” to preside over their trial. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, of Austin, threw out those claims.

Tony Sparks, one of the co-defendants in the case who went to trial with Vialva and Bernard, was given a mandatory life sentence. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal juvenile offenders could not be subjected to mandatory life terms. 4 years later, the court made its ruling retroactive to those already serving time, paving the way for a new sentencing hearing for Sparks.

Sparks, who was 16 at the time and certified to stand trial as an adult, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting carjacking resulting in death. A 15-year-old who was also certified to stand trial as an adult was sentenced to 5 years, and two 17-year-olds were sentenced to 20 years each.

(source: Waco Tribune)


Federal Appeals Court Overturns Death Sentence in Boston Marathon Bombing

A split panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has overturned the death sentence imposed on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (pictured) for his role in the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that killed 3 people and injured more than 250 others.

By a 2-1 vote on July 31, 2020, the court ruled that U.S. District Court Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. had failed to adequately question jurors about their exposure to pervasive pretrial publicity about the case. “A core promise of our criminal justice system is that even the very worst among us deserves to be fairly tried and lawfully punished,” Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson, joined by Judge William J. Kayatta Jr., wrote. “Despite a diligent effort, the judge here did not meet th[at] standard,” she said. Judge Juan Rafael Torruella dissented.

The court ruled that Tsarnaev was properly tried in Boston but was entitled to a new sentencing hearing because while the trial court properly inquired as to the sources of information from which jurors had heard about Tsarnaev and the bombing, the majority said, it failed to question 9 of the 12 impaneled jurors about the content of what they had read and heard. Some of that coverage, Thompson noted, “included inaccurate or inadmissible information — like the details of [a hospital interrogation before he had been read his rights] and the opinions of public officials that he should die.”

The trial court’s failure to discern what the jurors knew, Thompson wrote, improperly “delegate[d] to potential jurors the work of judging their own impartiality.” That made it “too difficult for [the court] and the parties to determine both the nature of any taint … and the possible remedies for the taint,” she said.

The court’s decision enabled it to avoid having to address charges of actual bias against two of the jurors. Tsarnaev’s defense lawyers had presented the court with evidence of bias that included undisclosed tweets by the jury forewoman prior to trial calling Tsarnaev “that piece of garbage.”

Although the appeals court ordered the district court to conduct a new sentencing trial on Tsarnaev’s capital murder charges, it upheld the multiple life sentences the lower court imposed on non-capital charges. The panel also ordered that Tsarnaev be acquitted of three firearms possession charges, but “just to be crystal clear,” Judge Thompson added that “Dzhokhar [Tsarnaev] will remain confined to prison for the rest of his life, with the only question remaining being whether the government will end his life by executing him.”

The U.S. attorney’s office in Boston, which tried the case, did not offer an immediate comment, but Carmen M. Ortiz, who was U.S. attorney at the time of the Tsarnaev trial, told the Washington Post the ruling was “unfortunate and disappointing.” “[T]he most disappointing piece of this,” she said, “is that it brings tremendous pain and suffering for victims and victims’ families, and survivors of Tsarnaev’s crimes. My heart goes out to them.” Federal prosecutors have the option of seeking rehearing before all the appeals judges of the First Circuit, petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, or accepting the outcome of the appeal. In the latter case, prosecutors would have to decide whether to conduct a new penalty trial or end the case by dropping the death penalty.

Tsarnaev’s lawyers praised “the Court’s straightforward and fair decision.” In a statement released after the ruling was announced, they wrote: “If the government wishes to put someone to death, it must make its case to a fairly selected jury that is provided all relevant information. The court rightly acknowledges, as do we, the extraordinary harm done to the victims of the bombing. It is now up to the government to determine whether to put the victims and Boston through a second trial, or to allow closure to this terrible tragedy by permitting a sentence of life without the possibility of release,”

The decision produced strong and varied reaction among the surviving bombing victims and the Boston community. Robert Wheeler, who suffered traumatic brain injury and hearing loss, as well as lacerations from flying glass after the bombing, said “I just feel betrayed, and I’m truly heartbroken. … The smells, the sulfur, I just remember that every day.”

2 of Liz Norden’s sons lost legs in the bombings. The decision, she said, left her “in disbelief.” “If this case didn’t deserve the death penalty, what would?” she said.

Laurie Scher, who was working in a medical tent at the marathon, said “I was in tears because it brings it all back. … So many of us were afraid this was going to happen, because he did get the death penalty, this was going to keep coming back, and it opens up old wounds and it is devastating.”

Bill and Denise Richards, whose son Martin was the youngest victim killed in the bombing, referred reporters to a statement they made in 2015 about the case. The Boston Globe editorial board referred to the statement in a July 31 editorial calling for the end of the federal death penalty. The newspaper wrote:

“In 2015, the plea of Bill and Denise Richard — the parents of Martin Richard, the youngest victim of the Boston Marathon bombing — graced our front page.

“‘We know that the government has its reasons for seeking the death penalty,’ they wrote, ‘but the continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives. We hope our two remaining children do not have to grow up with the lingering, painful reminder of what the defendant took from them, which years of appeals would undoubtedly bring.’

“Their words were painfully prescient. Friday, that appeals process resulted in the death sentence of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev being thrown out, ensuring a protracted legal fight that will only extend and amplify the Richards’ already unthinkable pain.”

Globe columnist Adrian Walker wrote that “[i]f any case calls for the death penalty,” this was it. But, he said, “I believe that another Boston Marathon trial is the last thing this city needs. I believe such a trial would bring little in the way of justice, or ‘closure.’ I think it is time for this case to end.”

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)


What to know about the decision overturning the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev--A federal appeals court said the trial judge didn’t do enough to guard against potential biases in jurors.

A federal appeals court overturned the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev last week, prompting condemnation and shock from survivors of the 2013 attack and elected officials.

In their decision, the 3-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that George A. O’Toole Jr., the judge in Tsarnaev’s 2015 trial, did not adequately screen jurors for potential biases and ordered a new penalty-phase trial to determine whether the 27-year-old should be executed for the attack.

“Make no mistake: Dzhokhar will spend his remaining days locked up in prison, with the only matter remaining being whether he will die by execution,” Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson wrote in the ruling.

Daniel Medwed, a professor of law and criminal justice at Northeastern University, told he’s not surprised by the decision.

He said the “key issue” in the case was always related to whether or not Tsarnaev — who was convicted on 30 charges, including conspiracy and use of a weapon of mass destruction, for the bombing — could get a fair trial in Boston.

“That issue was put to the test through some change of venue motions at the time, meaning the defense wanted to move the case outside of Boston,” Medwed recounted. “Judge O’Toole, the trial judge, was reluctant to do that. And in denying those motions to change venue, he basically indicated that he’d have a very rigorous jury selection process to make sure that the jurors could be fair and impartial. The problem in a case like Tsarnaev’s is there’s so much negative pre-trial publicity, especially locally, that there was reason to have concerns about whether jurors might be predisposed against him based on what they’ve read, and that that could distract them from looking at the facts objectively.”

At the start of the trial, Tsarnaev’s lawyers said he and his older brother, Tamerlan, set off the two bombs but argued the older brother was the mastermind in the attack.

3 people were killed in the bombing near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon and more than 260 others were injured. Three days after the bombing, the brothers fatally shot MIT Police Officer Sean Collier as they attempted to flee the Boston area. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with law enforcement in Watertown.

Ultimately, the federal appeals court found that the location of Tsarnaev’s trial wasn’t a problem, rather it was that O’Toole didn’t rigorously vet jurors enough for potential biases in the high profile case.

The decision was based on a close reading of the trial transcript and the concerns raised by Tsarnaev’s attorneys about social media posts by two jurors that suggested they had strong feelings about the trial or discussed it online before they were selected for the jury.

In one situation, a juror wrote on Twitter that she and her family were “locked down” as authorities searched for Tsarnaev during the manhunt following the bombing and later called him a “piece of garbage,” but during jury selection she said she hadn’t commented on the case or sheltered in place. In another case, a juror posted comments on Facebook during jury selection despite being told not to discuss the case.

“It wasn’t necessarily that [O’Toole] didn’t change the venue to a different city. It was more, ‘Fine, he didn’t change the venue, that wasn’t an abuse of his discretion, he could do that,’” Medwed said of the decision. “But if he’s going to keep a case like this in Boston, given all of its publicity, and the court even said the ‘unrivaled’ amount of publicity in American legal history, if he was going to do that, he’d have to dot all his i’s and cross all his t’s and basically make sure that every juror hadn’t been exposed to a lot of negative pretrial publicity. And a close reading of the trial transcript indicated that he didn’t quite do enough.”

The panel of 3 judges wrote:

The judge qualified jurors who had already formed an opinion that Dzhokhar was guilty — and he did so in large part — because they answered ‘yes’ to the question whether they could decide this high-profile case based on the evidence. The defense warned the judge that asking only general questions like that would wrongly “make[]” the potential jurors “judge[s] of their own impartiality” — the exact error that the Patriarca line of cases seeks to prevent. But the judge dismissed the defense’s objection, saying that “[t]o a large extent” jurors must perform that function. Yet by not having the jurors identify what it was they already thought they knew about the case, the judge made it too difficult for himself and the parties to determine both the nature of any taint (e.g., whether the juror knew something prejudicial not to be conceded at trial) and the possible remedies for the taint. This was an error of law and so an abuse of discretion.

Medwed said the decision, with the way it touches on the social media posts of jurors, suggests that in cases, especially of this magnitude, “you really have to look under every rock” in jury selection.

“You really have to ask about social media posts, not just traditionally, ‘What newspaper do you read? What television shows do you watch?’” he said. “But also, ‘What is your social media presence? What blogs do you look at? What posts have you made?’ That’s what this case I think stands for. And that’s a relatively new development.”

On the other hand, Medwed acknowledged the criticism that a judge may be held to an unrealistic standard if being asked to vet every single social media post.

“It’s very hard for jurors to recreate and remember what they’ve done, and people delete posts and comment boards disappear,” he said. “It’s a very, very difficult thing to track. It’s very much a 21st century issue.”

The Northeastern professor said the decision expands on the precedent case, Patriarca, from the 1st Circuit, which involved a mafia boss and set forth rigorous standards for how to vet prospective jurors in a case where there’s a lot of publicity.

“It really says that in high profile cases you do have to look at social media and you do have to go above and beyond, so I think it is creating precedent,” Medwed said. “But I think it would only apply to the relatively rare case like Tsarnaev or Patriarca where there’s so much media attention to the crimes that you’re asking more of the judges, because the risk of having a prejudiced jury is higher. So I think it’s a little bit of a sliding scale.”

“For the run of the mill case, you’re not going to expect judges to go into a full bore analysis of social media history I don’t think,” he added. “But for a high profile case you might.”

While Medwed said he agrees with the decision because he thinks with death penalty cases in particular it is imperative to ensure jurors aren’t biased, he is sympathetic to the worry it sets unrealistic standards.

“Are defense lawyers always going to be able to say on appeal the judge could have done more, there could have been more questions?” he said. “There’s a little bit of an issue of where do we draw the line and how much process is enough. In a death penalty case, we need as much process as possible. In other cases, you need a lot of process — but there’s going to be an issue of where to draw the line. So that’s a question that I think hasn’t been completely answered here.”

The question remaining with the marathon bombing case is whether there will be a new trial to weigh the question of whether Tsarnaev should get the death penalty.

Prosecutors could also appeal the decision from the 1st Circuit.

In making the decision, Medwed pointed out that prosecutors can weigh the strain on victims and the administrative costs of another trial. Reopening the wounds of the bombing is a concern that has been raised in the days since the decision was issued, expressed both by survivors and local leaders.

“A lot of it depends on what the local U.S. Attorney wants to do, Andrew Lelling, and what he communicates to the attorney general, Bill Barr, about whether it’s worth going through another trial,” Medwed said.

Since the ruling was announced Friday, President Donald Trump has weighed in on the case on Twitter several times, slamming the decision and calling for prosecutors to again pursue the death penalty.

….and ruined. The Federal Government must again seek the Death Penalty in a do-over of that chapter of the original trial. Our Country cannot let the appellate decision stand. Also, it is ridiculous that this process is taking so long! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 2, 2020

“If I had to guess, this administration might seek to retry him — that’s just a guess,” Medwed said of the future of the case. “Then the issue becomes if a new administration comes in in 2021, do they revisit that decision, do they change it? That becomes very complicated.”



2nd trial would be ‘heartbreaking’ for Boston Marathon victims, U.S. attorney mulls appeal--The bomber’s death sentence has been tossed out

The day after President Trump called for a “do-over” in seeking the death penalty against convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the U.S. attorney said his office is still mulling an appeal.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said his office is continuing to review a federal appellate court’s Friday decision to toss out the death sentence and would “have more information in the coming days and weeks.”

The government has 2 weeks to file a petition for an appeal, but could request an extension.

The ruling ripped open old wounds for the families of the 3 people who died and the more than 260 who were injured in the April 15, 2013, twin bombings on Boylston Street at the end of the Boston Marathon route.

Karen Brassard, who spoke for the victims in front of the Moakley Courthouse in the Seaport the day Tsarnaev’s death sentence was handed down, said on Monday she “sobbed for an hour and a half and hadn’t slept for 2 days” since learning of the court’s decision to throw out the sentence.

“I do want them to pursue (an appeal) because I do think that’s justice,” said Brassard, who was injured in the bombing along with her husband and daughter. “It’s heartbreaking to say that though, knowing people will suffer because of (a new trial).”

Trump on Sunday called for a “do-over” in the case on Twitter.

Gregory Joseph, communications director for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, condemned Trump’s comments about the case on Twitter and accused the president of “politicizing” the issue and making it more difficult for justice to be served.

“It’s inappropriate for him to be weighing in on individual cases for a number of reasons,” Joseph said. “It tampers the jury pool — if we’re looking to get an unbiased jury, the president pushing his opinion doesn’t help.”

The Friday appellate court ruling found the judge in the case didn’t question jurors to the degree set by former precedent in highly publicized cases.

Capital punishment resumed recently at the federal level under the Trump administration after a 17-year hiatus.



Andrea Cabral Breaks Down Federal Appeals Court Decision On Death Penalty For Tsarnaev

Former Suffolk County Sheriff and Secretary of Public Safety Andrea Cabral called into Boston Public Radio on Monday and weighed in on the decision made Friday by the First U.S. Circuit of Appeals to overturn the death penalty for Dzhokar Tsarnaev, who helped carry out the Boston Marathon bomb attack in 2013, alongside his brother Tamerlan.

Cabral said she agreed with the court's reasoning, that U.S. District Judge George O’Toole’s jury selection process fell short of insuring impartiality.

“Trying to drill down into whether or not people have actually made up their minds, and are therefore biased ... takes a substantial effort," Cabral said. "And this 3-judge panel said that judge O’Toole made a ‘diligent effort,’ but that given all of the factors that weighed toward undue influence, or jurors having made up their minds, it wasn’t enough. "

(source: WGBH news)


Execution Set for Only American Indian on Death Row ---- The only American Indian on death row is scheduled to be put to death at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. on Aug. 26

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons announced Wednesday it has scheduled the execution of Lezmond Mitchell (Navajo) on Aug. 26. Mitchell, 37, is the only American Indian on federal death row.

Should this execution proceed, it will be the 1st time in modern American history that the federal government has executed an American Indian tribal citizen.

The Navajo Nation opposes the planned execution.

Mitchell is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Aug. 26 at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.

He was sentenced to death for the 2001 murder of 2 Navajo people — a woman and her granddaughter — on the Navajo Indian Reservation. Mitchell was 20 years old when the murders occurred. When convicted he had no history of violence, while his juvenile co-defendant, who was the primary aggressor and had previously murdered two people in an unrelated incident, received a life sentence.

Under the Federal Death Penalty Act, the federal government cannot seek the death penalty for crimes committed on tribal land unless the tribe allows it. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona originally didn't seek the death penalty, but was pressured by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to do so.

Since the Navajo Nation was against the death penalty in Mitchell's case, the federal government used a "loophole" to charge him with a lesser crime –– carjacking resulting in death. This allowed the government to seek the death penalty without tribal approval.

Jonathan Aminoff and Celeste Bacchi, two lawyers who are deputy federal public defenders, issued this statement on Wednesday:

“With the enactment of the Federal Death Penalty Act, Congress made a commitment to the Native American peoples that no Native American would be subjected to the death penalty for a crime committed against a fellow Native American on Native American land unless the tribe consented. In what the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals referred to as a “betrayal of a promise made to the Navajo Nation, the Department of Justice exploited a legal loophole and sought the death penalty against Mr. Mitchell for the federal crime of carjacking over the objection of the Navajo Nation, the victims’ family, and the local United States Attorney’s Office. The federal government’s announcement that it now plans to execute Lezmond Mitchell demonstrates the ultimate disrespect for the Navajo Nation’s values and sovereignty.

The Government’s contravention of tribal autonomy did not end with the decision to pursue a death sentence against Mr. Mitchell. In addition to the charging decision, the Government committed misconduct in the course of this prosecution by confining Mr. Mitchell in a tribal jail where they continually interrogated him over the course of 25 days without providing him an attorney. Furthermore, the Government systematically excluded Navajos from serving on Mr. Mitchell’s jury, resulting in a jury composed of 11 white people and only one Navajo. Unfortunately, we have been barred from investigating concerns of juror bias amongst Mr. Mitchell’s jury. Under these circumstances, allowing Mr. Mitchell’s execution to go forward would be a grave injustice and an unprecedented affront to tribal sovereignty, and it should not be permitted to proceed. We will continue to pursue all available avenues of relief for Mr. Mitchell from his unconstitutional convictions and death sentence.”

(source: Native News Online)


Extradited Algerian military official risks death penalty for divulging secrets

Fugitive military official Guermit Bounouira, who was handed over to Algerian security officials in Turkey last Thursday, is accused of divulging military secrets and was expected to face a military judge Monday in Blida prison south-west of Algiers, a top Algerian security source told news agencies.



2 prisoners executed in Shahrekord Prison

2 prisoners on death row for qisas (retribution in-kind) for "premeditated murder" were executed in Shahrekord Prison, in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province.

According to the Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting services (IRIB), on the morning of Sunday, August 2, the death sentences of two men were carried out in Shahrekord Prison. The two men sentenced to qisas for “premeditated murder” have only been identified by their initials, “B.D” and “F.A”.

Abdulreza Ali Mohammadi, the attorney general of the capital of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province, said: "One of the prisoners named B.D was arrested in the city of Naghan for the murder of a person named M.N. in 2017 and sentenced to qisas in 2018."

He added: "Another person named F.A was arrested in city of Lordegan for the premeditated murder of a person named K.G in 2017 and he was also sentenced to qisas.”

According to Iran Human Rights’ Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran, at least 225 of the 280 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.


3 Prisoners hanged in Hamedan; 32 executions in July 2020

3 men arrested for the rape of a woman, have been executed in Hamedan Central Prison. The 3 defendants had never accepted the charges.

According to Hamshahri Online, 3 men were executed in Hamadan Central Prison last week. The 3 prisoners were sentenced to death as co-defendants in a rape case.

According to the report, the men pled their innocence every time they were taken to court for interrogation and investigations, and the conviction was based on the opinion of the forensic examiner and the identification office of Police.

Referring to the rumors surrounding the case in Hamedan, the report said, "Some people said that the plaintiff in the case made the complaint because they were wealthy people and that the motive was financial."

The report does not mention the exact identity and date of execution of the 3 prisoners.

In July 2020, 32 people were executed in Iran, meaning that on average, more than 1 person was executed every day.

(source for both:


Tortured Kurdish prisoner ‘at risk of execution’ in Iran: Amnesty

Another Kurd convicted of espionage based on a confession obtained through torture in Iran is facing execution, Amnesty International has warned.

The human rights group issued a call for urgent action on Monday to halt the execution of Arsalan Khodkam, who was sentenced to death on July 14, 2018, “after a grossly unfair trial that lasted about 30 minutes and relied on “confessions” he says were obtained under torture.” Relatives were told in May that Khodkam could be executed at any time, Amnesty said.

Khodkam, a 47-year-old from Urmia, West Azerbaijan province, is accused of "spying” for the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), an armed opposition group based in Iraq's Kurdistan Region, while working for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a low-ranking officer.

According to Amnesty, the prisoner vehemently denies the accusations, saying he left the group in the eighties and was accused of the crime after being in contact with his wife’s relative, who is a member of the opposition group, on Instagram.

“On one occasion, Arsalan Khodkam had informed his relative, a member of the KDPI, that the Revolutionary Guards were preparing to send forces to crush a series of peaceful anti-establishment strikes and protests in Baneh, Kurdistan province, which started in April 2018,” reads the sample letter for Amnesty’s campaign which urges for his conviction and death sentence to be quashed.

Khodkam claims to not have shared any other sensitive information on the IRGC or its activities, but signed a confession admitting to having done so after enduring torture and threats to his family.

“Following his arrest in Urmia, Arsalan Khodkam withstood days of physical torture, but signed the self-incriminating statements that the interrogators had prepared after they subjected him to psychological torture by detaining his wife on 28 April 2018 for two days and threatening to harm her and their son,” adds the letter.

Tens of thousands of political prisoners are jailed in Iran over various charges including advocating for democracy and promoting the rights of women, workers, and ethnic minorities.

Ethnic minority groups including Kurds and Azeris are disproportionately detained and more harshly sentenced for acts of political dissidence, according to a July 2019 report from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran.



Man sentenced to death for rape and murder of minor girl -- Wife of the accused urges court not to let him free.

The Special POCSO Act Court on Tuesday awarded death penalty to an accused, Barlapudi Pentaiah, 43, alias Aaya, who raped and murdered an 8-year-old girl in Bhavanipuram area.

The accused, a daily wage labourer, committed the crime when the girl, who was his neighbour, came to his house to watch television. She was studying in second standard in a private school.

According to Bhavanipuram CI D.K.N. Mohan Reddy, the accused committed the crime when he was alone at home on November 10, 2019. The accused, after committing the offence, smothered her to death when she cried in pain. Later, he packed the body in a polythene bag and concealed it at his house.

Meanwhile, the girl’s family members lodged a ‘missing’ complaint with the police. The dog squad and clues team which were pressed into service zeroed in on the accused and the police arrested him later.

Wife’s statement

Pentaiah’s wife, Sunitha, who was present at the hearing, urged the judge not to let her husband free and award maximum punishment for brutally killing the girl, the police said.

The Bhavanipuram police registered a case against the accused under Section 376 (rape), 302 (murder) and Section 6 of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, said West Zone Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) K. Sudhakar, who monitored the investigation of the sensational case.

Earlier convicted

The accused was earlier convicted for one year imprisonment in an attempt to rape case of a minor girl in G Konduru mandal in Krishna district.

“The accused is in Rajamahendravaram Central Prison. The court awarded death penalty in the murder case and imprisonment till death in the rape case,” Mr. Mohan Reddy said.

(source: The Hindu)<


Pak court orders govt to give ‘another chance’ to India to appoint lawyer for Kulbhushan Jadhav -- The Pakistan government, in the petition, asked the IHC to appoint a legal representative for Jadhav so that it can fulfil its responsibility to see to the implementation of the ICJ’s decision.

The Islamabad High Court on Monday ordered the Pakistan government to give “another chance” to India to appoint a lawyer for death-row prisoner Kulbhushan Jadhav and see through the review trial from the civilian court.

On Monday, a two-member bench comprising IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb heard a petition filed by the Pakistan government to appoint a lawyer for Jadhav.

The Pakistan government, in the petition, asked the IHC to appoint a legal representative for Jadhav so that it can fulfil its responsibility to see to the implementation of the ICJ’s decision.

It also claimed that Jadhav refused to file a review petition or an application to reconsider the verdict against him by the military court.

“Now that the matter is in the high court, why not give India another chance,” Justice Minallah was quoted as saying by Geo News.

The judge said that the Indian government or Jadhav may reconsider their decision pertaining to the review petition.

“India and Kulbhushan Jadhav should once again be extended an offer to appoint a legal representative” for the death row prisoner, he added.

Responding to the judge’s remarks, Pakistan’s Attorney General Khalid Javed Khan said an ordinance was issued to give an opportunity to India and Jadhav to file a review petition against the sentence.

“We will contact India again through the Foreign Office,” he said.

The hearing was subsequently adjourned till September 3.

The Pakistan government had filed the review petition in the IHC on July 22.

However, the main parties, including the government of India, were not consulted ahead of the filing of the application by the Ministry of Law and Justice under an ordinance which was enacted on May 20.

Under the ‘International Court of Justice Review and Reconsideration Ordinance 2020’, which was enacted on May 20, a petition for the review of a military court’s decision can be made to Islamabad High Court through an application within 60 days of its promulgation.

The ordinance was approved by the parliament last week.

The Imran Khan government had on July 27 tabled the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Review and Re-consideration Ordinance 2020 in relation with former Indian Navy commander Kulbhushan Jadhav, in the National Assembly, even as it faced intense heat from the opposition on the issue.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s adviser Babar Awan presented the bill in the National Assembly.

The ordinance sought to allow alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav the facility to file an appeal in a high court against his conviction. The government maintains that this is necessary in view of the ICJ’s ruling in June last year, in which it had asked Pakistan to give Jadhav consular access while hearing an appeal filed by India against the death sentence handed to him through a military court trial process.

The ordinance had become a bone of contention between the opposition and the government with former terming it a reprieve to Jadhav, who is a death-row convict, and latter saying the action is based in ICJ’s ruling. The opposition likened the proposed legislation to the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf issued NRO?in 2007 to granted amnesty to politicians, and bureaucrats facing cases. The country’s Supreme Court declared NRO?unconstitutional in 2009.

Pakistan has claimed that it arrested Jadhav on 3 March 2016 when he attempted to cross over into the country from the Saravan border in Iran in pursuit of targets set by his RAW handlers. New Delhi has rubbished Pakistan’s claim, asserting that the Indian national was abducted by Pakistani agencies from Iran where he was running a business.

Pakistan subsequently conducted a farcical trial of Jadhav in a military court and sentenced him to death. Pakistan Army chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, had endorsed the death penalty for Jadhav in April 2017. Following this, India approached the ICJ.

The world court on July 17, last year, ordered Pakistan not to execute Kulbhushan Jadhav and directed “effective review and reconsideration” of his conviction and the sentence awarded to him by a military court.

The world court, while rejecting all objections raised by Pakistan, directed it to grant consular access to Jadhav “without further delay”, while holding that it had “breached” the Vienna Convention in this regard by denying him this right.

Meanwhile, the ordinance comes days after New Delhi admonished Islamabad saying that Pakistan has blocked all the avenues for an effective remedy available for India in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case.

During one of his weekly briefings last month, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava had said that Pakistan is not only in violation of the judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), but also of its own ordinance.

“Pakistan has completely failed to provide the remedy as directed by the ICJ and India reserves its position in the matter, including its rights to avail further remedies,” he said.

India has slammed Pakistan numerous times for intimidating and distressing its imprisoned citizen Kulbhushan Jadhav during the consular access granted to its officials. India has so far requested consular access 12 times over the past 1 year.

(source: The Statesman)


Leading SLPP candidate in Ratnapura sentenced to death for murdering UNP supporter

The Ratnapura High Court has sentenced a Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Candidate Premalal Jayasekara to death for the murder of United National Party supporter Shantha Dodangoda during the 2015 Presidential Campaign.

Jayasekara, a former Member of Parliament was on bail which was granted in 2016.

The death sentence was imposed on Jayasekara and 2 others for shooting at a group of UNP supporters decorating a venue for an event in support of then Presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena in 2015.

Jayasekara, also known as Choka Malli, is contesting the current General elections under the SLPP from the Ratnapura District.

He is the leading candidate for the SLPP from the district.

He was the former Deputy Minister for Power and Energy and before that Deputy Minister of Mahaweli Development.

A former Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman, Jayasekara was an MP in the recently dissolved Parliament.

He has been in Parliament since 2001, and is 47-years old.

In the shooting incident Shantha Dodangoda, also known as Dodangodage Susil Perera, was killed and 2 others were seriously injured.

The injured were K. Karunadasa Weerasinghe and M. Ilshan.

Civil Society groups including the eminent Friday Forum had castigated the SLPP for nominating Jayasekara.

“The fact that a person accused of a serious crime is on bail does not make him eligible for nomination,” the Forum wrote in a media statement released earlier this week.



De Lima gives up justice panel seat for Hontiveros ahead of death penalty debate

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima said Tuesday she had given her seat at the Senate justice committee to Sen. Risa Hontiveros so that the latter can vote and fully join deliberations on the proposed revival of the death penalty.

De Lima said she cannot vote and wholly participate in Senate sessions and hearings because of her detention since February 2017 due to drug charges.

"I am relinquishing my membership in the Committee on Justice and Human Rights in favor of Sen. Risa Hontiveros," De Lima said in a statement.

"As a courageous voice in the Senate who speaks truth to power and fights for justice and human rights, Sen. Risa’s participation and vote will definitely matter because she will always be on the side of justice," she added.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Monday read De Lima's letter stating her decision to give up her post. Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri seconded Drilon's motion to elect Hontiveros as De Lima's replacement and there was no objection.

Last week, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian also gave up his seat at the committee in favor of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa, a former police chief who ran on the campaign promise of killing convicted drug lords.

President Rodrigo Duterte in his recent State of the Nation Address urged lawmakers to reinstate capital punishment for crimes related to narcotics.

Deliberations on the death penalty may take up to one year and a half, Gatchalian said.

7 death penalty bills have been referred to the justice committee chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon. De Lima was expelled as chair of the panel after leading a probe into alleged state-sanctioned killings under Duterte's anti-narcotics drive, which the government denied.



Philippines warned over revival of death penalty in war on illegal drugs

A ranking Commission on Human Rights (CHR) official warned the Philippines could face sanctions from the international community if Congress would approve the call of President Rodrigo Duterte for the controversial return of the death penalty in the war on illegal drugs.

CHR Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit said such sanctions could suffer consequences like the removal of the Philippines from the list of countries that benefit from lower tariffs in the European Union.

Besides, reinstating the death penalty by lethal injection would violate a UN-sponsored agreement known as the International Covenant on Civil and Political that commits to its abolition and which the Philippines is a signatory by ratifying it in 2007, Dumpit said.

There is no "opt-out provision" in the agreement as Dumpit explained in a TV interview: "It's all about commitment. It's all about confidence whether you as a state party will be able to comply and not renege on those commitments."

Dumpit insisted that reviving the death penalty would not be a deterrent, arguing that solid police work, intelligence work and proper implementation of the laws would help contain the commission of heinous crimes like illegal drugs.

Opposition Congressman Edcel Lagman of Albay province agreed with Dumpit but on another tack particularly on its repercussions to government appeals for the commutation of the death penalty on Filipinos convicted abroad.

Lagman warned the Philippines would lose its moral ascendancy in negotiating for the lifting of such death sentences already imposed on about 100 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) mainly due to illegal drugs.

Besides, only 37 countries are implementing the death penalty "both in law and in practice" with China, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia and South Africa accounting for 90 % of executions, according to Lagman.

"President Duterte's recommendation to the Congress to reimpose the death penalty aggravates his failure to disclose and discuss his administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic which is a death sentence to countless Filipinos," he lamented.

But world boxing idol and Senator Manny Pacquiao, a staunch Duterte ally, ignored the arguments of Dumpit and Lagman in advocating the revival of the death penalty, which the country abolished during the time of then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and replaced it with life imprisonment.

Pacquiao cited the urgent need for its revival, pointing out that drug lords, both foreign and local, have taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to flood the country especially shabu (crystal meth), also known as the "poor man's cocaine."

Pacquiao noted that foreign drug lords in particular have capitalised on the absence of capital punishment to operate with impunity in the Philippines while it is busy containing the rapid spread of the virus.

The House has already approved the return of the death penalty but several bills are pending before the Senate, including those filed by Pacquiao and another Duterte supporter freshman Senator Ronald dela Rosa, the former chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP).



We accept that Pannir is guilty

We refer to the report 'Was Singapore rushing to hang my brother?'

We did what we could to fight for Pannir’s life. We tried to get Singapore's Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) to issue a Certificate of Substantive Assistance as Pannir did give them some solid leads and hints on the activities of the drug mule recruiter that he interacted with.

The aforementioned certificate would pardon Pannir of the death penalty and instead place him in life imprisonment. But the CNB has refused to do this till today. We tried to gather leads and evidence ourselves by physically scouting around the locations Pannir mentioned where he met the recruiter.

We found some success, and the evidence has been passed to the authorities both in Singapore and Malaysia. What will happen next remains yet unknown. But our fight continues. Our lawyers are finding points to refute the sentence he received, and we, his family, are continuing the fight in our own ways.

Sometimes, I wish we can time travel back to earlier days when we were younger, and such concerns worried us not. The journey of little Pannir, those carefree days bring back so much happy memories for us.

On does when we are tired and weary, we think about those memories we have of Pannir. We cry and we gain back the vitality and energy we need to persevere on. Yet, we have it better, as no matter how hard I try to explain it, I can never comprehend what a day in Pannir’s life is like now.

While being on the death row, Pannir is placed in a 6 feet by 6 feet cage, with nothing but a 1-inch thick blanket and a floor mat to sleep on. He has no mattress and no pillows. He lives in a world where he says, “[...] seconds turn to minutes, minutes turn into hours and hours into days.”

“Yet every second of every minute of every hour of every day is the same as the one that had just passed. Time moves yet it is as though it remains completely still. All remains the same.”

The shower water is his drinking water. It has been years since he took a hot shower, the water he gets in his cage is cold. Adding to the grimness is the dim and low lights used in the cage. No natural light enters the cell. “There is more bad than good, more sadness than happiness and each day we get closer to turning into hollow beings, devoid of emotions, senses and will,” he says.

I am not here to argue that he is right, and he is not guilty. I know and understand that he, in fact, is. But the mechanisms for correcting and punishing him have to be more humane and better. Now it only seems as though his punishers are only hell-bent on stamping out every trace of humanity within him and all death row prisoners in Changi, making them dead internally before getting them dead externally.

This life had brought so much suffering and pain for Pannir. No sibling, truly, can accept this fate for their brother. He is stuck in this Changi Prison, left with nothing but memories of his past and armed with nothing to deal with the present and the future. A world that only a few know, and even fewer experience.

Each year, when it is my brother’s birthday on July 31, I would wonder if would be his last one. However, we have to remain positive and hopeful for him, even when he is not. My only wish is for me to celebrate Pannir’s birthday with him and my family and I am ready to give up anything for that.

(source: Letter to the Editor; P Sangkari...The writer is Pannir Selvam's


Government seeks to intervene in case of Cambodian drug trafficker facing death penalty in Vietnam

The Ministry of Justice in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are studying the case of a Cambodian woman who has recently been sentenced to death in Vietnam over drug trafficking if she could be extradited.

Miech Srey Neang, 27, from Phnom Penh was convicted and sentenced to death on Friday by Tay Ninh Provincial People’s Court after being found guilty of trafficking drugs from Cambodia to Vietnam.

She was accused of smuggling 5 bags of methamphetamine weighing about 5 kilogrammes.

Chin Malin, a secretary of state and spokesman of the Ministry of Justice, told Khmer Times that Cambodian authorities have been aware of Srey Neang’s case.

“The Ministry of Justice is working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to gather detailed information regarding this case so that we will provide legal intervention,” he said. “Right now, we are studying the case, then we will decide how we could help her.”

When asked if the government will request for her extradition, Malin said there are multiple options.

“There is legal assistance, such as appealing to [Vietnam] Appeal Court or implementation of the extradition agreement,” Malin said.


AUGUST 3, 2020:


Federal Government, Texas Set New Execution Dates

As July 2020 came to a close, the federal government issued 2 more notices of execution and a county judge in Texas reportedly issued a new death warrant for a death-row prisoner whose previously scheduled execution had been stayed.

In a July 31 news release, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it had set execution dates of September 22, 2020 for William LeCroy and September 24, 2020 for Christopher Vialva. LeCroy was sentenced to death in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in March 2004. The government’s asserted justification for trying LeCroy in federal court is that he had committed a carjacking resulting in death. Vialva was sentenced to death in Texas federal court in June 2000. The federal government had jurisdiction over his case because the 2 murders he was convicted of committing occurred on federal land on a portion of the Fort Hood military reservation.

Keri Blakinger of The Marshall Project reports that a judge in Rusk County, Texas has reissued a death warrant for Blaine Milam, scheduling his execution for January 21, 2021. Milam previously received a stay of execution in January 2019 based on allegations that his conviction was based on false scientific testimony concerning bitemarks and because the Texas courts had adjudicated his intellectual disability claim using unconstitutionally harsh criteria. On remand, the trial court again denied both of those claims, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld that ruling on July 1, 2020.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)


Coronavirus cited in bid to toss death penalty in slaying

A defense attorney is citing the coronavirus in asking a Pennsylvania judge to bar prosecutors from seeking the death penalty in the case of a man charged in a shooting death inside a movie theater last year. The York Daily Record reports that attorney Jon White argued in a hearing last week that the COVID-19 pandemic has hindered his ability to prepare an effective death penalty defense for 21-year-old Anu-Malik Johnson. Prosecutors deny that he is being barred access to his client. Johnson is charged in the Dec. 2 shooting of 22-year-old Andre White Jr. in West Manchester Township.

(source: Associated Press)


3 veteran prosecutors running for State Attorney

State Attorney Ed Brodsky is facing challenges from 2 former prosecutors who say the State Attorney’s Office has become complacent when it comes to violent crimes.

Brodsky is quick to point out that crime has dropped 47% since he became the State Attorney for the 12th Judicial District in 2012, and that he has installed programs to help individuals escape the sex trade industry, men engaging in prostitution, and treatment courts for individuals with mental health issues and addiction. His office also created an animal cruelty unit to go after people who hurt animals.

Attorneys Democrat Betsy Young and Republican Lisa Chittaro both believe the current State Attorney’s Office is applying justice inconsistently. They pointed to the case of Sheena Morris, whose death Brodsky said was a suicide, the case of Ryan Flanzer, a wealthy Sarasota man who got a no-jail plea deal after shooting up a downtown apartment door, and Daniel Santiago, who faced 15 years in prison for a suicide attempt.

Chittaro says she wants to restore people’s trust in government. The former prosecutor, who worked under Brodsky, resigned from the SAO in June 2017 and opened her own practice.

Young, also a former prosecutor, points out she has worked both sides of the aisle — a prosecutor and defense attorney — and understands the difference between how high-profile cases and low-profile cases should be handled.

“I would make sure that violent crimes are prosecuted fully,” Young said. “I would make sure there is adequate training on firearms so those cases can be prosecuted correctly.”

All 3 candidates said they support the death penalty and do not believe there needs to be any changes to Florida’s “stand-your-ground law.”


Brodsky has piled up endorsements and campaign contributions. He has received $167,358.81 from attorneys, real estate developers, members of law enforcement and other businessmen.

Chittaro has raised $30,471.60 for her campaign; and Young has raised $109,112.97.

Brodsky is endorsed by the sheriffs of all three counties he oversees — Sheriff Tom Knight, Sheriff Rick Wells, and Sheriff James Potter — Florida statewide prosecutor Nick Cox; retired State Attorney Earl Moreland; Congressman Greg Stuebe; Sen. Joe Gruters; Sen. Bill Galvano; Rep. Tommy Gregory; Rep. Jim Boyd; the Police Benevolent Association; Fraternal Order of Police; Sarasota Police Officers Association, Sarasota County Schools Police Association, and other business leaders.

Chittaro received endorsements from Tea Party Manatee, Tea Party Sarasota, Manatee-Sarasota Republican Assembly, Women for Trump, The National Rifle Association and Ray Pelon, the former state representative from District 72 and a former Sarasota County Commissioner.

Young is endorsed by the Democratic Veterans Caucus of Florida, Ruth’s List — a group that recruits, trains, mentors and elects progressive women at all levels — and other individuals.


Brodsky is a recognizable figure during a time when social-distancing makes meeting voters difficult. His challengers are focusing on social media, text messaging, mail and alternative forms of messaging to reach constituents.

The candidates have participated in multiple online forums where they have discussed how they would run the office of the area’s top prosecutor.

“COVID has changed the landscape of campaigning, but I think it’s been engaging,” Brodsky said. “It’s been a very busy campaigning season despite COVID-19 dampening things with face-to-face meetings.”

Brodsky believes his experience stands out among the candidates. He has served 28 years as a prosecutor, eight as state attorney, and is board-certified by the Florida Bar.

“Only 7% of licensed attorneys are board-certified,” Brodsky said. “My board certification is in criminal trial. I have experience managing. We have four offices in three counties, and before I became state attorney, I served as felony division chief, and chief assistant.”

Brodsky says the SAO requires management of 160 employees on a $17 million budget.


Chittaro says she would create an investigative division that would deal with matters of great concern such as police and government misconduct, and complex fraud cases.

“The changes would make it a lot more proactive prosecution from the beginning of prosecution and being visible to the community, so the public is aware of the consequences if they break the law,” Chittaro said. “One of the big things I want to restore and rebuild is trust in government. One way to do that is to bring people more interaction with the government.”

Chittaro says that by prosecuting abuses of power by law enforcement or the government, it would eliminate the sense of corruption within the community.

“I would also partner with local and federal law enforcement officers to help identify any criminal illegal aliens to ensure our sanctuary city laws are being mandated and followed,” she said.

Chittaro said her time as a prosecutor shaped her as a person. She established and implemented the animal cruelty, elderly abuse and white collar crime division in 2013.

“That was hands-on in the courtroom without any rule book or any model to follow,” she said. “The victims in that case, the animals, the elderly, their families will forever leave an impression on me for what they have to go through.”


Young, too, spent most of her legal career as a prosecutor.

“When I made this decision to run for State Attorney, that was 3 years ago, and it was based on my 23 years experience in the criminal justice system,” Young said. “After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, I made the decision to come back home to Southwest Florida. I was born and raised in Pinellas County. I’m a native Floridian, my mother is a native Floridian, my children were born in Sarasota County.”

Young was an assistant state attorney in Sarasota from 2002-2007.

“Because I’m a criminal defense attorney and because I’ve been a prosecutor, I see on a daily basis how the victims of crimes have been treated,” Young said. “A lot of things have played out in the media recently, very publicly, about how crime victims have been treated. I was seeing cases that were not public cases, not things that are in the media. That’s when I decided to throw my hat in the ring and run for state attorney.”

Young’s top three goals are to establish a multiagency law enforcement task force for the SAO, empowered to conduct only high-level narcotics, vice and organized crime investigations across Sarasota-Manatee-DeSoto.

“This would mirror investigative bureaus headed by SAO in other circuits,” she said. “It would be a highly specialized group of investigators concentrating on white collar crimes that tend to focus on the elderly as victims.”

Secondly, Young says she would renew focus on training, technology and trial support for line attorneys, who handle the day-to-day legal responsibilities of cases, and work to reduce the turnover at the SAO.

“This would include allowing remote working and court appearances,” Young said. “It would save money and streamline prosecutions.”

And third, Young says she would realize the promise of Marsy’s Law by keeping victims informed and respected, especially children and the elderly.

Young will not have an opponent in the Aug. 18 Florida primary, and will face the winner between Chittaro and Brodsky in the General Election on Nov. 3.

(source: Palm Beach Post)


Trial starts in case of mutilated, murdered transgender teen

A trial is set to start Monday for a man charged in the 2017 killing of a transgender teen whose eyes were gouged out and whose body was set on fire in southwest Missouri.

Andrew Vrba, 21, is charged with 1st-degree murder, armed criminal action and abandonment of a corpse in the killing of 17-year-old Ally Steinfeld. Three others have pleaded guilty and are in prison for their roles in Steinfeld's death.

Vrba had been missing for weeks when her burned remains were found in September 2017 in the town of Cabool, a rural area about 70 miles (115 kilometers) east of Springfield.

Authorities say the crime wasn’t motivated by Steinfeld’s gender identity.

In June, Vrba opted for a bench trial instead of a jury, the Springfield-News Leader reports.

Vrba originally faced the death penalty, but Texas County prosecutor Parke Stevens said that's now off the table, based in part on the wishes of Steinfeld's family.

(source: Associated Press)


Sidley Austin Secures Ariz. Death Penalty Reforms

It took 2 hours for the state of Arizona to execute Joseph Woods, 55, in 2014. Woods spent much of that time gasping and struggling to breathe as the state continued to administer additional doses of an experimental combination of fatal drugs, while observers watched through a window with the audio feed deliberately turned off.

In June, attorneys from Sidley Austin LLP and the Federal Public Defenders reached a deal that resolved the last remaining claims in the 6-year litigation challenging the way the state handled the Woods execution.

The settlements in the case, brought as a pro bono matter on behalf of the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona and 7 death row inmates, imposed restrictions on the drugs that Arizona can use in its executions and its discretion to modify the execution procedure, though the state scored a victory on keeping supplier identities secret. In the most recent settlement, Arizona also agreed it would not mute the sound of future executions, a 1st Amendment victory.

"For us, we saw an opportunity to vindicate an important set of civil rights both for the prisoners and for the public," said Collin P. Wedel, a Sidley associate who has worked on the case since 2014. "In addition to trying to make sure that Arizona wouldn't use these problematic drugs again, we also wanted to bring accountability and transparency to a process that has very much become shrouded in secrecy."

The Woods case was originally filed before the execution, with Woods' attorneys seeking more information about the drugs that would be used. The execution was initially stayed by the Ninth Circuit, but then allowed to proceed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Arizona used a combination of the sedation drug midazolam and the opiate hydromorphone, which had been used in different dosages in another botched execution in Ohio.

When the execution process did not go to plan and Woods appeared to wake up from sedation, the state continued to give additional doses of both drugs while Woods gasped for air, eventually administering 13 times the planned dosage.

Between the administration of the first dose and Woods' time of death, 117 minutes elapsed.

After the execution, the lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles L. Ryan was amended to challenge the states' decision not only to use midazolam and hydromorphone, but also to deviate from its own execution protocols on the fly and to shut off the audio feed from the execution chamber, among other claims.

The broadened lawsuit took larger aim at Arizona's death penalty processes. The case focused on First Amendment claims challenging the secretive process, 8th Amendment claims alleging that the drugs used amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, and 14th Amendment claims regarding the way the execution protocols were carried out and modified.

It was at this point that the Federal Public Defenders, who represented Woods, reached out to Sidley to help with the new phase of litigation.

"We had worked with the Federal Public Defenders office over a lot of different litigation over a number of years," explained Joshua E. Anderson, a partner at the firm. That relationship made this a natural case for the firm to take on pro bono, he said.

For years, there had been problems with Arizona executions, Dale Baich with the Federal Public Defenders office told Law360.

It's something the Ninth Circuit itself also highlighted in one appeal during the Woods litigation, noting that members of the court had previously raised concerns with how Arizona had a pattern of deviating from its lethal injection protocols at the last minute and with the state's general "shroud of secrecy" over its executions.

Baich said, "With each execution, what happened is we got more evidence to show what the state was doing was either hurting our clients or somehow violating the law."

In addition to the challenges to the protocols and drugs themselves, the First Amendment piece of the lawsuit was also key, he explained.

"We wanted to make sure that whatever drugs are used, that the drugs are going to be effective and our clients won't suffer," he said. "But also from the public's perspective, the government is carrying out this profound act and citizens should be aware of everything that goes on in order to be able to hold the government accountable."

The 1st Amendment claims in the suit were initially dismissed by the district court, with the 8th and 14th Amendment claims moving forward. The attorneys eventually negotiated an agreement with the state that it would cease using the 2 drugs in question, and that if it violated the agreement, it would be on the hook for Sidley's attorney fees in the suit to that point.

"We wanted a mechanism by which we could ensure that they were going to live up to their obligations under that order even as administrations changed in the state," Anderson explained.

The attorneys also later negotiated an agreement limiting the ability to deviate from the established execution protocols. With the 8th and 14th Amendment claims thus dealt with, Sidley and the public defenders were then able to appeal the dismissal of the First Amendment claims.

In a precedential opinion in November, the Ninth Circuit refused to revive efforts to obtain more information about drug suppliers or about the qualifications of those performing the execution, but did revive the claims related to the execution audio.

"Execution witnesses need to be able to observe and report on the entire process so that the public can determine whether lethal injections are fairly and humanely administered," the court ruled. "Barring witnesses from hearing sounds after the insertion of intravenous lines means that the public will not have full information regarding the administration of lethal-injection drugs and the prisoner's experience as he dies."

Though the attorneys for Woods hailed the resolution of the case as a victory, the state of Arizona highlighted that the state was able to reserve the right to not reveal information about the identity of lethal injection drug suppliers.

"Anti-death penalty activists continue to file lawsuit after lawsuit, attacking the court system and seeking retaliation against companies lawfully supplying execution drugs," Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in a statement. "Meanwhile, the victims' families continue to suffer as justice is further delayed. Enough is enough. Justice demands that the law be enforced and that those convicted of the ultimate crimes be held accountable for their gruesome acts."

For Wedel, who was born and raised in Arizona, reaching the district court settlement ensuring audio access during executions was "very rewarding."

"It was meaningful for me to go back to my home state and make sure that they were following the constitution scrupulously, and to be involved in a case that really did effect real constitutional change," said Wedel.

Sidley, which has a long history of taking on litigation related to capital punishment, has since filed several cases making similar claims in other states.

Baich called the relationship with Sidley "a great partnership" and an important part of securing relief in the suit.

"We are death penalty lawyers," he explained. "We represent clients in habeas corpus proceedings. We're not experts when it comes to civil litigation."

The Woods case was Wedel's and Anderson's first foray into death penalty cases, and both said they were proud of the impact in Arizona, where the attorney general's office has said there are 115 inmates currently on death tow, including 20 who have fully exhausted their appeals.

"While this case was never about challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty writ large," Anderson said, "I think it is worth noting that, in addition to all of the specific relief that we have obtained, that in the state of Arizona there has not been an execution since Mr. Woods' execution."


CALIFORNIA----death row inmate dies

State prison official: San Quentin death-row convict dies in hospital of apparent COVID-19 complications----Coroner will determine cause of death later this week

A 48-year-old man convicted of murder and robbery died Sunday of apparent COVID-19 complications, state prison officials said.

Death-row inmate Orlando G. Romero had been receiving treated at an outside hospital, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials said. A coroner will pronounce an exact cause of death for Romero later this week.

Romero had been on death row since Sept. 4, 1996, a week after his Riverside County sentencing for 1st-degree murder and 2nd-degree robbery while armed with a firearm, as well as three life-with-parole sentences for attempted 1st-degree murder armed with a firearm, attempted 1st-degree murder with other offenses, and kidnapping/robbery while armed with a firearm and several robbery offenses.

Since June, several San Quentin prisoners have been sent to Bay Area medical centers for treatment in the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak that has sickened more than 1,000 prisoners.

In an ongoing campaign, protesters have sought support to ease the pandemic’s deadly impact within state prison facilities, not only on its inmates but also vulnerable staff members.

Romero was 1 of 715 people awaiting execution on California’s Death Row, though Gov. Gavin Newsom has effectively suspended the death penalty here.

(source: The Mercury News)


A Vast Racial Gap in Death Penalty Cases, New Study Finds----Defendants convicted of killing white people, the study found, were far more likely to be executed than the killers of Black people.

Black lives do not matter nearly as much as white ones when it comes to the death penalty, a new study has found. Building on data at the heart of a landmark 1987 Supreme Court decision, the study concluded that defendants convicted of killing white victims were executed at a rate 17 times greater than those convicted of killing Black victims.

There is little chance that the new findings would alter the current Supreme Court’s support for the death penalty. Its conservative majority has expressed impatience with efforts to block executions, and last month it issued a pair of 5-to-4 rulings in the middle of the night that allowed federal executions to resume after a 17-year hiatus.

But the court came within one vote of addressing racial bias in the administration of the death penalty in the 1987 decision, McCleskey v. Kemp. By a 5-to-4 vote, the court ruled that even solid statistical evidence of race discrimination in the capital justice system did not offend the Constitution.

The decision has not aged well.

In 1991, after he retired, Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., the author of the majority opinion, was asked whether there was any vote he would like to change.

“Yes,” he told his biographer. “McCleskey v. Kemp.”

One of the dissenters in the case, Justice John Paul Stevens, was still stewing over it after his own retirement in 2010.

“That the murder of Black victims is treated as less culpable than the murder of white victims provides a haunting reminder of once-prevalent Southern lynchings,” he wrote that year in The New York Review of Books.

Opponents of the death penalty have been deeply critical of the decision, comparing it to the Dred Scott case, the Supreme Court’s 1857 ruling that enslaved Black people were property and not citizens.

“McCleskey is the Dred Scott decision of our time,” Anthony G. Amsterdam, a law professor at New York University, said in a 2007 speech. “It is a declaration that African-American life has no value which white men are bound to respect. It is a decision for which our children’s children will reproach our generation and abhor the legal legacy we leave them.”

The McCleskey decision considered a study conducted by David C. Baldus, a law professor who died in 2011. It looked at death sentences rather than executions, and it made 2 basic points.

The 1st was that the race of the defendant does not predict the likelihood of a death sentence. The second was that the race of the victim does.

Killers of white people were more than 4 times as likely to be sentenced to death as killers of Black people, Professor Baldus found.

The new study, published in The Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, examined not only death sentences but also whether defendants sentenced to death were eventually executed. “The problematic sentencing disparity discovered by Baldus is exacerbated at the execution stage,” wrote the study’s authors, Scott Phillips and Justin Marceau of the University of Denver.

Professor Baldus’s study examined more than 2,000 murders in Georgia from 1973 to 1979, controlling for some 230 variables.

Though some have argued that Professor Baldus did not consider every possible variable, few question his bottom-line conclusion, and other studies have confirmed it.

In 1990, the General Accounting Office, now called the Government Accountability Office, reviewed 28 studies and determined that 23 of them found that the race of the victim influenced “the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving a death sentence.”

“This finding was remarkably consistent across data sets, states, data collection methods and analytic techniques,” the report said. A 2014 update came to a similar conclusion.

One factor Professor Baldus could not analyze, given the decades that often pass between sentencings and executions, was whether the race of the victim correlated to the likelihood of the defendant being put to death.

The new study, the product of exhaustive research, supplied the missing information. It found that 22 of the 972 defendants convicted of killing a white victim were executed, as compared with 2 of the 1,503 defendants convicted of killing a Black victim.

The new study also confirmed just how rare executions are. Of the 127 men sentenced to death in the Baldus study, 95 left death row thanks to judicial action or executive clemency; 5 died of natural causes; 1 was executed in another state; 1 escaped (and was soon beaten to death in a bar fight); and 1 remains on death row.

A more general and less granular 2017 study compared two sets of nationwide data: homicides from 1975 to 2005 and executions from 1976 to 2015. Its conclusions were similarly striking.

About 1/2 of the victims were white, that study found, but three-quarters of defendants put to death had killed a white person. About 46 percent of the victims were Black, but only 15 percent of defendants who were executed had killed a Black person.

Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra, said courts and lawmakers had failed to confront the question of racial bias in the administration of capital punishment.

“The continuing adherence of the Supreme Court to McCleskey is a continuing statement that Black lives do not matter,” he said. “The continuing failure of Congress and the state legislatures to remedy the situation is a continuing admission that the states are unable to run racially unbiased death penalty systems.”

Professor Phillips, one of the authors of the new study, said the issue was part of a broader societal struggle.

“It’s not necessarily that the death penalty has a race problem,” he said. “It’s more that the United States has a race problem that happens to infect the death penalty.”

(source: New York Times)


Blood in the Water----Disregarding the Virus and Victims’ Families, Trump Rushes to Execute as Many People as Possible

It was getting close to midnight at the Ford dealership on Route 41 in Terre Haute, Indiana, and there was no word yet on the execution. Half a dozen people sat hunched over their cellphones next to a hulking gray pickup truck, awash in the fluorescent lights flooding the lot. It was Monday night, July 13, and Daniel Lewis Lee had been scheduled to die at 4 p.m.

It would be the 1st federal execution in 17 years. The last time the U.S. government restarted executions after a long pause — killing Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in a newly constructed death chamber in 2001 — throngs of protesters and national press overwhelmed the city of 60,000. But this was a significantly smaller event. Some 20 protesters had gathered at the intersection in front of the dealership earlier that day. The street that cuts across Route 41, Springhill Drive, leads straight to the entrance of USP Terre Haute, a sprawling supermax prison across from a Dollar General. The demonstration included a contingent of Catholic nuns, Sisters of Providence, from the nearby Saint Mary-of-the-Woods congregation. They held signs, prompting honks, waves, and the occasional expletive from passing cars. “What about the victims?” one woman yelled.

But nearly 8 hours later, the intersection was quiet. Most of the protesters had gone home. Around 11 p.m., the son of the owner stopped by the lot; he’d gotten a call about vandals, which proved unfounded. “The dealership people have been really cool,” said Abe Bonowitz of Death Penalty Action as the man drove off. “The nuns buy their cars here,” he added.

In a cloth face mask that read “Abolish the Death Penalty,” Bonowitz refreshed the docket on the website of the U.S. Supreme Court. Following a flurry of litigation, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan had ordered a temporary stay earlier in the day based on evidence that the government’s execution protocol could cause a tortuous death in violation of the Eighth Amendment. “Eyewitness accounts of executions using pentobarbital describe inmates repeatedly gasping for breath or showing other signs of respiratory distress,” she wrote. The temporary injunction was intended to give the courts a chance to review this evidence, but the Department of Justice had appealed the ruling. With prison officials set to kill Lee as soon as they got a green light, there was nothing to do now but wait.

Adam Pinsker, a reporter for the Bloomington-based public broadcasting station WTIU, sat with the activists in the parking lot. In a suit, tie, and blue surgical mask, he was supposed to be witnessing the execution — one of eight journalists chosen for the task. After reporting to a makeshift media room at the FCC Terre Haute Training Center around mid-afternoon, he’d been driven in a white van to the penitentiary grounds, where he went through security and waited to be taken to the death house. Around 6 p.m., prison staff briefly let the reporters out to get something to eat at a nearby shopping mall. By 10 p.m., they were told they could leave again. Officials would notify them when it was time to come back.

Like the protesters, Pinsker was anxious for updates. Lee’s execution was the 1st of 3 scheduled to take place that week — and Pinsker was supposed to witness all of them. From the parking lot, he called a federal public defender to ask a question on everyone’s mind. In most states, a death warrant expires at midnight on the day of a scheduled execution. After that, a new date must be set. The lawyer told Pinsker that the same should be true here. The closer it got to 12 a.m., the less likely Lee would die that night.

Around 11:40 p.m., news finally reached the parking lot: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit had ruled against the Trump administration, leaving the preliminary injunction in place. The court set an expedited briefing schedule to resolve questions over the execution protocol toward the end of the month — it appeared that all three executions would remain on hold. By midnight, Bonowitz had posted a celebratory video on Facebook and started driving back home.

But at 2 a.m., an unexpected ruling came from the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the justices vacated the stay. “Please make your way back to the Media Center,” a Bureau of Prisons staffer texted a reporter with the Indianapolis Star, who was at a motel near the prison. “We will be resuming the execution at approximately 4 a.m.”

As the sun came up over the prison, lawyers on both sides were still fighting over Lee’s life. In a small, cramped room, the media witnesses sat for hours in plastic chairs facing 2 windows covered with shades. “We could hear birds chirping outside and occasionally muffled bits of conversation from other rooms in the building built specifically to carry out executions,” the Star reporter wrote. At 7:46 a.m., the shades finally opened, revealing Lee on the gurney, lying under a blue sheet.

I was on my way to the training center when Lee was pronounced dead at 8:07 a.m. on Tuesday morning. In the parking lot, a local journalist told me what had happened. The hours inside the prison had been long and disorienting, with very little information about what was going on, she said. But the wait was the longest for Lee. “He was strapped to the gurney for like 4 hours.”

Politics and the Pandemic

From the moment Donald Trump was elected in 2016, the question regarding federal executions was not whether they would return, but when. “We’ve been prepared for this since the beginning of the administration,” one veteran death penalty lawyer told me last summer, after Attorney General William Barr announced that the government would kill five men between December 2019 and January 2020.

Capital defense attorneys were able to beat back the plans for a while. Last November, Chutkan, the D.C. federal judge, blocked the first round of executions, ruling that they would violate the Federal Death Penalty Act, which says that federal executions must be carried out “in the manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence is imposed.” The execution protocol adopted by the Trump DOJ — a one-drug method using pentobarbital — did not exist when the law was passed. In December, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court, while signaling that it was merely a temporary delay. “I see no reason why the Court of Appeals should not be able to decide this case, one way or the other, within the next 60 days,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a statement joined by Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Then came the coronavirus. For most people, the looming return of federal executions was far from a central concern; by the time the appellate court vacated Chutkan’s preliminary injunction on April 7, the pandemic had killed more than 12,000 Americans. But if there were good reasons not to revive executions amid the pandemic, the Trump administration did not seem to care. On June 15, Barr announced new execution dates for four men: Daniel Lewis Lee, Wesley Ira Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken, and Keith Dwayne Nelson. The first three would take place in the same week, beginning July 13.

“If you are interested in the orderly administration of the law, you don’t set 3 executions for 5 days after not having done it for 17 years.”

There was never much doubt that Trump’s executions were driven by politics, part of his law-and-order posture entering an election year. The original dates had been announced at the height of the Russia investigation, prompting accusations that the president was seeking to distract Americans from his own malfeasance. Of course, capital punishment has always been weaponized by politicians of both parties. Bill Clinton, who vastly expanded the federal crimes punishable by death when he signed the Federal Death Penalty Act, famously witnessed the execution of Ricky Ray Rector in Arkansas as part of his 1992 reelection campaign.

Yet as Trump’s killing spree unfolded, it was chilling for its ruthlessness as much as its timing. “If you’re interested in carrying out the law, you don’t rush executions while a court is still determining whether your process is legal,” said Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center. “If you are interested in the orderly administration of the law, you don’t set three executions for five days after not having done it for 17 years.” Although the news out of Terre Haute would soon be eclipsed by images of camouflaged Customs and Border Protection officers descending on Portland, Oregon, the executions were yet another show of state violence staged to bolster the president’s image.

With a 4th execution already scheduled for late August, the DOJ last week announced three additional execution dates. More are rumored to be on the way. The next man set to die is Lezmond Mitchell, the only Native American on federal death row. As in Lee’s case, the family members of Mitchell’s victims have long opposed his execution, as does the Navajo Nation, where his crime took place. And as in Lee’s case, in which federal prosecutors were overruled by Washington when they sought to take the death penalty off the table, the U.S. attorney in Mitchell’s case declined to seek death only to be overruled by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The insistence on capital prosecutions in jurisdictions without the death penalty generated controversy at the time — a precursor to the federal government’s intrusion on states in the name of justice. But Trump’s push to execute as many people as possible amid a global pandemic is unprecedented. Attorneys for the men executed last month have decried the government’s conduct as lawless and cruel. It is bad enough that a ban on visitation forced sensitive legal discussions to take place over the phone rather than in person. In Lee’s case, attorneys working remotely were kept in the dark as the DOJ immediately issued a new execution notice after the original one expired at midnight.

Lee’s lawyer, Ruth Friedman, had planned to be in Terre Haute when he was given his original execution date last year. But the pandemic kept her at home. There was not enough information about the BOP’s planned precautions — one colleague had been told that they would not be allowed to bring their own N95 masks. The BOP did not respond to my questions about its Covid-19 protocol.

The executions were another show of state violence staged to bolster the president’s image.

“We were on the phone with Danny when he was taken out of his cell” in the early morning hours of July 14, Friedman said of Lee. She did not know his execution was imminent. It was only later that she learned he was lying on the gurney while his lawyers scrambled to stop prison officials from executing him before an order lifting a separate stay had been finalized. They were not even informed before the execution began. “I learned that he was executed from a tweet,” Friedman said.

But perhaps the most callous disregard was toward the very people the Trump administration claimed to be championing: the families of the victims. When Barr first announced that federal executions would resume, he said that “we owe it to the victims and their families.” But in Lee’s case, not only did numerous relatives of the victims oppose his execution from the start, they filed a lawsuit arguing that traveling to witness the execution posed a risk to their lives. Barr “paraded our pain and tragedy around by saying he was doing this for the ‘families of the victims,’” said Monica Veillette following Lee’s execution. Her 81-year-old grandmother, Earlene Peterson, a Trump supporter, said she felt betrayed.

Even for those families who support the executions, forcing them to come to Terre Haute amid a deadly pandemic belies claims that the federal government has their best interests at heart. With the Trump administration’s use of force under scrutiny during Barr’s appearance before Congress last week, it would have been a good opportunity to ask why the government is pushing so hard to carry out killings that could put more innocent lives at risk. As the Trump administration keeps setting new dates while virus cases in Indiana continue to rise, the question remains: Who are these executions for?

Nobody Knows What’s Coming

I arrived in Terre Haute on Saturday, two days before Lee was set to die. Apart from the intense summer heat, the city did not feel all that different from my last visit in December. The governor had not yet implemented a mask mandate, and gatherings as large as 250 people were allowed. Around Route 41, gyms were full, restaurants advertised dine-in service, and a scaled-back version of the Vigo County Fair was underway. Up the street from the penitentiary, a sign in front of Honey Creek Plaza read, “WE HAVE ALL REOPENED.”

Coronavirus cases were rising across Indiana in mid-July. The week after the executions, Vigo County recorded its highest single-week increase to date, which the local health department attributed to sleepovers, pool parties, and other gatherings. The 11 deaths to date include a 41-year-old firefighter and a man in his 50s incarcerated on a probation violation at the federal penitentiary.

With countless BOP personnel, U.S. Marshals, reporters, lawyers, and witnesses set to travel to Terre Haute from around the country for the executions, the risks were plain to see. That weekend, the local Tribune-Star published an editorial opposing the planned executions. “Most reasonable people, whether for or against capital punishment, would agree that postponing these executions until after the pandemic has ended makes sense. … The health of the families and workers involved, as well as the Terre Haute community, matters.” The Vigo County Health Department did not answer my emails inquiring about the potential impact of the federal executions.

On Sunday, I got a phone call from a man on federal death row. Billie Allen, 43, was convicted of a St. Louis bank robbery and murder in 1998, which he swears he didn’t commit. He lived through the last round of federal executions, beginning with McVeigh in 2001 and culminating with Louis Jones, a Gulf War veteran executed on the eve of the Iraq War in 2003. In an email on July 9, Allen described what it was like when someone was taken to the death watch range. “They show up at the cell door, without notice, and no warning,” he wrote. “They tell you to cuff up, and when you ask where you are going, you are met with no answer. But their no response says everything. You are going to see the Warden so that he can read you your death Warrant. That is what happened when they came to get my neighbor, and I haven’t seen him since.”

The neighbor was Wesley Purkey, the second man scheduled to die, on July 15. Allen was not close to him. But he echoed what the Trump administration itself has emphasized: that all the men being executed were convicted of murdering children. The point, Allen said, was to advance a narrative about everyone on death row. “Like we’re all child-killers.”

As our phone time ran out, Allen said the whole prison would soon go on lockdown. “Nobody knows what’s coming next,” he said. But “if this goes through, we believe it’s gonna be a slaughterhouse. They’re just gonna try to clear this place out.”

After I hung up, news broke that a prison staffer involved in preparations for the executions had tested positive for Covid-19. In a legal filing, the BOP admitted that the staffer had not always worn a mask during planning meetings but maintained that no one directly involved in carrying out the executions had been exposed. The killings would move forward as planned.

News broke that a prison staffer involved in preparations for the executions had tested positive for Covid-19.

Even before the pandemic raised serious questions about the executions, seeking basic information from the federal government was an exercise in futility. When I first inquired about the selection of media witnesses in September 2019, I was assured that information would be “forthcoming.” When I followed up in November, I was told “we are working on the plans for this and will be back with you as soon as possible.” With the execution dates a week away and no word from the BOP, I wrote back in December and was told that media witnesses had already been selected — “we are not able to accommodate additional media on institution property.”

This time around, I filled out a short online form to be a media witness. In an email a few weeks later, the BOP said it could not accommodate my request but would allow me to report to the FCC Training Center just north of the prison to cover the executions. Temperature checks would be required, and face masks would be issued, to be worn at all times. “Additionally, to the extent practical, social distancing of 6 feet should be exercised.” When I asked if we would be indoors or outdoors, I was told “you will be outside.”

There was no outdoor media area when I arrived at the training center. The small white building was marked by a sign commemorating the penitentiary’s 75th anniversary, with pink and red petunias planted at the doorway. After a woman in a face shield took my temperature, BOP spokesperson Jenna Epplin introduced herself to the handful of nonwitnessing press. “It is critical that we ensure the order and integrity of the process,” she said, then paused. “We’re not recording right now at all, are we?”

Epplin laid out where we were allowed to go. A pair of fenced enclosures had been reserved for the demonstrators, she said, and there were a couple of other outdoor areas designated for press. “All other areas are not authorized.” Confusingly, this included the press room set up in a ballroom a few feet away. Only witnessing reporters had access to the space. When I asked where we would get updates on the executions, Epplin said that the BOP would not be giving updates. When I asked how media witnesses had been chosen, I was told to email the question to the BOP.

If the aim was to dissuade all but a handful of reporters from attending by sending them to stand in a field with no access to information, the guidelines for protesters were designed to do the same. With all three executions originally scheduled for 8 a.m., the BOP initially instructed demonstrators on either side to report to one of two local parks between 4 and 5:30 a.m., after which buses would transport them to a field outside the prison. No phones or electronics would be allowed. After the executions were moved to 4 in the afternoon, demonstrators were told to report to the parks beginning at noon. Nobody came.

“He Took My Daughter’s Last Breath”

On Wednesday morning, an email arrived from the BOP with the subject, “Time Change — TODAY Scheduled Federal Execution.” Wesley Purkey would now be killed at 7 p.m., it said. “Please check your email periodically for any additional updates or changes.”

Of all the executions, Purkey’s was the one that seemed most likely to be blocked. That morning, Chutkan had granted a preliminary injunction based on substantial evidence that the 68-year-old had dementia, Alzheimer’s, and schizophrenia, which would render him incompetent for execution. That same day, attorneys filed an emergency motion opposing the DOJ’s attempts to lift the stay after discovering that the federal government had additional evidence of Purkey’s brain abnormalities but had not disclosed it to his legal team.

There were other, more familiar problems with Purkey’s case. Although there was no question of his guilt for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a 16-year-old girl named Jennifer Long, Purkey’s childhood had been marked by extreme trauma, which is common among people sent to death row. One forensic psychiatrist reported that Purkey had disclosed that his mother molested him when he was a child — “and it did not end until he was 22 years old.” At trial, prosecutors successfully dismissed these claims as a “fairytale,” even though a number of family members could have corroborated the allegations. A longtime friend named Peggy Noe also told attorneys later on that Purkey had divulged the abuse in a tearful conversation they had as teenagers.

Noe could have been a powerful witness for the defense at his trial. But she was never called. Purkey’s trial lawyer was a Kansas City defense attorney named Frederick Duchardt. A lengthy 2016 profile in the Guardian revealed Duchardt’s apparent hostility toward mitigation, the crucial and painstaking process of investigating a client’s history for any evidence that might be used to spare their life. In Purkey’s case, rather than hire a mitigation specialist, Duchardt took it upon himself to interview witnesses alongside an investigator who was a personal friend. In one affidavit, Purkey’s daughter described how the 2 had shown up unannounced to interview her on her wedding day.

Duchardt has defended his conduct in Purkey’s case. In an email, he wrote that the Guardian article “totally misrepresented my perspectives about the work” while relying on “accusations in post-conviction petitions” to which he has provided extensive answers. Indeed, Duchardt submitted a 117-page affidavit aggressively defending his conduct at trial. The move was not only unheard of among capital defense lawyers, who rely on ineffective assistance of counsel claims, but it undermined efforts to save his former client’s life.

“This sanitized murder really does not serve no purpose whatsoever.”

Noe died in 2014, but her daughter, Evette, remained in touch with Purkey. In a phone call last year, she said he was like a member of the family; he used to take care of her when she was little, even though he was always in and out of trouble. “I just wrote to him on and off all my life. He’s always encouraged me with everything I ever went through.” Evette Noe remembered her mother discussing the abuse Purkey had endured as a child. It did not excuse his horrific crimes — before being convicted for murdering Long, he’d confessed to murdering an 80-year-old woman. But the trauma and years of subsequent drug use had set him on a violent path.

In recent years, Noe sent Purkey books and Bibles, and he told her that he had become a Buddhist. As his execution date neared, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Trump administration on behalf of Purkey’s spiritual adviser, a Buddhist priest who had been ministering to Purkey for 11 years. The priest had lung problems; he sought a stay due to the risks posed by the coronavirus. But the lawsuit was rejected.

Despite the time change, Purkey’s execution went almost exactly like Lee’s. At 2:45 a.m., the Supreme Court again voted 5-4 to vacate the preliminary injunction, which had been upheld by the appellate court. His attorneys, working remotely, saw media witnesses tweeting that the execution would proceed, then rushed to file court challenges to keep officials from killing their client. In Terre Haute, four reporters who had watched Lee die just 24 hours earlier spent the whole night on the prison grounds alongside other media witnesses. This time, they were not allowed to leave for dinner. Prison staff provided peanuts and Lunchables.

Purkey was declared dead at 8:19 a.m. In his last statement, he apologized to Long’s family. “I deeply regret the pain and suffering I’ve caused Jennifer’s family,” he said, but added, “This sanitized murder really does not serve no purpose whatsoever.”

Shortly after the execution, three members of Long’s family entered the media center. They wore blue T-shirts with her picture on them. They were angry over Purkey’s final appeals, and the long wait for his execution. One relative said they had sat in a van for four hours while waiting on news from the courts.

“There’s monsters out there that need to be gotten rid of,” Long’s father said. “They need to be put down like the dogs they are. There’s no excuse for it.” He did not accept Purkey’s apology. To him, the statement was perfectly lucid, proof that Purkey’s supposed mental health issues were merely a delaying tactic. “He needed to take his last breath because he took my daughter’s last breath. There is no closure. There never will be because I won’t get my daughter back.”

“That Execution Did Nothing for Me”

Later that day, I met up with a Terre Haute resident named Lorie Kindred in Voorhees Park, the designated gathering spot for pro-death penalty demonstrators. Sitting on a park bench and wearing a blue face mask, she shared her own experience with the death penalty, which she does not talk about very often.

Kindred’s younger sister, Delores Wells, was abducted, tortured, and brutally murdered in 1987. It was one of Vigo County’s most famous crimes; the perpetrator, Bill Benefiel, was sentenced to death and executed in 2005 — one of 20 people executed in the state of Indiana since 1981.

“That execution did nothing for me,” Kindred said. “I didn’t feel one way or another about it.” But she became emotional talking about her mother, Marge Hagan, who died in 2016. The last time anti-death penalty activists descended on Terre Haute, Hagan and her husband had repeatedly faced off against the abolitionists, becoming the face of the pro-death penalty side. As Kindred recalled it, her mother was not a fervent believer in capital punishment, but she wanted to ensure that Benefiel and men like him could never hurt another person again. By the time his execution was carried out, Kindred said, “she had a lot of hate in her heart. And it changed her. But you know, the end result was she felt justice had been served. And that’s really all that mattered.”

Kindred still has survivor’s guilt over the death of her sister. “The last time I saw her was on my 25th birthday,” she said. “We were at my mom’s house and having cake and then she disappeared. She was abducted the next day.” When the trial came around, Kindred was struggling with drugs and alcohol; by the time Benefiel was set to be executed, she was sitting in a county jail, preparing to go to prison for the 1st time. But her public defender was able to get her a furlough to go with her family to Michigan City, where the execution would take place.

It was years later, while serving another prison sentence, that Kindred realized she needed to work through her trauma. In a counseling program, she confronted her feelings about her sister’s murderer. “I had to humanize him. I had to forgive him,” she said. “I never told my mom I did that. I felt like I’d be betraying her.”

Kindred doesn’t take sides on the death penalty now, although it bothers her that her sister’s grisly death is brought up every time capital punishment is back in the public eye. “I’m a proponent of second chances. And third chances,” she said. But “it’s not up to me to decide what anybody’s fate is. I wouldn’t want that task. I wouldn’t want to sit on a jury that had to decide that.”

Today, Kindred works as an addiction counselor in a prison 45 minutes outside Terre Haute. “I have my clients write an autobiography so that I can get to know them a little bit,” she said. “And I read three today that would just break your heart.” The cycles of violence, trauma, and addiction are so clear to her now. If she could redirect the resources poured into the executions that week, she said, she would spend them on mental health.

“This county is really not any different probably than any other county,” she said. “The opiate crisis is here, people are dying. We need to help the people that are still trying to fight to live.”

The Sharks Keep Coming

On my last day in Terre Haute, the protesters returned to the Ford dealership around 3 p.m., an hour before Dustin Honken was set to die. There was a sense of weariness, if not defeat. They were already planning to return in August for the next federal execution, including veteran abolitionist and Indiana native Bill Pelke, who had traveled from Alaska. “Sometimes all you can do is stand up and say it’s wrong,” he said.

Of the three men executed that week, Honken had the most blood on his hands. He was serving a 27-year prison sentence when he was tried and convicted for the death of five people, including two children, as part of a drug ring in Iowa in 2004. Although Iowa has not had the death penalty since 1965, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft brought federal charges, winning the first death sentence in the state in 40 years. Honken’s girlfriend, Angela Johnson, was also sentenced to death, but her sentence was later commuted to life without parole.

With few remaining legal avenues to pursue, Honken was executed on schedule. After he was declared dead at 4:36 p.m., the families of his victims released statements via the BOP. “Finally, justice is being done,” wrote the relatives of Lori, Kandace, and Amber Duncan. “It will bring a sense of closure but we will continue to live with their loss.”

Before leaving town, I spoke to Sister Betty Donoghue, who visited Honken on death row for 10 years. Donoghue never planned to befriend someone on death row. It was only after one of her fellow Sisters of Providence, Rita Clare Gerardot, had been a long-time visitor to another condemned man that Honken asked if there might be a sister who could visit him too. “And I was the lucky one,” Donoghue chuckled.

“One time he said to me, ‘You know, every man up here is a broken person.’”

Despite Honken’s horrific crime, Donoghue described him as a blessing in her life. In the years she got to know him, Donoghue saw Honken develop empathy for the other men on death row. The realization that so many had experienced trauma of some kind early in life was a profound discovery for him, she said. “One time he said to me, ‘You know, every man up here is a broken person.’”

Donoghue got to know Honken’s mother, as well as his daughter, Marvea Johnson, who was just a child when both her parents were sentenced to die. As Johnson grew older, she continued to visit her father on death row while spending time with the sisters at the Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods campus, a lush and peaceful place that used to host death-row families on the grounds. It was there that Johnson spent her father’s last moments.

When they said their goodbyes on the phone earlier that week, Honken told Donoghue how much it bothered him that Daniel Lewis Lee had been strapped to the gurney for hours before his death. “Danny and Dustin were very, very good friends,” Donoghue said. Like Honken’s loved ones, Lee’s family also visited him in Terre Haute over the years and got to know the Sisters of Providence. Before he died, Lee sent a letter to Gerardot, which she received after his execution. “I wanted to express my gratitude to you,” he wrote. “I still think of you ladies as beacons of light. In the coming days I have several visits with my family. I hope they have a chance to see you again.”

After returning home from Terre Haute, I got an email from Allen, Purkey’s neighbor on death row. The execution lockdown had been lifted. But the events were seared in his mind. “We all sat in our cells, many watching every news station that would report any and everything about the executions,” he wrote about the first night. The local news stations had the most detail, he said. “They made sure that with every segment, they highlighted the cases, and especially the crime’s details. But that’s to be expected when they are trying to tell people that it’s OK to kill another human being. They need people to feel that the human being isn’t a human being anymore.”

As the night wore on inside the prison, no one seemed to know what was happening, Allen wrote. “Even the officers could be overheard asking what was going on. It felt like a Black Ops operation, where they wanted to keep everything quiet. … I didn’t stay up all through the night to see what happened, but when I woke up the next morning, that’s when I learned that they had followed through with their first killing. We too learned that they kept Danny strapped to the gurney from the time they gave him his date until several hours until they executed him! Yes, he had to stay strapped down that entire time with a needle in his arm, people in the room waiting, looking at a clock, waiting to see if he was going to be killed! It then created a wave of conversations that made people really wonder who would be next and if they would have to go through the same thing. Because as they say. Once there’s blood in the water, the sharks keep coming.”



‘Death penalty!’: President Donald Trump comments on Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev decision

President Donald J. Trump commented on the decision by the U.S. Appeals Court to overturn the death sentence for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a tweet Sunday morning.

Trump posted an article about the decision on Twitter and stated, “Death penalty! He killed and badly wounded many. Justice!”

Death penalty! He killed and badly wounded many. Justice! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 2, 2020

Tsarnaev and his late older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, set off bombs during the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, killing 3 people and injuring hundreds.

The decision from the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ordered that a new jury must be empaneled and a new penalty-phase trial on whether Tsarnaev should receive the death penalty will take place.

The death sentence for Tsarnaev was vacated due to a judge’s error.

“And just to be crystal clear: Because we are affirming the convictions (excluding the three § 924(c) convictions) and the many life sentences imposed on those remaining counts (which Dzhokhar has not challenged), Dzhokhar will remain confined to prison for the rest of his life, with the only question remaining being whether the government will end his life by executing him,” read the decision written by Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Trump had called the decision “ridiculous” shortly after it was made.

Tsarnaev’s attorneys had argued it was unfair for the trial to be held in U.S. District Court in Boston because all of eastern Massachusetts was affected by the attack.



Trump calls for death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber after appeals court vacated death sentence

President Trump on Sunday called for the death penalty for the Boston Marathon bomber, just days after an appeals court overturned the death sentence.

“Rarely has anybody deserved the death penalty more than the Boston Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev,” Trump tweeted. “The court agreed that this ‘was one of the worst domestic terrorist attacks since the 9/11 atrocities’. Yet the appellate court tossed out the death sentence.”

“So many lives lost and ruined. The Federal Government must again seek the Death Penalty in a do-over of that chapter of the original trial. Our Country cannot let the appellate decision stand,” the president added. “Also, it is ridiculous that this process is taking so long!”

....and ruined. The Federal Government must again seek the Death Penalty in a do-over of that chapter of the original trial. Our Country cannot let the appellate decision stand. Also, it is ridiculous that this process is taking so long! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 2, 2020

A 3-judge panel from the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday overturned the death sentence for Tsarnaev, ruling that the U.S. district court did not properly vet jurors for potential bias. The ruling vacated only the death sentence, and the judges emphasized that Tsarnaev will not be leaving prison soon, if ever.

“Make no mistake: Dzhokhar will spend his remaining days locked up in prison, with the only matter remaining being whether he will die by execution,” the ruling stated.

The April 15, 2013, attack along the Boston Marathon route was perpetrated by Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. It killed three people and injured more than 260 others. Tamerlan Tsarnaev later died in a shootout with police.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death in 2015. He was convicted on 30 charges, including conspiracy and use of a weapon of mass destruction.



“Unflinching Support for Capital Punishment”

President Weah expressed how disturbed he was over the uncalled-for rise in rape and SGBV cases in Liberia and called for widespread actions across the country that will nip the crime in the bud … for those violating minors, President Weah declares

Barely 3 days after Rev. Dr. Simeon L. Dunbar, National Orator of this Year’s Independence Day celebration, joined Maj. Gen. Prince C. Johnson, III, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), requesting the government to reintroduce death penalty for rapists as a means of drastically reducing the harmful act against women and girls across Liberia, a press release from the Executive Mansion says that President George M. Weah has “disclosed his unflinching support for capital punishment for those violating minors”.

According to the BBC Ethics Guide, Capital punishment is the practice of executing someone as punishment for a specific crime after a proper legal trial. It can only be used by a state, so when non-state organizations speak of having ‘executed’ a person they have actually committed a murder.

It may be recalled that both Gen. Johnson and Rev. Dunbar, in separate statements, declared that because of the alarming number of rape cases involving minors, perpetrators should face capital punishment as a means to curtail the harmful act.

Rev. Dunbar used his platform as National Independence Day Orator, in the presence of President George M. Weah, the 54th legislature, government ministers, and Liberia’s international partners to call for the death penalty to be reintroduced for rapists.

According to an Executive Mansion’s release, President Weah at an arranged meeting on rape and other sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) crimes against women and girls across the country, vowed to act decisively against perpetrators and disclosed his unflinching support for capital punishment for those violating minors.

“With an increasing spike of rape and other sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) crimes against women and girls in the country, the President of Liberia, His Excellency Dr. George Manneh Weah, has stepped up his focus and attention to tackle the surging pandemic,” the release said.

Weah said as the Country’s Feminist-In-Chief, in recent years, and even during the COVID-19 situation, Liberia has seen an unprecedented spike in rape and other SGBV-related cases, something that has attracted his attention.

He, therefore, convened a meeting of line ministries of government and partners on SGBV affairs Wednesday, July 29, 2020, not only to discuss a way forward but also to give appropriate instructions that will get everyone fighting against the debilitating practice on the frontline.

During the meeting, President Weah expressed how disturbed he was over the uncalled-for rise in rape and SGBV cases in Liberia and called for widespread actions across the country that will nip to the bud the unacceptable frequency of sexual gender-based violence against women, including children as young as under 2 years.

“As President of Liberia, it is my responsibility to lead all efforts to address social and societal irregularities and threats that befall our people or any segment of it. I have stated frequently as Feminist-in-Chief that I have zero tolerance for Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, and I mean it,” the release quoted President Weah.

He instructed the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce to put into place a technical team that comprises relevant stakeholders who will regularly discuss, consult and provide concrete and enforceable roadmap on enhancing the fight against SGBV and to submit to him their findings as promptly as possible for decisive actions.

Geeplaye Nyenswah, a Political Activist, said he is fully in support of the death penalty for those that curly sexually abusing minors for reasons best known to them and damaging the future of those kids.

“I am to support the AFL Chief Staff General Prince C. Johnson statement calling for the death sentence to those who are rapists of infants. This is not good for our beloved country Liberia an amendment should be made in our rape law,” he expressed.

The Secretary-General of the Civil Society Human Rights Platform, Adama K. Dempster, has said that while it is true they are concerned about the high wave of reported rape cases and further molestations of women and girls, they are not in support of death penalty for those that sexually abuse women.

Dempster said given the nature of the role of the human rights community, they are working to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.

He recounted that on 22 July 2008, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, assented to a bill that amended the 1976 Penal Code by providing that death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole shall be imposed on an offender who, during the commission of the crimes of terrorism or hijacking or armed robbery, causes the death of his victim.

(source: Liberian Observer)


Gordon won’t give up death penalty bills

Sen. Richard Gordon won’t relinquish 10 pending bills on the death penalty to Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, who offered to chair a subcommittee panel to tackle the measures.

Gordon said Dela Rosa must follow clear-cut rules and debate on the death penalty bills within the Senate justice and human rights committee. The committee is chaired by Gordon.“No. We have rules. It’s clear that we are handling the committee on justice and human rights,” Gordon said over dzBB on Sunday.

“If he will say I am biased because I am against the death penalty, I will not give it to him since he is the one who is biased and aggressively for the death penalty,” he said.

Gordon said Dela Rosa should debate within the committee, of which the former Philippine National Police chief and death penalty advocate is a new member.

The Senate is scheduled to tackle on Monday Dela Rosa’s inclusion in the committee, and his suggestion to lead a subcommittee to tackle discussions on reviving the death penalty.

Dela Rosa got a seat in Gordon’s committee after Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian gave up his membership.

‘Why talk about this now?’ Gordon noted that the Senate could not just revive the death penalty issue because the Philippines is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1976.“I am curious. Why do we need to talk about this now? I mean, can you not disagree with the President? The priority is the people’s suffering and for us to fix the response, the stimulus package,” he said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, agreed that the COVID-19 response should be the priority at this time.

“I hope our colleagues in the Senate will think twice and realize that this is not the priority. COVID-19 is the problem, death penalty is the issue,” he said over dzRH.

Rep. Lito Atienza of the pro-life Buhay party-list on Sunday said the government should focus on saving lives from COVID-19 rather than killing convicts.



Dangerous Drugs Act overhaul proponents steer clear of death penalty issue

Authors of bills seeking to overhaul the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 agreed Monday not to reimpose the death penalty for serious drug offenses even as this was asked for by President Rodrigo Duterte in his State of the Nation Address.

The consensus came after Representatives Rufus Rodriguez (Independent, Cagayan de Oro City) and Rozzano Rufino Biazon (PDP-Laban, Muntinlupa City) objected to the motion to choose a bill containing a death penalty provision as the ‘mother bill’ to which their legislative proposals will be consolidated to.

In a technical working group meeting chaired by Ako Bicol Partylist Rep. Alfredo Garbin, the principal authors of several legislative measures agreed not to discuss any proposal to reimpose the death penalty but reached a consensus that this matter is best left for the Committee on Justice to discuss and decide upon.

Chaired by Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso III, the justice panel will meet Wednesday to start deliberations on pending measures reimposing the capital punishment.

The TWG of the Committee on Dangerous Drugs was deliberating on choosing House Bill 68 as the mother bill for the nearly a dozen legislative proposals, including those proposed by Rodriguez and Biazon, when the 2 solons declared their objection.

Rodriguez and Biazon said they would rather withdraw their respective bills than have it wrapped up with HB 68, a bill filed by Surigao del Norte Rep. Ace Barbers, chairman of the dangerous drugs panel.

HB 68 is a re-filed bill that had already been passed on 3rd and final reading during the 17th Congress but was not enacted into law.

Barbers stressed that what he proposed were amendments in the drug law which are vital in ensuring victory in the drug war.

He stressed that the bill does not contain a new provision proposing the death penalty for certain violations of the drug law.

“Nowhere in this bill do we propose the death penalty. Let us not discuss the death penalty in this bill,” said Barbers.

The penalty clause that included the phrase “life imprisonment to death” as the gravest penalty for drug offenses are already in the original law and was not sought to be amended.

This provision, however, was already deemed ineffective after Congress abolished the death penalty in 2006, or four years after the passage of the drugs law in 2002.

“I am not in favor of death penalty. I believe that at this time the death penalty will be very divisive and will be anti poor at this point when people are dying. Talk about the death penalty is inappropriate,” said Rodriguez as he declared the withrawal of HB 2765, a bill he authored.

Biazon told the TWG that he had filed a bill reimposing the death penalty for “high level drug trafficking.”

“But I have written the Committee on justice to have my bill excluded for certain reasons. I do not believe such divisive issue is timely,” he said.

According to Barbers the issue on the reimposition of the death sentence should be left to the justice panel.

“We are not proposing the death penalty at the moment,” he said.

(source: Manila Bulletin)


Samantha Jones: British woman who stabbed husband to death in Malaysia avoids death penalty----The 51-year-old was originally accused of murder and could have been hanged if she was found guilty.

A British woman who stabbed her husband to death in Malaysia has avoided the death penalty after her charge was reduced to "homicide not amounting to murder".

Samantha Jones was originally accused of murder and could have been hanged if she was found guilty.

However, she was sentenced to 42 months in jail on Monday after she pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of culpable homicide - meaning murder without intent.

Her defence lawyer had appealed to the attorney-general's office.

Jones, who is originally from Somerset, was charged after police found a 30cm (12in)-long blood-stained knife in the couple's home where John William Jones was found dead on 18 October 2018.

Her lawyer Sangeet Kaur Deo said after the hearing: "She is very relieved having come to terms with what happened that night and for the court ... to understand what happened that night. She didn't intend for this to happen."

The lawyer added the couple, who had been married for 17 years, were devoted to each other but Jones was struggling with her husband's violent behaviour.

Ms Kaur continued: "Unfortunately Samantha found herself at the receiving end of abuse.

"She supported John through various therapies to address certain problems that he had, none of which worked obviously, until that unfortunate night when things took a turn for the worst.

"She has accepted the fact that she needs to serve the sentence. She acknowledged the fact that a life is lost and I think she is looking forward to her own recovery because this was indeed a traumatising event for her."

Ms Kaur said Jones was also fined 10,000 ringgit (£1,815) in addition to the 42-month sentence, which starts from the date of her arrest in 2018.

The lawyer added Jones, who has spent 20 months in detention, could be released as early as the end of next year with one-third off the sentence for good behaviour.

Jones and her husband moved to the tropical Langkawi island more than a decade ago under the Malaysia My Second Home programme, which gives foreigners long-staying visas.

A conviction for murder carries a mandatory death sentence by hanging in Malaysia.

Execution is also a mandatory punishment in the country for drug-trafficking, treason and waging war against King Yang-di-Pertuan Agong, its constitutional monarch.

The only other Briton to be sentenced to death by hanging in Malaysia is Derrick Gregory, who was executed on 21 July 1989 for drug trafficking offences.



2 Gurdaspur boys facing death penalty in UAE return

3 more Punjab boys, who were facing death penalty in the UAE before they were rescued by Dubai-based philanthropist Surinder Pal Singh Oberoi after paying blood money, arrived at the Amritsar airport on Sunday morning.

Navneet Kumar and Hardeep Singh belong to Gurdaspur while Ajay Kumar hails from Nawanshahr.

The boys were a part of a group of 14 expatriates, including 12 from India and 2 from Pakistan, who were facing murder charges before being rescued by the construction magnate after paying Rs 75 lakh blood money to the kin of the victims.

According to Sarbat Da Bhala Charitable Trust run by Oberoi, a clash between 2 groups broke out in Sharjah on December 31 in 2015, in which 23-year-old Ashif Ali of Samrai town in Jalandhar district and 25-year-old Varinderpal Singh of Pandoori village of Kapurthala district were killed. All 14 youths were charged with the double murder and sent to jail in Dubai on January 1 in 2016.

“I approached Nirmal Singh, a relative of victim Varinderpal and apprised him of the pitiable situation of the family members of the accused,” he said. On May 21 in 2018, Oberoi took Nirmal Singh to the Dubai court and told the judge that the family members of the victims were ready for a “compromise”.

Oberoi said after getting a nod from the court, he handed over the blood money to the victims’families.



23 caught at Dong Nai drug party

Police found 23 partygoers aged between 18 and 32 indulging in banned substances in the southern Dong Nai Province on Sunday, despite social distancing requirements.

Police seized a pack of methamphetamine and ecstasy pills during a raid in Thong Nhat District of Dong Nai Province, where 23 out of 28 partygoers tested positive for banned substances.

The group said after a friend’s birthday party, they had visited the house of 22-year-old Do Tien Hung to indulge in narcotics.

Senior Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Hai Au, head of the Thong Nhat District Police Department, said the gathering was broken up to help contain the resurging Covid-19 threat while also maintaining order in the district.

Vietnam implements very strict measures against the production, trafficking and distribution of drugs, including the death penalty, though with little effect.

Since August 1, Dong Nai has shut down non-essential services like karaokes, bars, clubs and limited gatherings due to the new outbreak of Covid-19 in July.

The province has recorded one Covid-19 case, a 50-year-old woman who returned from Da Nang, the country’s current Covid-19 hotspot.



IHC directs federation to recontact India for Kulbhushan Jadhav's lawyer -- Bench headed by IHC CJ Athar conducted proceedings on govt's plea regarding Kulbhushan matter.

Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday has directed the government to recontact India for appointment of legal representative for spy and agent of intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) Kulbhushan Jadhav.

During the proceedings, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah asked the attorney general to brief the court about history of the case.

The CJ said that we want to make Indian government and Kulbhushan part of the case over which, the federation has assured to again approach the neighboring country through foreign office for hiring of lawyer for the spy.

Subsequently, the hearing has been adjourned till September 3 after attorney general sought 2 to 3 weeks time from the court.

Earlier on July 22, 2020, the government had moved the court stating that Kulbhushan, who was involved in several terrorist activities in Pakistan, had refused to file plea against his sentence. The agent cannot appoint lawyer in Pakistan without assistance from India, it read.

On July 2, 2020, Pakistan had decided to grant 3rd consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav following his refusal to file review petition against his sentence.

On July 16, 2020, Indian Charge d’affaires reached the Foreign Office as New Delhi accepted Pakistan’s offer to give second consular access to Jadhav. The place where the agent was kept had been declared as sub-jail.

Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui said first consular access under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963 was earlier provided by Pakistan on 2nd September last year. She said the mother and wife of commander Jadhav were also allowed to meet him on December 25, 2017.

Aisha Farooqui said 2 consular officers of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad were provided unimpeded and uninterrupted consular access to Commander Jadhav.

ICJ rejects Indian plea for Jadhav’s release

On July 17, 2019, the ICJ had rejected remedies sought by India, including annulment of military court decision convicting Kulbhushan Jadhav, his release and safe passage to India.

Announcing the verdict Judge Abdulqavi Ahmed Yousaf told Pakistan to review the death sentence for an alleged Indian spy, saying Islamabad violated his rights to consular visits.

The court, in its verdict, rejected a number of Indian demands including annulment of military court decision convicting Jadhav, his release and safe passage to India.

The ICJ found that Pakistan deprived India of the right to communicate with and have access to Kulbhushan Jadhav, to visit him in detention and to arrange for his legal representation, and thereby breached obligations incumbent upon it under Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

The tribunal in The Hague ordered an "effective review and reconsideration of the conviction and sentence of Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav".

The judge remarked that Pakistan and India are signatories of the Vienna Convention.

"A continued stay of execution constitutes an indispensable condition for the effective review and reconsideration of the conviction and sentence of Mr Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav," it ruled.

The court while finding Jadhav guilty of committing terrorist activities inside Pakistan, ordered that the Indian spy cannot be handed over to India. Kulbhushan will remain in Pakistan’s custody, it ruled.

Pakistani team headed by the attorney general was present in the courtroom. The team also included then Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Muhammad Faisal.

Jadhav’s confession and trial

Government arrested Jadhav alias Hussein Mubarak Patel in the province of Balochistan on charges of terrorism and spying for India‘s intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

The government stated that he was a serving commander in the Indian Navy who was involved in subversive activities inside Pakistan and was arrested on March 3, 2016 during a counter-intelligence operation in Mashkel, Balochistan. The Indian government recognized Jadhav as a former naval officer but denied any current links with him and maintained that he took premature retirement and was abducted from Iran.

On March 25, 2016, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) released the confessional statement of Jadhav where he claimed to be a serving Indian Navy officer.

"By 2002, I commenced intelligence operations. In 2003, I established a small business in Chabahar in Iran," he admitted. "As I was able to achieve undetected existence and visits to Karachi in 2003 and 2004. Having done some basic assignments within India for RAW, I was picked up by RAW in 2013 end".

He said his purpose was to meet Baloch insurgents and carry out "activities with their collaboration".

On April 8, 2017, ISPR lodged a first information report (FIR) against him whereas on April 11, 2017, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa had confirmed death sentence of Jadhav who was tried through Field General Court Martial (FGCM) under Pakistan Army Act (PAA). He was tried under section 59 of Pakistan Army Act (PAA) 1952 and Section III of official Secret Act of 1923.

FGCM found Kulbushan SudhirYadhav guilty of all the charges. He confessed before a Magistrate and the Court that he was tasked by RAW to plan, coordinate and organize espionage and sabotage activities aiming to destabilize and wage war against Pakistan by impeding the efforts of Law Enforcement Agencies for restoring peace in Balochistan and Karachi.

On May 8, 2017, India approached the ICJ against Pakistan for denying consular access to Jadhav.

On May 18, 2017, the ICJ stayed the execution pending the final judgment on the case and even on July 13, 2018, ICJ stayed Kulbhushan Jadhav’s execution in Pakistan.

On June 22, 2017, Jadhav gave a second confessional statement where he confessed to carrying out subversive activities in Balochistan.

On Feb 22, 2019, ICJ reserved its judgment in Jadhav case whereas they are going to rule the verdict today on July 17, 2019.



53 pregnant women, 477 teenagers under 18 executed within 2 years----Speech by Fereshteh Akhlaghi, one of the officials of the PMOI Research Unit on Martyrs of the Iranian Resistance, to the Call-for-Justice Conference at Ashraf 3

My name is Fereshteh Akhlaghi. I have been working in the PMOI Research Unit on Martyrs of the Iranian Resistance for over 27 years.

Most of you have visited the Exhibition held at Ashraf 3 and expressed the overpowering impact it had on you. What I would like to say is that this exhibition is only a drop from an ocean, particularly that it was set up within a short period with the efforts of my brothers and sisters.

And now I would like to enumerate a few examples of the atrocities taken place in prisons in Iran.

Executions of young teenagers

Within just 2 years, 477 youths under the age of 18 were executed, including two 11-year-olds and three 12-year-olds. Two of them were identified as Seyed Mehdi Tabatabaii from Tehran and Mehrdad Fadayee-nia from Masjed Solaiman.

Eight 13-year-old teenagers were executed, including Fatemeh Mesbah from Tehran, Hassan Dehghan and Ali Ghasemzadeh from Torbat Heydariyeh.

Nineteen 14-year-old teenagers are among those executed, including Ramezan-Ali Burkhaili from Qa’emshahr, Nasser Behrazi from Mashhad, Vahid Rajabi from Tehran, Massoud Rabii from Isfahan, and Fatemeh Safaiyan from Shiraz.

There were 32 executions of 15, 16 and 17 year olds. Maryam Gholizadeh from Tabriz and Hamed Kazemi Bahri from Langrood were 15 years old.

Executions of 53 pregnant women

Also during this time, 53 pregnant women from among members of the Mojahedin (PMOI/MEK) were executed.

Leila Abu Ahrar Shirazi, 22, was a psychology student at Shiraz University. Assadollah Lajevardi[1] summoned Leila 5 days after the execution of her husband, Mohammad Hadi Alami. He told her, “We have executed your husband. Now for you to save yourself, you go to the recording room and give an interview so we can consider mitigating your sentence.” But Leila angrily shouted out, “Never!” And spat on his face.

Sorayya Abolfat’hi, a 20-year-old student from the University of Tabriz, upon return from her court hearing, told her inmates, “When the executioner Mousavi Tabrizi insulted Massoud Rajavi, I slapped him in the face so hard that I think I set a record and they will surely execute me tonight.”

Mokaram Poor-Reza was a teacher with a BA from Roudsar. After the execution of her husband, Mehdi Zabihian, she was executed by the firing squads while she was 7 months pregnant.

Tahereh (Zainab) Habibi Fard, 20, was arrested along with her husband, Javad Shahin. In two weeks, the couple had been tortured so much that they could not recognize each other when they were confronted.

Taherah was executed in Shiraz while she was 6 months pregnant and her tortured body was abandoned in front of their home. Taherah’s mother suffered a stroke upon seeing her daughter’s corpse, and she died along with her daughter.

Massoumeh Azdanlu, 23, was an engineering student at the University of Science and Technology. She was subjected to brutal torture after her arrest and was executed while pregnant.

Executed mothers over 50 years of age

A number of PMOI women, mostly over the age of 50, were also among those executed by the mullahs’ regime.

Fakhri Haj Daei was the mother of Mohammad Hassan and Mohammad Jafar Mannani, and the grandmother of Rahman Manani (who was killed in the 2013 massacre in Ashraf, Iraq). She was martyred in Tehran under torture in September 1982.

Malek Taj Hakimi or mother Sharifian, 55, had 3 children. The mother’s fingers were cut off under brutal torture and she lost her sight and hearing. It is noteworthy that her son Hossein Sharifian was executed before her.

Effat os-Sadat Khalifeh Soltani or mother Shafaii from Isfahan, was the wife of martyred Mojahed, Dr. Morteza Shafaii, and the mother of martyred Mojahedin Javad, Maryam and Majid Shafaii. Before her execution she had said, “I am proud to give my entire being for this path.”

Shoghra Davari, or mother Shayesteh, had 8 children. Her daughter, Fatemeh Shayesteh, was executed before her and her bloody clothes were thrown into her cell in prison, but her faith did not weaken. Mother Shayesteh was hanged in the courtyard of Mashhad Prison with her son and 17 others.

Massoumeh Shadmani or mother Kabiri, 50, was a political prisoner during the Shah’s dictatorship. With her very strong and resistant spirit, she had infuriated and weakened the regime’s forces. Mother Kabiri was killed under torture in January 1982.

I am certain that there will no longer be a trace of execution and torture in the free Iran of tomorrow.

Thank you for the opportunity you gave me.

[1] Assadollah Lajevardi was notorious as the “butcher of Evin.” He invented many vicious torture methods and personally raped female political prisoners. He was also among the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre in Iran.


AUGUST 2, 2020:


Oklahoma Pardon and Parole chief resigns after alleged threat from board member

Pardon and Parole Board Executive Director Steve Bickley has resigned in a letter to the board in which he said he had been threatened for doing his job.

Bickley on Friday confirmed he has resigned effective Aug. 7. He declined to comment further.

Bickley took several days off after member Allen McCall, a retired judge, sent him an email accusing him of injecting anti-death penalty options on the board.

McCall, appointed by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, told Bickley in the email, "Shame on you for the underhanded and deceitful way you have used your position to impose your personal beliefs on your staff and our Board."

McCall in the email said he would move for Bickley's termination and asked to appear before the state's multicounty grand jury to present evidence of multiple violations of law by Bickley and others.

McCall could not be reached for comment.

"While I have found public service very fulfilling, I cannot tolerate my current work environment," Bickley wrote Wednesday in an email to Pardon and Parole Board administrators. "Policy disagreements have turned into personal attacks rather than public discussion."

Bickley wrote that board members are actively seeking to create conflict between himself and staff.

"I have been threatened for doing my job," Bickley wrote.

"It is my sincere hope these issues are alleviated before the next executive director takes his or her post," Bickley wrote. "I wish the board, the agency, and staff well."

Bickley was tapped in July 2019 to head the agency. He served as an executive for the Museum of the Bible and is a former telecommunications executive.

"I support Steve Bickley and his work over the last year," Pardon and Parole Board Member Adam Luck posted on social media. "He and his team helped oversee the largest commutation in US history, dealt with a 118 % increase in cases, and ensured continuity of our work in the midst of a pandemic while many other state boards postponed meetings."

Luck said Bickley's performance was outstanding.

"I understand his reasons for resigning and also find it hard to imagine working in the environment created by this situation," Luck wrote.

He said the situation and implications for the standard of conduct acceptable for board members was "shocking."

Pardon and Parole Board Chairman Robert Gilliland said the board this month is expected to vote on a resolution expressing appreciation for Bickley's service, adding that he has no doubt it will pass.

Bickley initially told the board that he could only commit to 90 days as executive director, but stayed for over a year, Gilliland said.

"By and large, he had unwavering support of a majority of board members," Gilliland said.

Board member Larry Morris was appointed by the Court of Criminal Appeals while Luck, Gilliland and Kelly Doyle were appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt.

The governor said Bickley's leadership of the Pardon and Parole Board had brought "transformational change and momentum" that was "invaluable in helping us move the needle in public safety and criminal justice reform in Oklahoma." He pointed to statistics that show over the past year the state's inmate population has dropped 13%, while crime and recidivism rates also declined.

"This data shows that Director Bickley successfully led his team to execute on the mission and vision of the Board by making our state a safer place to live, while also offering our fellow Oklahomans a 2nd chance and saving taxpayers over $50 million in the process," Stitt said in a prepared statement.

(source: Tulsa World)


House to revive death penalty hearings this week

The House committee on justice is set to begin debates on the return of the death penalty for certain heinous crimes on Wednesday, August 5.

The House panel scheduled the hearing for at least 12 death penalty bills filed in the lower chamber less than 2 weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte once again asked lawmakers to reinstate capital punishment via lethal injection for drug-related crimes in his 5th State of the Nation Address on July 27.

House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez already promised “thorough” debates on possibly sentencing drug convicts to death – signaling the leadership’s decision to hold these controversial hearings right in the middle of the coronavirus crisis. (READ: Duterte’s fight vs oligarchs, death penalty bill to distract Congress during pandemic)

Pro-death penalty bill legislators believe the return of the death penalty will not only be a way to exact payment from criminals, but supposedly also deter people from committing heinous crimes.

Surigao del Norte 2nd District Representative Robert Ace Barbers, a principal author, already slammed critics of the death penalty bill over their “clamor for the human rights of offenders.”

“Unfortunately, while they talk about the human rights of the offenders, they remarkably skip talking about and defending the human rights of the victims,” Barbers said in a statement on July 31.

Barbers also disregarded the international treaties the Philippines have earlier ratified prohibiting the death penalty’s return once the legislation is already repealed. These are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the 2 Optional Protocols.

“No country can dictate on another on how to run its affairs. No amount of treaties and international agreements can take away the inherent right of one nation to govern within its territory, over its people. Last time I checked too, this is called sovereignty. That is why we have our own Constitution – and it allows death penalty,” Barbers said.

Capital punishment was abolished in 2006 under the presidency of former House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a trusted ally of Duterte.

This is not the first time the House pushed for the death penalty under the Duterte presidency. In 2017, the lower chamber green-lighted the bill punishing drug-related crimes with death, but the measure was dead on arrival at the Senate.

Another uphill climb?

But much like in 2017, it will be another uphill climb for the death penalty bills in Congress – even it is dominated by Duterte allies.

Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman, one of the lawmakers who staunchly fought against the death penalty revival 3 years ago, once again slammed the proposal.

The veteran lawyer turned lawmaker said the measure is an “affront to human dignity,” arguing there is no available empirical data proving the claim that capital punishment would stop criminals from committing heinous crimes.

Lagman also said reviving capital punishment would only worsen the culture of impunity in Duterte’s bloody drug war, where thousands of drug suspects have been killed in legitimate police operations and vigilante-style killings.

“The death penalty desecrates the right to life which is sacrosanct and inviolable, and it is an affront to human dignity… The death penalty exacerbates the culture of violence and its revival adds to the unabated extrajudicial killings consequent to the Duterte administration’s deadly campaign against the drug menace,” Lagman said in a statement on July 31.

Muntinlupa Representative Ruffy Biazon – the first to file a death penalty bill in the current 18th Congress – also believes it is not the right time to pursue the measure.

He said the government should first focus on strengthening evidence-gathering of law enforcement before thinking about the death penalty's return.

“I filed a bill, HB (House Bill) 5408, proposing the establishment of single-party recording in pursuing against drug traffickers. In the United States, this is a widely used tool in the fight against drug trafficking which led to high number of arrests and high percentage of successful prosecution,” Biazon said on August 1.

“The penalty is important. But even before the penalty, a successful prosecution is much more important,” he added .

Senate President Vicente Sotto III already said the death penalty bills would pass only if the punishment is reserved for drug lords.

Senator Nancy Binay also said Congress is in no business of talking about the death penalty now that Filipinos are still dying of COVID-19.

Confirmed cases are steadily surging in the country, with the Philippines tallying over 98,000 COVID-19 cases so far. Experts estimate the numbers may go as high as 150,000 by end of August if quarantine measures are not properly implemented.



Atienza to Duterte: Concentrate on saving lives, not death penalty

Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza on Sunday issued a “polite rejoinder” to President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for Congress to revive capital punishment for heinous crimes.

“The government should concentrate on saving lives and quelling the coronavirus pandemic now and allow the next administration to worry about the proposal to bring back the death penalty,” the former Manila mayor said.

“We’re now in the middle of a public health disaster that has already demolished the livelihood and jobs of millions of Filipinos,” Atienza said.

“Both Malacañang and Congress should focus on suppressing COVID-19, stabilizing a dangerously teetering economy and recovering lost jobs, instead of wasting time on the death penalty,” he said.

Atienza urged Malacañang to give up on reintroducing the extreme punishment, calling it “an exercise in futility.”

“First of all, Congress realistically lacks the time to work on the death penalty,” Atienza said.

“Secondly, in less than 22 months, we will be electing a new president and a new Congress, so we might as well let the next administration worry about the highly divisive proposal,” Atienza said.

“Thirdly, even assuming Congress reinstates the death penalty tomorrow, the President still won’t see any judicial executions being carried out for the remainder of his term,” Atienza said.

The last time Congress passed a law reimposing capital punishment in 1993, the 1st death verdict was not carried out until 1999, or until six years later, due to legal challenges and mandatory reviews, Atienza pointed out.

Instead of renewing death sentences, Atienza pressed for wide-ranging reforms in the criminal justice system.

He cited the need to stamp out rampant corruption in law enforcement, the prosecution service, the judiciary, and in prisons.

“We have to ensure that every felon is apprehended, prosecuted, convicted and locked up. This is our best strategy to fight crime – to discourage other would-be offenders,” Atienza said.



Let next administration worry about death penalty –Atienza

An independent House member thinks it is better to just let the next administration tackle the sensitive topic that is the reimposition of death penalty.

“The government should concentrate on saving lives and quelling the coronavirus pandemic now and allow the next administration to worry about the proposal to bring back the death penalty,” BUHAY Party-List Rep. Lito Atienza said in a statement Sunday.

“We’re now in the middle of a public health disaster that has already demolished the livelihood and jobs of millions of Filipinos,” stressed Atienza, a former 3-term mayor of Manila.

In his State of the Nation Address (SoNA) before a joint session of Congress last July 24, President Duterte called on legislators to revive capital punishment on certain crimes under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drug Act of 2002.

Atienza made his call even as the thousands of daily new infections from the incurable disease threaten to overwhelm the country’s health care system.

The pro-life solon described the pursuit of death penalty as an “exercise in futility” given the current circumstances.

“First of all, Congress realistically lacks the time to work on the death penalty. Second, in less than 22 months, we will be electing a new president and a new Congress, so we might as well let the next administration worry about the highly divisive proposal,” Atienza said.

“Third, even assuming Congress reinstates the death penalty tomorrow, the President still won’t see any judicial executions being carried out for the remainder of his term,” he said. Duterte will finish his 6-year term in 2022.

The last time Congress passed a law reimposing capital punishment in 1993, the 1st death verdict was not carried out until 1999, or until 6 years later, due to legal challenges and mandatory reviews, Atienza pointed out.

A death penalty bill was actually passed by the House on third and final reading during the previous 17th Congress. However, the measure faced a roadblock in the Senate and was not taken up.

(source: Manila Bulletin)

AUGUST 1, 2020:


Investigation Exposes History of Misconduct by Leading South Georgia Homicide Prosecutor in Death Penalty Cases

A prominent South Georgia prosecutor, lauded for his success in capital prosecutions, has a history of misconduct in those cases, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigative report has disclosed. Longtime Brunswick Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney John B. Johnson III, who joined the five-county prosecutor’s office in 1977, “has a dark legacy of problem cases,” the paper reports, including repeatedly withholding evidence from the defense in death penalty cases.

The investigative report was published two weeks after a Glynn County court overturned the conviction of Dennis Perry of the murders of 2 African-American churchgoers during a bible study class in 1985. Johnson had capitally prosecuted Perry even after the lead investigators in the case had determined he could not have been at the church at the time of the murders. Johnson presented testimony from the mother of Perry’s ex-girlfriend, claiming he had told her he planned to kill one of the victims. Johnson withheld evidence from the defense that the witness was to receive $12,000 in reward money for her testimony. New DNA evidence implicates an alternate suspect, a white man who, the Journal-Constitution investigation showed, had bragged that he had killed 2 ni****rs and had manufactured a false alibi for the murders.

Johnson fought to prevent Perry from receiving a hearing on his appeal and then to delay the hearing, arguing that Perry had waived his appeals in exchange for Johnson dropping the death penalty after the conviction. Johnson — who the Journal-Constitution reported once said he was “‘directed by God’ to try cases and send criminals to prison” — said of Perry’s appeal, “I don’t care what anybody else says. A defendant agreed to not appeal, and we’re supposed to just roll over? No, our obligation is to investigate and to oppose the motion because we had an agreement.” The court freed Perry July 23, 2020, pending the prosecutor’s a decision on whether to attempt to retry him.

The Journal-Constitution report detailed numerous instances in which Johnson — whom the state prosecutors association once named the top assistant district attorney in the state — had withheld key physical evidence and failed to inform the defense about benefits witnesses received for their testimony. Brian Kammer, a professor at Mercer University School of Law and a former director of the Georgia Death Penalty Resource Center, said that “the Brunswick Judicial Circuit has been terribly ill-served by Johnson’s brazen misconduct, yet he is astonishingly still employed.”

In a statement, District Attorney Jackie Johnson defended her chief deputy, claiming that “John has done more for victims of violent crime and public safety than anyone in South Georgia.”

One of the defendants Johnson prosecuted, Jimmy Meders, came within hours of execution in January 2020 before the Georgia parole board granted him clemency. Meders was convicted of armed robbery and murder in 1989 and sentenced to death. Meders steadfastly maintained his innocence, testifying that the murder was actually committed by the prosecution’s key witness, Bill Arnold.

Meders told police that he and Arnold had been together in the hours preceding the murder and that Arnold had fired Meders’ weapon into trucks at 2 separate locations. Arnold denied ever handling Meders’ gun. Johnson, who was aware of these claims, failed to report to the judge and jury that witnesses at each of the locations where Arnold had allegedly fired shots had called 911 to report the incident. Jurors specifically asked the judge during deliberations whether or not there were police reports filed about the gunfire. When asked about his decision to conceal the police reports, Johnson noted that “obviously, from the question, it was important to the jury. But the question is whether it was important to me and the answer is no.”

During the appeals process, Meders sought DNA testing of the gun to establish the identity of the shooter. Georgia prosecutors opposed his motion and the courts refused to authorize the testing.

Johnson also committed misconduct in the capital trial of Larry Jenkins, a then-17-year old boy who was sentenced to death in 1998 for the murders of a local laundromat owner and his son. In that case, Johnson failed to disclose that the star witness in his case had given statements to police that contradicted her trial testimony — including that she didn’t recognize the person whom she saw drop the murder weapon. The prosecution also unlawfully withheld from the defense evidence that implicated another suspect. In 2005, a DeKalb County judge found that the prosecution had “committed intentional misconduct” and granted Jenkins a new trial.

A “full spectrum of prosecutorial misconduct” by Johnson led to the wrongful conviction of Georgia death-row exoneree Lawrence William (Larry) Lee. No physical evidence implicated Lee in the 1986 murders of Clifford, Nina, and Jerold Jones. Nonetheless, Johnson obtained a conviction and death sentence based upon what the Butts County Superior Court later described as “a weak prosecution case dependent for its success on the believability of 2 witnesses unfavored in the law and by the public — a jailhouse snitch and a co-conspirator.” The court found that the prosecution lied to the defense and the court that it had no exculpatory evidence in its files, while concealing evidence that contradicted the testimony or undermined the credibility of each of its key witnesses.

The prosecution also unconstitutionally denied the defense access to the physical evidence and then presented evidence and argument it knew to be false that misled the jury into believing that Lee had been in possession of guns stolen from the victims’ home. The prosecution also concealed evidence that linked 2 other suspects to the murders and subsequently lost or destroyed 47 latent fingerprints and 15 unknown hairs recovered from the scene that did not match Lee.

One of the key pieces of evidence was a rug from the family room of the Jones’ home that could have been tested for forensic evidence. An August 1999 memo signed by Johnson instructed the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to destroy the rug, adding “even if the case were to have to be retried, I would not expect this item to be introduced into evidence or needed.” He later gave sworn testimony claiming he had not instructed the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to destroy any of the evidence in Lee’s case.

“John has been the big dog of the field” in the Brunswick Judicial District prosecutor’s office, said local defense lawyer, Newell Hamilton, who defended three capital cases against Johnson. “He’s extremely effective in a courtroom. … But nobody really had any control over him. I don’t know how he was allowed to stay and keep up with his shenanigans.”

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)


No new trial for Mississippi man convicted of killing 8

A Mississippi man convicted this year in the 2017 killings of 8 people appeared in court this week and asked for a new trial. A judge denied the request, saying he will issue a written ruling later.

Willie Cory Godbolt, now 38, was convicted in February of 4 counts of murder and 4 counts of capital murder. He received a sentence of life in prison for each murder conviction and a death sentence for each capital murder conviction. Mississippi defines capital murder as a killing committed along with another felony.

On Wednesday, Lincoln County Circuit Judge David Strong heard arguments from Godbolt, his attorneys and prosecutors about whether to grant a new trial, the Daily Leader reported.

Investigators said that on May 27, 2017, Godbolt went to his in-laws' home and argued with his estranged wife about their children. A Lincoln County deputy sheriff, Godbolt's mother-in-law and 2 other people were killed there. In the early hours of the next day, 2 young people were killed in a 2nd house and a married couple was killed in a 3rd house.

Just before he was sentenced on Feb. 27, Godbolt spoke in court and blamed the devil for his actions on the night he killed 8 people in the south Mississippi towns of Brookhaven and Bogue Chitto.

Godbolt is on death row at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, and he was taken from there to Brookhaven for the Wednesday hearing.

One of Godbolt's attorneys, Alison Steiner, argued Wednesday that the judge "erroneously" allowed the trial's original schedule to proceed, even though the defense team had several changes that made it difficult to provide an adequate defense. Assistant District Attorney Brendon Adams argued there was time to prepare, and the judge agreed.

Steiner also argued that Godbolt should not have had a single trial that combined all the charges. Strong responded that the evidence overlapped and that all the crimes were committed in one sequence of assaults punctuated only by armed robbery and Godbolt riding around talking.

"The physical evidence, circumstantial evidence and direct evidence was so overwhelming that severance was not appropriate," Strong said.

Godbolt himself spoke for 15 minutes Wednesday, arguing that jurors should not have been allowed to see video of an interview that a reporter did with him as he was being arrested. He also argued that his wife should not have been allowed to testify against him during his trial, when their divorce was not yet complete.

Strong said that based on oral arguments, he would deny the request for a new trial. He said he would review documents before issuing a written ruling.


Judge tapped for trial in killing of 2 Mississippi officers

A retired judge will preside over the capital murder trial of a man charged in the 2018 shooting deaths of 2 Mississippi police officers.

Judge Richard W. McKenzie of Hattiesburg was appointed Thursday by Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Randolph. 2 circuit judges, Michael M. Taylor and David H. Strong Jr., recused themselves from the case July 24.

A spokeswoman for the state court system said Friday that a trial date has not been set for Marquis Flowers. District Attorney Dee Bates has said he will seek the death penalty.

Brookhaven Police Department Cpl. Zach Moak, 31, and patrol officer James White, 35, were shot to death Sept. 29, 2018, while responding to a call about shots being fired at a home in the city.

Flowers has been in the Adams County jail since March 23. He was moved there from Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.

Flowers was on parole for a vehicle burglary conviction when Moak and White were killed. After Flowers was arrested and charged in the killings of the officers, he was sent to the state prison system to finish serving that sentence.

On Oct. 28, more than a year after the killings, Flowers was indicted on 2 counts of capital murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He pleaded not guilty Nov. 12 to all three counts.

Flowers is charged in Adams County with stealing a vehicle and leading officers on a high-speed chase in 2017.

(source for both: Associated Press)


Bill Lee's pro-life message is contradicted by death penalty stance

If Bill Lee really wanted Tennessee to be the most pro-life state in the country he would commute the sentences of death row prisoners.

Despite Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s wish to make Tennessee “one of the most pro-life states in America,” it is anything but.

If every life is as “precious” and the state has a “responsibility to protect it” as Lee claims, he would not be failing to enact appropriate COVID-19 precautions throughout Tennessee, now a virus hot spot.

He would not sign legislation banning access to necessary health care services like abortion, as he did on July 13.

And he would go further than extending a reprieve through the end of the year to Harold Wayne Nichols, originally scheduled to be executed on Aug. 4, as he did on July 17.

Lee’s stance on life is contradictory

How can you say every life is precious, including a potential life in utero, yet electrocute a fellow human to death? The COVID-19 pandemic, impacting the health and welfare of nearly 7 million people living in Tennessee, has stalled Nichols’ execution. But it has not stopped it. Yet Lee has the power to do so.

As a moral philosopher and bioethicist, I am disappointed by the incoherence of Lee’s policies. The Republican party has long chosen rhetoric over rationality in claiming a pro-life mantle for themselves, despite promoting an agenda incongruent with health-care justice, civil rights, and human rights. The only coherence in the policies Lee enacts and upholds, which deny Tennesseans basic goods necessary for life, and sometimes life itself, is their consistency with an illogical conservative agenda.

Lee is not one of my students who I can coach toward better logic and more thoughtful arguments. But Harold Wayne Nichols is. For 5 years I have been an educator on Tennessee’s death row.

Almost 6 years ago, I had an abortion in Tennessee. Now Lee is going to tell me that I cannot self-determine my own health choices and terminate a pregnancy if necessary for my life and well-being. Yet Lee can, in the name of the state of Tennessee, allow adult humans to be terminated.

I thought every life was precious, and the state has a responsibility to protect it.

The governor should make use of his own policies

In January Lee amended the clemency process as part of his criminal justice reform agenda. The intent was to make clemency, which could take the form of pardon, exoneration or commutation, more accessible to those incarcerated in Tennessee. To commute a sentence is not to remove guilt or responsibility. It is not a pardon or exoneration. It does not indicate forgiveness or remove blame. It changes the punishment associated with a guilty verdict, such as modifying a death sentence to life in prison.

To date, Lee has not commuted a single death sentence. 3 men have been executed during his tenure as Governor. With 2 other executions already scheduled for early 2021, Nichols could be the 4th, 5th or 6th execution in Tennessee during Lee’s governorship.

Commute sentences of death row prisoners

If every life is precious, why not commute Nichols’s sentence? And those of Byron Black and Oscar Franklin Smith, who have set execution dates as well?

If Tennessee is to be among the most pro-life states in America, it must stop killing at the hands of the state, and it must stop infringing on the health and well-being of its women and girls.

(source: Opinion; Elizabeth Lanphier, PhD, MS facilitates the REACH Coalition (reciprocal education and community healing) class at Riverbend Maximum Security Prison, composed of “insider” incarcerated students and “outsider” volunteer educators from across Nashville----The Tennessean)


Memphis District Attorney Opposes Death Row Man’s Petition for DNA Testing

Friday, Pervis Payne’s attorney’s request for DNA testing was opposed by Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich. Payne, a Black man with an intellectual disability and no criminal record, is scheduled for execution on December 3, 2020.

Last December, his attorney found that there was some hidden evidence which has not been tested for DNA. As a response to the opposition, Kelley Henry, one of the members of Payne’s defense team, said:

“The District Attorney is wrong to oppose DNA testing in Pervis Payne’s case. She is wrong on both the facts and the law. On the facts, the DA’s assertion that the wrong bag of evidence was handed to Mr. Payne’s attorneys in December 2019 raises more questions than answers. Even putting the bedding aside, there is abundant evidence from the crime scene that could definitively prove that Mr. Payne is innocent.”

Attorney Henry added, “There is a long line of bungling in this case, leading to Mr. Payne’s wrongful conviction. The police tampered with evidence at the crime scene. They moved the victims’ bodies. If the victim’s ex-husband’s DNA is found on any piece of evidence, it would exonerate Mr. Payne.

“On the law, the DA is relying on a case that was overruled by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2006. There is no legal barrier to testing in Mr. Payne’s case. The DA should not be citing out of date, overruled cases. It’s now more important than ever that this case get a full hearing before a judge.”

Defense counsel asserts that if the DNA can be tested, then the perpetrator can be identified, which means Payne may be proved to be innocent.

However, Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich opposed the petition.

Payne was portrayed as a hypersexual and drug user by the prosecution, although the defense said that wasn’t true and that he was a family man with no criminal or drug history.

But the prosecution said Payne wanted to attack a white woman. The prosecution utilized racial stereotypes to make Payne such a person.

Racial stereotypes lead to a number of wrong sentencings, according to studies.

“Studies have found that the victim’s race also influences the likelihood of the death sentence being applied. Nearly 300 Black people accused of murdering white people have been executed since 1976 — approximately 14 times more than the number of white people executed for murdering white people,” according to the Death Penalty Information Center reported.

According to his teacher, Payne had difficulty studying. His family also said that he could not feed himself until he was 5 years old.

The pleading by the defense argues, “Mr. Payne was only 20 years old at the time of the crime and intellectually disabled, although that fact was not recognized at the time of the trial. He has an IQ of 72 and other evidence of intellectual disability.

One of the main reasons the U.S. Supreme Court barred the execution of people with intellectual disability in Atkins v. Virginia (2002) is that they present a special risk of wrongful conviction. Mr. Payne was convicted, in part, because he was unable to assist his attorneys in making his defense and he made a poor witness on his own behalf.”

Daniele Selby, a reporter from Innocence Project, said, “Because of his disability, Payne was not able to fully participate in his defense and was not a strong witness on his own behalf.”



23 Ohio death row inmates test positive for COVID-19

More than 20 Ohio death row inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 in an outbreak flaring up just this past week, The Associated Press has learned.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction confirmed the 1st case to the AP on July 24 but by Friday said the number had jumped to 23.

13 of those inmates were tested based on their symptoms and 10 were asymptomatic and tested through contract tracing, said prisons spokesperson JoEllen Smith.

Medical staff are monitoring the inmates, who are being quarantined and isolated under the prison system’s coronavirus policy, Smith said.

The inmates are all housed at Chillicothe Correctional Institution in southern Ohio, where the state’s death row is based. All inmates there undergo daily symptom screening, Smith said.

Ohio has about 140 death row inmates, most housed at the Chillicothe prison. No executions are scheduled for this year as the state struggles to find drugs for its lethal injection process.

Ohio’s prison system is one of the hardest-hit in the country, with more than 5,200 inmates testing positive as of Thursday. In addition, 88 inmates have died from confirmed or probable cases of the coronavirus.

Virtually all prisons have cases, but the majority have been at Marion Correctional Institution in north-central Ohio and Pickaway Correctional Institution in central Ohio, which has a medical wing.

Nearly 1,000 prison system staff members have also tested positive, including the agency director, Annette Chambers-Smith, who announced her diagnosis last week. She is quarantining at home. 5 staff members have died.

In Arizona, at least 8 death row prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19, including Alfonso Salazar, who died in April from complications of COVID-19, said attorney Dale Baich, who leads death penalty appeals in the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Arizona. Baich confirmed the cases in his role as a lawyer representing the inmates.

The Arizona prisons department declined comment, citing the confidentiality of inmate medical records.

In California, following an outbreak at San Quentin State Prison, at least nine death row inmates have died following positive COVID-19 tests, with a tenth death suspected, according to state Department of Correction and Marin County Coroner’s Office records.

In Texas, death row inmates have sued over the state’s coronavirus prison measures. Earlier this month in Tennessee, a death row inmate received a rare temporary reprieve from Gov. Bill Lee after the Republican announced the execution would not take place this year because of the challenges and disruptions caused by the coronavirus.

(source: Associated Press)

USA----2 new federal execution dates set

Justice Department schedules 2 additional federal executions

The Justice Department scheduled two additional federal executions on Friday, an announcement that comes weeks after it fought off last-minute legal challenges and successfully resumed federal executions following a 17-year pause.

The executions of Christopher Andre Vialva and William Emmett LeCroy are both scheduled to be carried out in late September. The government carried out 3 executions in July, and 2 other executions had been set previously for August.

Vialva, 40, was convicted along with a co-defendant in the 1999 kidnapping and killing of an Iowa couple at Fort Hood in Texas. The youth ministers had stopped to use a payphone in Killeen, Texas, and agreed to give Vialva and 2 others a ride, authorities said. Vialva pulled out a gun, forced the couple into the trunk and drove around for several hours, stopping at ATMs to withdraw cash and attempting to pawn the woman’s wedding ring, according to prosecutors.

The victims, Todd and Stacie Bagley, were both shot in head and placed in trunk of their car, which then was set afire. Vialva -- who is the 1st Black inmate to be scheduled to be executed since the federal government resumed the death penalty this year -- is scheduled to be executed on Sept. 24. A co-defendant in the case, Brandon Bernard, also received death sentence, though his execution date has not yet been scheduled.

LeCroy, 50, of Georgia, was convicted of raping and killing Joann Lee Tiesler, a 30-year-old nurse, in 2001 and then stealing her car. Prosecutors said he broke into her home and attacked her when she came home from a shopping trip, binding her hands behind her back before he strangled her with an electrical cord and raped her. They said he then slit Tiesler’s throat and stabbed her repeatedly in the back.

At the time, one of LeCroy’s lawyers argued he should face state charges and not be tried in federal court under the federal carjacking statute. LeCroy's lawyers said he had no intention of stealing the car when he was burglarizing Tiesler’s home. He was arrested at the U.S.-Canada border and was previously convicted of firearms and drug offenses, burglary, aggravated assault and child sex abuse charges.

LeCroy is scheduled to be executed on September 26.

The resumption of federal executions by lethal injection at a prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, started on July 14, with the execution of former white supremacist Daniel Lewis Lee. 2 others, Wesley Purkey and Dustin Honken, were executed later the same week.

Anti-death penalty groups say President Donald Trump is pushing for executions prior to the November election in a cynical bid to burnish a reputation a law-and-order leader.

U.S. officials have portrayed the executions, particularly those of men convicted of brutal killings of children, as bringing long-delayed justice for victims and their families. There are currently 58 men and one woman on federal death row, all of them in Terre Haute.

At least until this year, the federal government has not been prolific executioner compared to states.

Combined, states have executed thousands of people over decades. But just 37 were executed for federal crimes between 1927 and 2003, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. 34 were executed between 1927 and 1963, including Julius and Ethel Rosenberg — put to death in 1953 for passing nuclear secrets to the Soviets.

No federal executions were carried out from 1963 to 2001. And only 3 happened from 2001 to 2003. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was among them.

The Justice Department announced an Aug. 26 execution date for the only Native American on federal death row, Lezmond Mitchell, earlier this week. Officials had previously set Keith Dwayne Nelson’s execution for the same week in August.

Mitchell was convicted of the 2001 killing of a woman and her 9-year-old granddaughter. Nelson was convicted of kidnapping a 10-year-old girl while she was rollerblading near her Kansas home, raping her in a forest, then strangling her.

Lee, Purkey and Honken’s victims also included children.

(source: Associated Press)

**************************----federal death sentence overturned

Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wins death penalty appeal

A federal appeals court on Friday overturned Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's death penalty sentence for helping carry out the 2013 attack, which killed 3 people and wounded more than 260 others.

Tsarnaev and his older brother set off a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the world-renowned race, tearing through the packed crowd and causing many people to lose legs.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston upheld much of Tsarnaev's conviction but ordered a lower-court judge to hold a new trial strictly over what sentence Tsarnaev should receive for the death penalty-eligible crimes he was convicted of.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said his office is reviewing the decision and will have more to say "in the coming days and weeks." A lawyer for Tsarnaev did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. Circuit Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson, writing for the court, said that the trial judge "fell short" in conducting the jury selection process and ensuring it could winnow out partial jurors exposed to pretrial publicity surrounding the high-profile case.

Thompson said the pervasive news coverage of the bombings and their aftermath featured "bone-chilling" photos and videos of Tsarnaev and his brother carrying backpacks at the marathon and of those injured and killed near its finish line.

The trial judge allowed his jury to include jurors who had "already formed an opinion that Dzhokhar was guilty - and he did so in large part because they answered 'yes' to the question whether they could decide this high-profile case based on the evidence."

Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan sparked 5 days of panic in Boston on April 15, 2013, when they detonated two homemade pressure cooker bombs at the marathon's finish line and then went into hiding.

3 nights later, as they attempted to flee the city, they sparked a new round of terror in Boston when they hijacked a car and then shot dead Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier. Tsarnaev's brother died later that night after a gunfight with police, which ended when Dzhokhar ran him over with a stolen car.


Police then locked down Boston and most surrounding communities for almost 24 hours, with heavily armed officers conducting house-to-house searches through the suburb of Watertown, where the surviving brother was found hiding in a dry-docked boat in a backyard.

A federal jury in 2015 found Tsarnaev guilty of all 30 counts he faced and later determined he deserved execution for a bomb he planted that killed 8-year-old Martin Richard and 23-year-old Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu. Restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29, was also killed in the attack by a bomb placed by Tamerlan.

Tsarnaev's lawyers argued the case should not have been tried in Boston, where potential jurors were exposed to heart-wrenching, wall-to-wall media coverage about the attacks and the victims, many of whom lost limbs.

Bill and Denise Richard, whose 8-year-old son Martin was the youngest fatality in the attack, in a statement printed on the front page of the Boston Globe in 2015 had asked the U.S. Department of Justice to drop its pursuit of the death penalty, saying it would only prolong their pain.

"We know that the government has its reasons for seeking the death penalty, but the continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives," the couple wrote in a statement titled "To end the anguish, drop the death penalty."

On the day of his sentencing, Tsarnaev admitted his crimes.

"I am sorry for the lives I have taken, for the suffering that I have caused you, for the damage I have done, irreparable damage," said Tsarnaev. "In case there is any doubt, I am guilty of this attack, along with my brother."

(source: Reuters)


Cranking up the death row conveyor belt makes America no safer or more moral----The crimes of the offenders are often horrifying, but capital punishment will never be carried out in the United States in a way that is fair and just.

Let’s understand the loathsomeness of the three men the federal government recently executed before moving on to why we believe the government should execute nobody.

Daniel Lewis Lee, put to death by lethal injection on July 14 at a federal prison in Indiana, was a stone-cold killer. In 1996, he and another man killed a gun dealer, his wife and their little girl, suffocating the family with plastic bags during a robbery to get money for a white supremacist organization.

Wesley Ira Purkey, executed at the same prison 2 days after Lee, was no prize, either. In 1998, he raped, murdered and dismembered a 16-year-old girl.

Dustin Lee Honken, executed at the prison on July 17, was a maker of methamphetamine who killed a federal informant. Honken took the man, the man’s girlfriend and her 2 young daughters into the woods and shot them all. He had dug their graves in advance.

These horrible men, their guilt beyond doubt, were the first people to be executed by the federal government in 17 years. And now 2 killers from Illinois, who appear to be no less reprehensible, are among those in line to be executed next. Ronald Mikos, a podiatrist, killed a former patient to cover up a Medicare fraud scam. Jorge Torrez, a serial rapist and murderer, killed 2 little girls in Zion.

We want to be upfront, spelling out the horrific acts of these men, because too often advocates for abolishing the death penalty gloss over the crimes committed. Yet for a host of reasons grounded in fairness and justice, we continue to believe it is tragic that the Justice Department has restarted the federal death chamber conveyor belt.

Like being struck by lightning

The strongest legal argument against the death penalty in the United States is that it is imposed arbitrarily, as a matter of bad luck, making a mockery of the constitutional prohibition against “cruel and unusual” punishment. There are some 16,000 murders a year in the U.S., yet only 22 murderers last year, all of them men, were executed.

Who gets executed and who is spared has little to do with a defendant’s actual culpability and everything to do with where he committed his crime, the color of his skin, the color of his victim’s skin and the quality of his lawyer.

The death penalty in America, that is to say, is a fundamentally racist institution.

While all 3 men executed by the federal government in July were white, about 2/3 of all those executed in the United States each year are African American or members of other minority groups. But only about 1 in 6 of their crimes are against African American victims, though 1/2 of all murder victims are Black.

To further appreciate the arbitrariness of the death penalty, look no further than Daniel Lewis Lee, the man executed by the feds on July 14. Lee had an accomplice who was equally culpable in the murders of the gun dealer and his family. But the accomplice was sentenced to life in prison, not death.

As Justice Potter Stewart argued in a landmark 1972 Supreme Court decision striking down the death penalty as it then was practiced, who gets put on Death Row is as arbitrary as “being struck by lightning.” And, as Justice Stephen Breyer later put it, “the arbitrary imposition of punishment is the antithesis of the rule of law.”

Wrongful convictions

Adding to the problem, a certain number of people on death row are likely innocent. Since 1973, more than 165 wrongly convicted people on Death Row have been set free. Often, they were convicted on the basis of specious witness testimony or a coerced confession, and they were exonerated thanks to new and irrefutable DNA evidence.

It is better to not execute 1,000 guilty men than to execute 1 innocent man.

Inhumanly cruel long delays

Because the danger of executing an innocent person is so real, the appeals process in death penalty cases typically drags on for years or decades. Lee had been on Death Row for 24 years, Purkey for 22 years, and Honken for 15 years.

That in itself — the protracted length of time an inmate must wait to be executed — has been deemed cruel and unusual punishment by a number of lower courts and several Supreme Court justices. The long delays, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in 2009, subject inmates to “decades of especially severe, dehumanizing conditions of confinement” and undermine the deterrent value of the death penalty.

It’s really a no-win choice for a civilized society. The state can carry out executions more quickly and risk putting innocent people to death, or it can continue the long delays while looking away from the cruelty.

A far better path would be for the federal government to join 18 states, including Illinois, and the District of Columbia in abolishing the death penalty. Every country in Europe save one, Belarus, has abolished the death penalty, yet in every one of those countries the violent crime rate is lower than in the United States.

We’re tempted to make one final argument against the death penalty: The possibility of redemption in even the darkest soul. But maybe that’s best left to theologians and ethicists.

We will say this: Whenever another person is executed in the United States, we feel no more righteous or safe. We feel, as Americans, only smaller.

(source: Editorial Board, Chicago Sun-Times)


Trump Officials Reconsider Prosecuting ISIS ‘Beatles’ Without Death Penalty----American military officials in Iraq want 2 detainees taken off their hands and a British court has blocked sharing evidence for any death-penalty case. But other options are also getting a 2nd look.

The Trump administration is trying again to find a way to resolve the cases of 2 British Islamic State detainees who are notorious for their roles in the torture and killing of Western hostages, and who have been held in indefinite wartime detention by the American military in Iraq since October, according to officials.

One option under renewed consideration is for the Justice Department to drop its insistence that prosecutors be free to bring capital charges against the men, half of a cell of Britons called the “Beatles” by their captives because of their accents.

Since the men were captured in early 2018, when Jeff Sessions was attorney general, the Justice Department has insisted that it be free to seek their execution. But at an interagency National Security Council meeting this week, Attorney General William P. Barr did not rule out dropping that stance, officials said.

A chief obstacle to bringing the men to trial has been a need for evidence held by the British government. Britain has abolished the death penalty and a British court has blocked it from cooperating in capital charges. Litigation is slowly continuing, but assurances that American prosecutors would not seek the death penalty could swiftly make the evidence available.

Mr. Barr’s indication that he is at least willing to consider changing the department’s position was first reported by The Washington Post, and an official familiar with internal deliberations confirmed it.

But several officials stressed that this did not amount to a final policy decision, and was just one of several previously rejected options now being reconsidered.

Attorney General William P. Barr has not ruled out dropping the Justice Department’s past requirement that it be free to seek execution of the two Islamic State fighters.Credit...Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Other potential resolutions that are being reopened for discussion, they said, include transferring custody of the men to the Iraqi government for prosecution; taking them to the American military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for continued wartime detention without trial; and revisiting whether the British evidence is truly crucial — or whether prosecutors might be able to mount a capital trial without it.

But since all of the other options bring their own problems and complexities, the Justice Department’s willingness to discuss the idea of seeking life in prison instead of death was seen internally as potentially significant.

The families of 4 of their American victims have long said it would be a mistake to send the detainees to Guantánamo Bay or to seek the death penalty, and instead have advocated seeking justice in a way that would not make the men into martyrs.

Representatives for the National Security Council and the Justice Department declined to comment. The officials familiar with internal deliberations spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The meeting was scheduled shortly after the four families published a column in The Post last week reiterating their call for the department to move forward with prosecuting the men, expressing worries that they could escape justice and restating their opposition to continuing to hold them in long-term detention without trial.

“We implore the Trump administration: Please, for the sake of truth, for the sake of justice, order these Islamic State suspects transferred to the United States to face trial,” they wrote.

The 2 men, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, were part of a cell whose gruesome hostage beheadings for Islamic State propaganda videos drew widespread attention in 2014. Among their victims was James Foley, the American journalist who was beheaded that August.

Another member of the cell, Mohammed Emwazi, or “Jihadi John,” is believed to have killed Mr. Foley. Mr. Emwazi was later killed in a drone strike. A fourth man, Aine Davis, has been imprisoned in Turkey on terrorism charges.

Mr. Kotey and Mr. Elsheikh were captured in Syria by a Kurdish militia, which held them there with numerous other Islamic State detainees from Western countries that have refused to take back their citizens. The British government moved to strip them of citizenship and made clear it did not want to take them back.

In part because Britain was not moving to solve the problem created by its own citizens, the Trump administration was not willing to nod to its legal system by offering an assurance that American prosecutors, if they handled it, would not seek to impose the death penalty, which remains legal in the United States.

After initial reluctance, the British government moved to share the evidence without such assurances, and showed witness statements and other material it had gathered about the two men to the Justice Department. But testimony from British government officials would also probably be necessary at any trial to make the evidence admissible.

To block continued cooperation, Mr. Elsheikh’s mother filed a lawsuit, and won an initial ruling in March.

In the meantime, in October, the Turkish military moved into northern Syria against the American-backed Kurds after getting a green light from President Trump, calling into question the militia’s ability to continue securely holding some 11,000 captured Islamic State fighters.

The American military took custody of Mr. Kotey and Mr. Elsheikh and took them to Iraq to ensure they would remain locked up. But since then it has grown increasingly impatient to hand them off.

(source: New York Times)


The Federal Government Once Again Double-Crossed Native People, This Time on the Death Penalty----You're shocked, I know.

One of Camp Runamuck’s more recent enthusiasms is for the revived federal death penalty. It’s already killed 3 inmates, but the next one on the runway is going to be a bit more complicated. In 2003, a federal-court jury convicted Lezmond Mitchell of the brutal slaying of Alyce Slim and her granddaughter in a carjacking incident. Mitchell and both of his victims were members of the Navajo Nation, and the crimes took place on the tribe’s land. Under federal law, the government cannot seek the death penalty for major crimes on Native land without the permission of the tribe. The Navajo Nation is opposed to the death penalty and refused permission; the families of Mitchell’s victims also asked that he be spared.

Nonetheless, Mitchell is the only Native American on federal death row, and the date for his execution is set for August 26. How, you may ask, is this possible given the requirement of tribal permission, which was not granted in this case? Believe it or not, the federal government found a loophole that enabled it to ignore the wishes of the Native people. You’re shocked, I know.

Mitchell was condemned to die under the federal carjacking statute, because carjacking is called “a crime of nationwide applicability.” Two appeals court judges, Morgan Christen and Andrew Hurwitz, while not reversing the death penalty, expressed anger at the government’s maneuvering in this case, and the disrespect shown by the government toward the moral principles held by the Navajo people. From the Arizona Republic:

"I write to underscore only that the United States made an express commitment to tribal sovereignty when it enacted the tribal option, and by seeking the death penalty in this case, the United States walked away from that commitment," Christen wrote.

Judge Andrew Hurwitz wrote that even though the federal government had the legal right to make the decision to pursue the death penalty, it does not "necessarily make it right ...When the sovereign nation upon whose territory the crime took place opposes capital punishment of a tribal member whose victims were also tribal members because it conflicts with that nation’s 'culture and religion,' a proper respect for tribal sovereignty requires that the federal government not only pause before seeking that sanction, but pause again before imposing it."

The idea that this Justice Department gives a damn about any of this is downright absurd. I’m sure Bill Barr has something suitable from the documents of the Council of Trent to share.

And speaking of the death penalty, this is going to raise holy hell up here in the Commonwealth (God save it!), From the Boston Globe:

The ruling came from the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. “A core promise of our criminal-justice system is that even the very worst among us deserves to be fairly tried and lawfully punished,” wrote Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson for the court. The ruling found that the presiding judge in Tsarnaev’s 2015 trial “did not meet the standard” of fairness.

There doesn’t seem to be much question that this particular Department of Justice will spend the money to try and kill Tsarnaev again, even though it could decline to engage in another penalty-stage proceeding and content itself that Tsarnaev will die in SuperMax. In either case, I don’t envy whatever judge gets this one dropped in his lap.

(source: Charles, Pierce;


USA----impending/scheduled executions

With the execution of Dustin Lee Honken at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, on July 16, the USA has now executed 1,522 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.

1523------Aug. 26----------Lezmond Mitchell----------Federal

1524------Aug. 28----------Keith Nelson--------------Federal

1525------Sept. 9-----------John Ramirez-------------Texas

1526------Sept. 24---------Christopher Vialva--------Federal

1527------Sept. 26---------William LeCroy------------Federal

1528------Sept. 30---------Carlos Trevino------------Texas

1529-----Dec. 31-----------Harold Nichols------------Tennessee

(source: Rick Halperin)


China Sentences Communist Official to Death with Reprieve for Corruption

China has sentenced a senior Communist Party official to death with reprieve for allegedly taking over $100 million in bribes, state media reported Friday.

Zhao Zhengyong, the former Party secretary of Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, was found guilty of taking more than 717 million yuan ($102.4 million) in bribes between 2003 and 2018.

After initially facing the death penalty, Zhao will likely avoid execution after pleading guilty to his crimes. The First Intermediate People’s Court of Tianjin ruled that he will instead face life imprisonment, the confiscation of all his personal property, and the removal of all his political rights. He has agreed to accept the court’s judgment without appeal.

According to the state propaganda outlet Global Times, Zhao used his position of power to help “certain groups and individuals profit in matters such as project contracting, enterprise operation, job promotion, and job transfer.”

The paper added that among Zhao’s illicit earnings including 100 million yuan-worth in property and stocks. Meanwhile, 290 million yuan of the bribes have not yet been received by Zhao, meaning they classify as attempted crimes.

A life sentence is typical of dictator Xi Jinping’s aggressive crackdown on alleged corruption, which has targeted both genuine criminals as well as his political opponents. Unlike the United States, the death penalty or life imprisonment is readily used in China for crimes such as corruption and drug trafficking.

Capital punishment is usually carried out via lethal injection or gunshot. In 2020, China was the top executioner around the world, although official figures remain a state secret.

The far-reaching campaign began in 2012, following the conclusion of the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th National Congress, where Xi vowed to remove both “tigers and flies,” meaning both high and low-level officials alike.

As of 2020, the crackdown has implicated more than 120 high-ranking party officials, including around a dozen high-ranking military officers, several senior executives of state-owned companies, and five national leaders. Hundreds of thousands of people have been charged with corruption from across the country as a whole.



Cambodian cross-border drug trafficker gets death sentence ---- The People's Court of the southern province of Tay Ninh handed a death penalty to a (female) Cambodian drug trafficker on during a trial on July 31.

The People's Court of the southern province of Tay Ninh handed a death penalty to a Cambodian drug trafficker during a trial on July 31.

Miech SreyNeang, born in 1993 and residing in Phnom Penh, was sentenced to death for trafficking drug from Cambodia to Vietnam. According to the indictment, Miech SreyNeang smuggled 5 bags of methamphetamine weighting over 4,943 grams.

The police caught the Cambodian citizen red-handed for carrying the drug at the Moc Bai international border gate in Tay Ninh province on December 2, 2019. (source: en.vietnamplus.vm)


Reviving capital punishment in PH may affect talks to save OFWs on death row–solon

The reimposition of death row in the Philippines may affect the negotiations for Filipinos who are likewise on death row abroad, Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman said Friday.

Lagman said that if the death penalty is revived, the Philippine will lose moral ascendancy in negotiating for the lifting of the death sentences handed down to nearly 100 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) worldwide.

The lawmaker made the remark after President Rodrigo Duterte renewed his call for Congress to pass the controversial measure for drug-related charges in his 5th State of the Nation Address.

“President Rodrigo Duterte during his State of the National Address forced a muted applause when he asked his audience of legislators why they were not applauding his call for the revival of the death penalty for drug-related offenses,” Lagman said in a statement.

“The President’s recommendation to the Congress to reimpose the death penalty aggravates his failure to disclose and discuss his administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic which is a death sentence to countless Filipinos,” he added.

According to Lagman, only 37 countries are implementing death penalty “both in law and in practice”—with China, Iran, Pakistan, and South Africa accounting for 90 % of the executions.

Moreover, Lagman said that there is no empirical data supporting that death penalty is an effective deterrent to the commission of heinous crimes.

Lagman also noted that the reimposition of death penalty “exacerbates the culture of violence and its revival adds to the unabated extrajudicial killings consequent to the Duterte Administration’s deadly campaign against the drug menace.”

“The death penalty cannot be prioritized over the long-delayed reforms in our flawed police, prosecutorial and judicial systems which make genuine justice illusory to the vast majority of our people,” Lagman said.

“Capital punishment enforces punitive and retributory justice instead of promoting the modern and progressive concept of penology on restorative justice which aims to reform the convict and prepare his reintegration into society,” he added.

Further, Lagman said that the revival of the death penalty fails to consider that human justice is fallible and even the innocent can be executed.

The lawmaker said that while the 1987 Constitution allows the Congress to reimpose death penalty on heinous crimes for compelling reasons, “these 2 conditions on ‘heinous crimes’ and ‘compelling reasons’ are separate but concurrent.”

“The heinousness of a crime is not determinative of the compelling reason. They are not synonymous,” Lagman explained.

Lagman also pointed out that the Philippines is a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) wherein among the country’s commitments is to abolish the death penalty and not to reimpose it.



Lagman cites 12 ‘overriding reasons’ why lawmakers are hesitant to support reimposition of death penalty

Administration critic Rep. Edcel Lagman (Ind, Albay) on Friday cited 12 “overriding reasons” why lawmakers are hesitant in supporting President Duterte’s fresh bid for the restoration of the death penalty in the country.

Lagman said the “muted applause” from the gallery when Duterte made the announcement on his State of the Nation Address last Monday was a glaring indication of the lack of support for the revival of the death penalty for drug-related offenses.

“The President’s recommendation to the Congress to reimpose the death penalty aggravates his failure to disclose and discuss his administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic which is a death sentence to countless Filipinos,” said Lagman.

He added: “The hesitance of the Members of the Congress to express their assent is obvious because there are no less than 12 overriding reasons against the reimposition of capital punishment.”

Lagman said the following are the 12 reasons why the return of the death penalty is unpopular:

First, there is no empirical data in the Philippines and worldwide which documents that the death penalty is an effective deterrent to the commission of heinous crimes. In fact, while the death penalty has been imposed since the dawn of civilization, heinous crimes persist and mock the capital punishment.

Second, the death penalty desecrates the right to life which is sacrosanct and inviolable, and it is an affront to human dignity. Pope Francis instructs that the “inviolability of life extends to the criminal.”

Third, the death penalty exacerbates the culture of violence and its revival adds to the unabated extrajudicial killings consequent to the Duterte Administration’s deadly campaign against the drug menace.

Fourth, the death penalty cannot be prioritized over the long-delayed reforms in our flawed police, prosecutorial and judicial systems which make genuine justice illusory to the vast majority of our people.

Fifth, the death penalty further marginalizes and victimizes the poor who can neither retain competent counsel nor influence court decisions, unlike the rich and powerful.

Sixth, capital punishment enforces punitive and retributory justice instead of promoting the modern and progressive concept of penology on restorative justice which aims to reform the convict and prepare his reintegration into society.

Seventh, the revival of the death penalty utterly fails to consider that human justice is fallible and even the innocent can be executed.

Eighth, the 1987 Constitution abolished the death penalty, although the Congress is allowed to reimpose it on heinous crimes for compelling reasons. These 2 conditions on “heinous crimes” and “compelling reasons” are separate but concurrent. The heinousness of a crime is not determinative of the compelling reason. They are not synonymous.

Ninth reason, as a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Second Protocol on the ICCPR, the Philippines is committed to abolish the death penalty and not to reimpose it.

Tenth reason: There are serious economic repercussions if the Philippines reimposes the death penalty as we would lose free tariff privileges on our exports to European Union countries which require adherence to human rights.

The 11th reason: If the death penalty is revived, the Philippine will lose moral ascendancy in negotiating for the lifting of the death sentences of Filipino OFWs numbering almost 100 worldwide.

And 12th reason, the irreversible trend is the diminishing number of countries imposing the death penalty. Only 37 out of the 195 countries in the world still allow execution of convicted criminals. China, Iran, Pakistan, and South Africa account for 90 % of executions.

[my note----South Africa stopped executing prisoners in 1992]


Death penalty for corrupt gov’t officials pushed

As President Duterte renewed his call to reinstate the death penalty for drug-related heinous crimes, the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) is likewise pushing for corrupt officials to be put on death row as well.

PACC Commissioner Greco Belgica made the statement days after President Duterte urged Congress to re-impose the capital punishment for drug-related crimes during his fifth State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) last Monday.

In a virtual briefing aired over PTV-4, Belgica said corrupt officials should be hanged because corruption is “as bad as murder, as bad as drugs” since it puts millions of Filipinos in poverty.

“Corruption should be categorized as a heinous crime and should be penalized by death,” he said.

“Ang (gusto namin) noon, by hanging pero okay naman din ang lethal injection,” he added.

Duterte has never missed calling on Congress to bring back the death penalty after it was scrapped twice since the creation of the 1987 Constitution.

Congress, however, did not deliver on the President’s call.

The 1987 Constitution allowed Congress to bring back capital punishment for heinous crimes.

It was revived during the Ramos administration but was scrapped again under the Arroyo administration.

Under the Duterte administration, the House Majority Bloc excluded plunder, rape, and treason from the list of the crimes punishable with death.

The exclusion is supposed to help them arrive at a compromise after some lawmakers remained hesitant about voting in favor of House Bill No. 4727.

In 2017, President Duterte said that he would like to know the rationale why Congress decided to exclude plunder and rape from the list of crimes punishable by death under the said House bill.

Duterte said that while he did not say he will not kill plunderers or corrupt officials, he said that rape is still one of the most heinous crimes that should merit the heaviest penalty.

Malacañang has said that the reimposition of capital punishment is an important component in keeping a crime-free and drug-free Philippines.

(source for both: Manila Bulletin)


Document: Written Judgment Confirms Supreme Court Ruling/ False Denials by Islamic Republic Authorities----According to IHR sources, the defendants had told the court that they had been tortured to make false confessions, and did not have access to lawyers of their choice throughout the legal proceedings

On July 26, news that the Supreme Court had upheld the death sentences of 5 protesters arrested in December 2017/January 2018 in Khomeini Shahr, Isfahan was met with denial by judiciary officials in Iran.

While IHR previously revealed it had document evidence verifying the confirmation of the sentences, today, the judiciary’s Mizan news agency has published another denial by the chief justice of Isfahan.

Iran Human Rights is publishing the obtained written judgment by Branch 19 of the Supreme Court, reaffirming the denials by the Islamic Republic officials to be false.

IHR Director, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said: “The officials of the Islamic Republic have a long history of false denials. For a long time, they even denied the existence of COVID-19 in Iran. By publishing the written judgment, IHR reiterates that denials by Islamic Republic officials do not constitute evidence. The worldwide campaign to stop the execution of the Iranian protesters must continue with even greater vigour, for until their sentences are overturned, they are still at risk of execution.”

Iran Human Rights once again calls on the international community not to be indifferent to the wave of executions in Iran.

IHR previously reported that the Supreme Court had upheld the death sentences of Mehdi Salehi Ghaleh Shahrokhi, Mohammad Bastami, Majid Nazari Kondari, Hadi Kiani and Abbas Mohammadi on charges such as "baghy" (rebellion) and "moharebeh" (waging war against God). Confirming news of the ruling, one of the men’s lawyers said they had been sentence to death by Branch Two of the Isfahan Revolutionary Court in January 2020.

According to the documents obtained by IHR, the Isfahan Revolutionary Court had convicted the 5 protesters on charges including “baghy” (rebellion) through effective efforts and activities to advance the rioters’ goals, “moharebeh” (waging war against God) through using firearms and intending to deprive the community of security and shooting at officials, “mofsed-e-filarz” (corruption on earth) through disrupting public security and directing the rioters to disrupt public order and safety and disturbing public opinion.” In addition, they have also been convicted of other less serious charges including drug possession.

According to IHR sources, the defendants had told the court that they had been tortured to make false confessions, and did not have access to lawyers of their choice throughout the legal proceedings.


JULY 31, 2020:


Double-homicide trial pushed back for accused killer Turner

The double-homicide trial of a Cochranton man accused of killing his stepmother and half brother last year has been moved to the November trial term of Crawford County Court of Common Pleas.

The trial of Jack Turner was to be held during the September criminal trial term, but was moved to November following a hearing Thursday before Judge Mark Stevens. The Tribune was the only media to attend Thursday’s hearing.

Turner, 22, is accused by Pennsylvania State Police of fatally shooting his stepmother and half brother, Shannon Whitman, 49, and Darrin Whitman, 10, on Aug. 10, 2019. Police allege the killings took place during a burglary of the Whitman home near Guys Mills.

Police also accuse Turner of stealing a .22-caliber rifle, a .22-caliber semi-automatic handgun, miscellaneous items valued at $185 and silver 2009 Lincoln MKS sedan from the Whitman home.

Turner was the subject of a nationwide manhunt before he was arrested Aug. 14, 2019, in Charleston, W.Va., by the U.S. Marshal Service and Charleston Police Department.

Michael Waltman and Owen Seman, Turner’s defense attorneys, said they needed more time to prepare for the upcoming trial.

Turner is scheduled to be tried on 2 felony counts of homicide, 1 felony count of burglary, 3 felony counts of theft and 1 misdemeanor count of theft.

Before a trial would take place, an omnibus hearing will have to be scheduled to review potential trial issues — the admission of statements Turner made to police; and whether the case be tried in another county or have an out-of-county jury hear it due to pretrial publicity.

Turner could face the death penalty if he’s convicted of homicide. In February, Crawford County District Attorney Francis Schultz filed notice with the court that his office will seek the death penalty in the event of a conviction.

The notice said the death penalty is being sought because the killings were committed during the commission of a felony, there was more than one murder and one of the victims was a child younger than age 12.

Turner’s lawyers want some evidence in the case suppressed — including statements Turner made to Pennsylvania State Police investigators in Charleston following his arrest.

According to an omnibus motion filed July 17 by Turner’s lawyers, Turner had asked for an attorney during an Aug. 15, 2019, interview with state police. But, 2 state troopers kept on interrogating Turner after he had invoked his right to a lawyer, the omnibus motion said.

A transcript of the Aug. 15, 2019, recorded interview between Turner and Pennsylvania State Police “reveals that defendant (Turner) invoked his right to counsel prior to the activation of the recording,” the motion said.

The 2 troopers “continued to interrogate defendant (Turner) in contravention of well-established law,” according to the motion. The statement Turner made in the interview should be excluded because Turner’s rights were violated, according to the motion.

In addition, the motion seeks to suppress any Facebook evidence that was obtained by state police.

Though state police got a search warrant for Turner’s Facebook account, any evidence should be suppressed as the search warrant “was illegally obtained,” according to the motion.

The search warrant only was issued based on statements Turner made during the Aug. 15, 2019, interview with state police, the motion said.

The motion also said Turner cannot receive a fair and impartial trial in Crawford County due to pretrial publicity.

The motion seeks a change of venue, moving the trial to another county, or change of venire, having an out-of-county jury hear the case.

Turner “has identified by name in excess of 250 potential witnesses or individuals involved in the case,” the motion said.

“Defendant (Turner) asserts that a statistically significant portion of the eligible juror pool has been irrevocably tainted by pretrial publicity and/or by themselves being involved in the case either directly or through one of the identified 250 individuals previously mentioned,” the motion said.

No date has been set by Crawford County Court on the omnibus motion.

(source: The Neadville Tribune)


Virginia must retain death penalty

Editor, Times-Dispatch: Some crimes are so horrible that a life sentence does not suffice. On New Year's Day in 2006, the bodies of a family of 4 were found in their burned-out Richmond home. Among the dead were 2 girls, ages 4 and 9. A man named Ricky Gray, who already had murdered his wife and would murder another family just 5 days later, was the man responsible for the brutal murders of the Harvey family. Then-Commonwealth’s Attorney for Richmond Mike Herring, who prosecuted Gray, is against the death penalty, yet he saw how brutal these crimes were and decided to seek the death penalty. Gray spent 10 years on death row before his execution in January 2017. His lawyers filed a clemency request to then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Even McAuliffe, who opposes the death penalty, was so repulsed by these crimes that he could find no reason to spare Gray’s life. That's how evil Gray was.

What other punishment would suffice for someone who does those horrible things? Life imprisonment? Is it justice to give a mass murderer 3 meals a day and access to a television for 40 to 50 years? The murder of the Harvey family could’ve happened to any of us, to our friends or our neighbors. What crime is more heinous than the murders of multiple people, including children? A life sentence is not an appropriate enough punishment for such horrific crimes. Virginia should keep the death penalty for precisely these kinds of actions.

Daniel Garcia, McLean

(source: Letter to the Editor, Richmond Times-Dispatch)


Indian American Man Charged With 1st Degree Murder for Stabbing Wife Multiple Times and Running Over Her with Car

An Indian American man was arrested and charged with 1st degree pre-meditated murder July 28 in Coral Springs, Florida, for allegedly stabbing his wife multiple times and running over her body with his car.

Philip Mathew, 34, is currently being held without bail in Broward County, Florida jail for the murder of Merin Joy, who was 26 at the time of her death. In Florida, a sentence for 1st degree murder is a life sentence without the possibility of parole or the death penalty. First degree murder charges are invoked when the crime is pre-meditated; Mathew is believed to have been lying in wait for at least 45 minutes outside Broward Health Coral Springs, the hospital where Joy worked as a nurse.

The couple are from Kerala and have a 1-year-old daughter, Nora, who was in Kottayam, Kerala at the time of the attack, with her grandparents. Joy and Mathew were no longer living together; the suspect had been living in Wixon, Michigan, and doing a series of odd jobs.

According to a police report forwarded by the Coral Springs Police Department to India-West, at about 7:30 a.m. July 28, Coral Springs Dispatch received a call from Broward Health Coral Springs. The call came in as a possible hit and run. Officers arriving at the scene found Joy lying on the ground with multiple stab wounds throughout her body. Though she was just outside the hospital where she worked, her wounds were too severe to be treated there. Joy was instead transported to another hospital and pronounced dead about an hour later.

Coral Springs Detective Jeff Payne obtained a statement from a witness who said she heard Joy screaming “help me,” multiple times and saw the suspect attacking the victim. The witness told Payne that Mathew then got into his car and ran over Joy’s body before fleeing the scene.

Another witness who tried to intervene told Payne that when he attempted to grab Mathew, the alleged killer swung a knife at him.

Hospital security provided police with footage of the incident. In the video, Mathew is shown driving up to Joy’s car and blocking her in. He then went to her car and pulled her out of it. The footage shows Mathew repeatedly striking Joy and dragging her through the parking lot. A witness took a photo of Mathew’s license plate.

Coral Springs Police Officer Nicole Hildebrant traveled with Joy in the ambulance, according to the police report. The victim was still conscious and identified the attacker as her husband Mathew. She repeated his name a 2nd time. Joy’s exchange with Hildebrant was captured on the officer’s body camera.

The police report stated that Joy had called police on July 19 to report that she was going through a very difficult divorce and that Mathew was posting messages online wanting her to come back to him. Police did not go out to the residence to investigate. In 2018, police responded to a domestic disturbance at the couple’s residence as Mathew made threats to kill Joy and himself.

Local publications in India reported that Mathew and Joy had traveled to Kerala in December. Joy’s parents had allegedly filed a domestic violence order against Mathew, but a friend of the suspect told the Sun Sentinel that was not true. Mathew returned to the U.S. on Jan. 10; Joy returned on Jan. 29, leaving her baby daughter Nora with her parents.

ON Manorama reports that — hours before she was killed — Joy made a video call to her family, speaking to her mother, father, sister, and Nora.

Joice John Madasseril, a friend of Mathew, told the Sun Sentinel that the suspect had called him on July 27 night, saying that Joy had told him he could never again see her daughter, “hurting Philip’s heart.”

Hospital staff who knew Joy and Mathew said the couple was undergoing a difficult divorce and that Joy feared for her safety.

The Malayalee Association of Tampa, Florida, has organized a funeral for Joy, to be held Aug. 1.


ALABAMA----female may face death penalty

Suspect in shooting death of Moody police officer awaits results of bond hearing

One of the suspects charged with capital murder in connection with the shooting death of a Moody police officer is awaiting a decision on whether she will be issued a bond.

A bond hearing for Marquisha Tyson, 28, of Birmingham, was held at the Ashville Courthouse on Wednesday, and she is awaiting a verdict from Judge Bill Weathington.

Tyson is alleged to have made the 911 calls June 2 that brought Lt. Steven Williams to the Super 8 in Moody, where he was shot multiple times and was later pronounced dead by St. Clair County Coroner Dennis Russell.

Testimony at Tyson’s preliminary hearing revealed documents saying she had rented room 222 at the hotel, the room the gunfire that struck Williams came from.

St. Clair County Chief Assistant District Attorney Micheal Anderton argued neither police officers nor the public would be able to feel safe if Tyson is allowed to leave jail due to the seriousness of the offense she is charged with.

“She set in motion that night a complete and total deception of the 911 system,” Anderton said to the court.

Anderton said the state feels police officers would be scared a similar deception could take place if Tyson is released.

Anderton added he feels Tyson would present a flight risk due to the nature of the charges against her. He said her charges could lead to the death penalty or life in prison.

Micheal Hanle, who represents Tyson, said there was no reason for the court to withhold bond in the first place. Hanle said statements from Tyson and her co-defendant, Tapero Johnson, both state she did not fire any of the weapons found in room 222 at the Super 8 on the night in question and, therefore, it is inconclusive that she should even be charged with capital murder.

Hanle also said Tyson was shocked when gunfire began while she was making a 911 call, which was played during her preliminary hearing. Video of the shooting -- synced to two of Tyson’s 911 calls -- was shown at the hearing showing Tyson speaking to 911 when Williams came under fire. Hanle said there is no evidence Tyson knew the shooting would take place and was, in fact, hiding in the bathtub at the time.

“Just because the state has alleged something does not make it true,” Hanle said.

Hanle said he understood testimony in the preliminary hearing to say Tyson had merely been arrested for being in the same room as Johnson when the shooting took place.

He also said Tyson had never had any interactions with law enforcement before June 2 and had a good reputation in her community. Hanle said if released on bond, Tyson would live with her mother, grandmother and son, and would not be in any danger of running or being involved in any other incident.

Hanle said the defense team is asking that bail be set near $100,000.

Anderton replied the court had ruled, following the preliminary hearing, that there was probable cause for the charge of capital murder. He said Tyson was arrested due to her paying for the room and providing the phone call that placed Williams at the hotel. Anderton said she was charged based on the preparation that seemed to be involved in the crime.

“I submit to the court that this lady does not need to get out,” he said in closing.

While ending the hearing, Weathington said he would prepare a court order with his decision on bond. As of Thursday afternoon, no order has been issued, according to Anderton.

(source: Anniston Star)


Man accused of killing Springdale officer appears in court for pre-trial hearing

The man accused of killing a local police officer appeared in court Thursday for a pre-trial hearing.

Terry Blankenship, 42, faces several charges, including aggravated murder, for killing Springdale Police Officer Kaia Grant. Blankenship hit Officer Grant with his vehicle in March while she laid down stop sticks during a chase. Police had been chasing Blankenship on I-275.

On Thursday, his lawyers said they just got evidence from the prosecution and need time to review it.

Blankenship is currently being held without bond in the Hamilton County Jail and faces the death penalty. His next court date is Sept. 16.

(source: WKRC News)


Prosecutors argue for 2nd death penalty trial in Reagan Tokes murder case

Prosecutors want another shot at putting a convicted killer on death row. Brian Golsby was sentenced to life in prison for the kidnapping and murder of Ohio State student Reagan Tokes. But Thursday morning, prosecutors argued to 3 judges that there was prejudice during the penalty phase and want a new jury.

It’s an unusual move for prosecutors to get the state to retry a death penalty case.

"Look, we have no burden. I'm going to say it once, twice, a hundred times. We have no burden and I think once the jury incorrectly hears that then I think the state has proven that we have been impaired, and we have proven that there was prejudice to fair consideration in that penalty phase,” said the Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien during Thursday morning’s appeal.

Golsby was convicted of raping and killing Tokes the night of February 8, 2017. A year later he was sentenced to life in prison.

Prosecutors have appealed that decision, arguing that he needs the death penalty and just last year in 2019 Tokes' parents sued state officials in a wrongful death lawsuit; arguing they failed to properly monitor Golsby, a sex offender on parole and wearing an ankle monitor but went on a crime spree and then killed their daughter. The Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of the family.

As far as state prosecutors re-trying a death penalty case it's in the hands of the Ohio Tenth District Court and no decision was made on Thursday.

(source: WTTE)


Weirich asks court to deny request for DNA testing in Pervis Payne death penalty case

The Shelby County District Attorney's Office is asking the court to deny a request for DNA testing in the death penalty case of Pervis Tyrone Payne, who is scheduled to be put to death on Dec. 3.

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.

Payne's attorneys had hoped that DNA testing of newly discovered evidence would upend the plans for his execution, but District Attorney Amy Weirich said Thursday that the evidence — including bedsheets, a comforter and a pillow, all soaked in blood — was actually from the scene from an entirely different crime, one committed in 1998.

"There is no new evidence and they are merely trying to delay his scheduled execution," Weirich said. "The property room made a mistake. these items have nothing to do with Pervis Payne and should not have been shown (to his attorneys)."

The case is being revived at the trial court level in Shelby County.

Payne is intellectually disabled and had no prior criminal history, according to his attorneys.

Pervis Payne: New evidence discovered in 1987 murder case could exonerate death row inmate, lawyers say

The Innocence Project, a national legal group, has partnered with Nashville-based public defenders and other lawyers to seek the DNA testing.

During his 1988 trial, Payne said 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.

DNA testing was never done to match blood from the kitchen to a potential killer. And police reports from the time said the kitchen was the only crime scene.

Then, on Dec. 20, 2019, when federal public defender Kelley Henry went to Shelby County to review the case materials, she made a remarkable discovery: new evidence she said "had been in the State’s possession the whole time."

In the previously unknown evidence bag labelled "Bedroom," Henry found bedsheets, a comforter and a pillow. None of that evidence was mentioned in police reports or at trial.

That evidence was presented in error, Weirich said Thursday.

Weirich showed crime scene photos from the 1998 crime scene in which the "bedroom" evidence was obtained 10 years after Payne was sentenced. That evidence was initialed by Shan Allen Tracy, a crime scene officer who wrote in an affidavit that he collected them in Memphis in 1998.

Henry said Thursday that the question of whether that evidence comes from the Payne crime scene or the 1998 crime scene can be definitively answered through DNA testing.

“I don’t take anything at face value," she said. "If they want to say it came from another crime scene, why do they wait 7 months to tell us that?”

The petition from Payne's attorneys also asked that other evidence not in dispute be tested, including a tampon, bloodstained clothing, fingernail clippings and more. The courts have previously denied the testing of some of those items, although Payne's attorneys argue that the law and DNA testing has changed since then.

Weirich said any information garnered from testing that DNA evidence "would not exonerate Pervis Payne" and that the request to test the DNA has already been heard and denied.

"The state would still have prosecuted and the defendant would still have been convicted with overwhelming evidence," Weirich said. "Testing of these items accomplishes nothing but delay."

Henry said DNA could, however, have shown a great deal, including the possibility of another suspect.

“I think it’s shocking that in 2020 a district attorney general would say DNA testing is irrelevant," Henry said.

The testing could also have been completed prior to the Dec. 3 execution date, Henry said.

"On the law, the DA is relying on a case that was overruled by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2006," Henry said. "There is no legal barrier to testing in Mr. Payne’s case. The DA should not be citing out of date, overruled cases. It’s now more important than ever that this case get a full hearing before a judge.”



Prosecutors to seek death penalty in I-84 murder case

Utah prosecutors will pursue the death penalty against a California man accused of shooting and killing a motorist on Interstate 84 in Box Elder County in northern Utah last year.

Jonathan Llana, 46, is accused of fatally shooting Dennis Gwyther and injuring his passenger on May 22, 2019, as the two were driving in the Rattlesnake Pass area on the freeway between Tremonton and Snowville.

Llana was arrested near Burley, Idaho, after a 2-day manhunt. He was charged with one count of aggravated murder, one charge of attempted aggravated murder and 6 counts of felony discharge of a firearm.

Llana’s case was delayed after he was declared not competent to stand trial in October 2019. But in March, he was found to be competent after receiving treatment at the Utah State Hospital.

Gwyther, 50, was a well-known LGBTQ activist in Utah. He was commuting to his job in Boise when he was killed.

The last time a person was sentenced to death in Utah was in 2008. Floyd Maestas was given the sentence after stomping a woman to death during a robbery, but he died of natural causes in 2018.

Llana’s attorney Craig Chlarson declined to comment.

(source: Idaho State Journal)


San Francisco's death row is now empty, but California still has the most inmates with death sentences of any state

San Francisco's death row is now empty.

Following California Gov. Gavin Newsom's moratorium of the death penalty in March 2019, the city reduced the sentence of its final remaining death row inmate to life in prison on Wednesday.

But the state still holds approximately 700 people on death row, about 350 more than the next state on the list, Florida.

"My office has not sought and will not seek the death penalty, and I am pleased that we have been able to ensure that no one previously sentenced in San Francisco will remain on death row either," San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said in a press release.

While Newsom and Boudin work to reduce the state's death row numbers, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra continues to uphold death row convictions.

University of San Francisco law professor, Lara Bazelon, wrote for Slate that Becerra "has continued to fight to cement these convictions" as COVID-19 continues to spread through the prison system.

Becerra, who once tweeted that Newsom's death row decision "represents a bold, new direction in California's march toward perfecting our search for justice," continued to push for the death penalty on the same day of Newsom's moratorium announcement, demonstrating the difference in approach between the two members of California's executive branch.

Since 2000, approximately 300 people have been sentenced to death in California. The remaining 400+ death row inhabitants have waited there for more than 20 years as the state has only executed 13 people since 1978.

In contrast, Texas has executed 570 death row inmates since 1982 and executed nine inmates in 2019 alone.

"I hope that other prosecutors and political leaders in the country follow our lead — one that is consistent with Governor Newsom's moratorium on the death penalty — and end this barbaric practice," Boudin said in the press release.

According to a state estimate, reducing one death sentence to a life in prison could save California up to $90,000 a year. California has not executed a prisoner since 2006, leading to overcrowding in its prisons during a pandemic.

Over the weekend, California's 10th death row inmate died from COVID-19 as the pandemic ravages the state's prison systems, The Mercury News reported. Since the onset of the pandemic, San Quentin State Prison alone has seen more than 2,100 inmates and staff contract the virus, according to CBS Sacramento.

California leads the nation in coronavirus cases with more than 486,000 total reported cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

For the first time in October 2019, a Gallup poll found more Americans said they supported life in prison — 60% — instead of the death penalty — 36% — for people convicted of murder.



Over Tribal Objection, U.S. Government Sets New Execution Date for Sole Native American on Federal Death Row

The U.S. government has set an August 26, 2020 execution date for the sole Native American on federal death row, against the wishes of his tribe, the victims’ family, and the local U.S. Attorney’s office that prosecuted the case.

On July 29, 2020, the Federal Bureau of Prisons issued a notice of execution to Lezmond Mitchell, a member of the Navajo Nation convicted of the stabbing deaths of a woman and her 9-year-old granddaughter on tribal lands. If the execution is carried out, it would be the 1st time in more than a half-century that the federal government has executed any Native American for an offense committed on tribal lands against other members of his tribe.

The federal Major Crimes Act prohibits the government from seeking the death penalty against Native Americans for murders committed on lands designated as “Indian Country” without the prior consent of the tribe. However, before Mitchell’s trial, Navajo Nation officials wrote a letter to the federal prosecutor explaining that the “the taking of human life for vengeance” is counter to Navajo culture and religion and they opposed the death penalty for Mitchell. The victims’ family and local federal prosecutors also opposed seeking the death penalty in the case. Nonetheless, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft directed the government to seek the death penalty under what federal judges described as a “loophole” in the Major Crimes Act — a provision of the Federal Death Penalty Act that permitted federal prosecutors to pursue the death penalty for the lesser crime of “carjacking resulting in death.”

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Carl Slater called the government’s attempt to execute Mitchell a threat to tribal sovereignty. “This completely conflicts with our values,” he said. “The government has an obligation to express our values and reflect them. That’s not just to our citizens, that’s to other sovereigns that have these relationships.”

Mitchell was 1 of 5 prisoners the Department of Justice sought to execute when it announced in July 2019 that it intended to resume federal executions. He was scheduled to be put to death December 13 — the 2nd of 3 prisoners federal prosecutors scheduled for execution that week. However, Mitchell already had an appeal pending in federal court when his execution was scheduled, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stayed his execution so it could hear argument and decide that appeal.

Mitchell’s appeal challenged his conviction and death sentence on the grounds that they were the product of anti-Native American bias in his case. He argued that federal prosecutors had improperly excluded Native-American prospective jurors from serving on his case and then made racially derogatory arguments to the jury. He further argued that Arizona law, which prohibited the defense from interviewing jurors, unconstitutionally prevented him from investigating and presenting evidence of juror bias. Mitchell sought to reopen his challenge based upon new U.S. Supreme Court decisions that permitted defendants to present statements by jurors as evidence that the verdict against him was influenced by racial stereotypes or animus.

On May 1, 2020, a 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit turned down Mitchell’s appeal, but 2 of the judges wrote separately to criticize the federal government for attempting to execute him.

Judge Morgan Christen wrote, “It is worth pausing to consider why Mitchell faces the prospect of being the first person to be executed by the federal government for an intra-Indian crime, committed in Indian Country, by virtue of a carjacking resulting in death.” Quoting tribal officials, she said “Navajo ‘culture and religion teaches us to value life and instruct against the taking of human life for vengeance.’” Although federal law gave the government the discretion to capitally prosecute Mitchell, Christen said, “[t]he imposition of the death penalty in this case is a betrayal of a promise made to the Navajo Nation, and it demonstrates a deep disrespect for tribal sovereignty. People can disagree about whether the death penalty should ever be imposed, but our history shows that the United States gave tribes the option to decide for themselves.”

The circuit court left the stay in place so that Mitchell could seek review of his claims by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Arizona is seeking to lift the stay to permit Mitchell’s execution.

Mitchell’s lawyers, Jonathan Aminoff and Celeste Bacchi, said at the time that “The Ninth Circuit’s decision puts prisoners like Lezmond Mitchell in an impossible position. Although the Supreme Court has held that racial bias in jury deliberations renders a trial fundamentally unfair, Mr. Mitchell has been barred from investigating whether his jury was tainted by racial bias.”

Aminoff and Bacchi blasted the government’s announcement of its intent to execute Mitchell, saying it “demonstrates the ultimate disrespect for the Navajo Nation’s values and sovereignty.” “[T]he Department of Justice exploited a legal loophole and sought the death penalty against Mr. Mitchell for the federal crime of carjacking over the objection of the Navajo Nation, the victims’ family, and the local United States Attorney’s Office,” they said in a statement. “Under these circumstances, allowing Mr. Mitchell’s execution to go forward would be a grave injustice and an unprecedented affront to tribal sovereignty, and it should not be permitted to proceed.”


‘Dead Man Walking’ nun deplores resumption of US federal executions----Federal executions resume in the US as the Covid-19 pandemic lays bare serious structural inequalities of the American judicial system. Anti-death penalty activist, Sr Helen Prejean, reiterates it is time to end the suffering.

The U.S. Justice Department has set 26 August as the execution date for Lezmond Mitchell, who is scheduled to be put to death in the same week as Keith Dwayne Nelson.

3 other people have been executed over the course of four days in July after the US Supreme Court cleared the way for federal executions after a 17-year moratorium.

This is more than the United States has put to death in half a century. Analysts point out that the controversial decision represents an intrusion by the federal government into matters the states and cities normally handle. They say it is a decision taken despite a series of legal concerns including reservations regarding medical precautions and the opposition of family members of the executed prisoners’ victims.

Sr Helen Prejean CSJ has dedicated her life and ministry to the fight for justice for the men she continues to accompany in death row and to changing hearts and minds in the struggle against capital punishment.

Internationally known for her best-selling book, that became an Oscar-winning film, Dead Man Walking, Sr Helen told Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni that injustice is deeply embedded in the United States’ judicial system.

The fact, Sr Helen, says, that the Supreme Court’s decision to resume federal executions at a time in which people around the country are demanding justice, equality and accountability, highlights the intrinsic injustice in the system.

She explains that, back in 1976, the Supreme Court defined the criteria according to which a person was deemed "worthy" of death: “it was only the worst of the worst murderers who would be selected,” she says, “and it has proved to be an impossible criterion, because it means that out of all the murders that happen, you were going to select what you call the ‘the worst of the worst’ by the nature of the crime itself, and also by the character of the person.”

This criteria, she says, is based on the belief that “a person is so evil, they can't be redeemed. And so we must kill them”.

Sr Helen notes that the resumption of federal executions reveals the “deep weakness” in the application of the death penalty because it rests on a prosecutor to determine that he or she is “going to seek death, and to seek it relentlessly.”

In 17 years, she says, "we haven't had federal prosecutors who want death, and the American people realize the death penalty serves no purpose". What's more, she notes, is has also come to be undertood it is not even helpful for the healing process of the victims’ families.

Cultural legacy

Sr Helen points out the arbitrariness of a system, that depends on the will of individual prosecutors, is underscored also by other kinds of injustice and cultural legacies.

She remarks how the southern states, with their history and legacy of slavery and racism, is where over 75% of executions take place.

This, she says, is a direct result of a certain kind of culture as is witnessed by the fact that a disproportionate number of people of colour are selected for federal executions.

No possibility of redemption

Sr Helen spoke passionately about the suffering entwined in the whole death penalty process and its total lack of the Christian perspective of redemption.

“I have accompanied six human beings to execution. Six! And watched this process of the killing of a human being… and what is so sad about it and so against our Catholic faith, our belief in Jesus and the Gospel, is that it is based on the premise ‘This is an evil person who cannot be redeemed’. According to the criteria we have set, there is no hope, no matter how a person changes."

She reveals that the last man put to death this month, Dustin Lee Honken, quoted the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins as he uttered his last words: “I seek a place of safety and love”.

He was a redeemed man, she says. He had killed, but “he was sorry for his actions. He learned to love everybody around him.”

“The man they killed was not the man who had committed the terrible crime. People grow,” she says. The arrogance of the death penalty is: “God has finished with you and we have decided that you must die.”

What the eyes can’t see the heart can’t feel

Sr Helen says the reason she wrote Dead Man Walking and all her other books was to enable people to gain awareness and feel what was happening.

According to a Latin American saying, she says, “What the eyes don’t see the heart can’t feel.” So, her books aim to "bring people close."

She says her second book, The Death of Innocents”, is about the plight of so many innocent people who do not receive a fair trial and end up being killed because the truth never came to light.

“We’ve had 168 wrongfully convicted people sent to death row, " she said. "Some of them for 30 years before they could finally get the break" and a good lawyer upholding the evidence to prove that they were innocent.

Following Jesus's way

Sr Helen speaks of how important it has been that the Catholic Church has taken a principled stand, and of the step taken in May 2018 by Pope Francis when he updated the teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "that under no circumstances can the death penalty be allowed."

It’s a struggle that continues, Sr Helen says. “This is why I just wrote this book River of Fire about how it took me a long time to wake up, to be a Christian, to follow Jesus.”

“I've always tried to follow the way of Jesus, but this also meant to recognize the racism in our system, the injustice and to roll up my sleeves and to get involved."

"I was hungry and you not only gave me to eat, but you visited me and critically analyzed the system that has overwhelmingly put so many people of colour, and only poor people in prison."

For me, she continues, it meant embracing the cause against the death penalty. God, she says, intends for us to use our intellect, as well as our heart and emotions and our deep spiritual ideals:

“I finally awakened to that. It’s what River of Fire is about, about the awakening.”

Right now, Sr Helen, points out, “we are in the midst of a pandemic in which we have lost more people than those who were killed in the Civil War, when the Confederacy in the South fought against the Union.”

And in the prisons, she concluded, hundreds of inmates (and officers) are being infected and are simply waiting to die in their cells:

“So where is the leadership to get the testing? to do the tracking? for life, for the people …? It doesn't exist because politics is all that exists at the top… and then to resume executions!



Conservatives Opposed to Death Penalty Argue Other Conservatives Wrong

Death Penalty Focus, an anti-death penalty organization based in Sacramento, convened Wednesday over Zoom as part of their weekly webinar series on the current state of the death penalty—they feel most conservatives are wrong in supporting state killing.

The discussion centered around the conservative view on abolishing the death penalty, with panelists Hannah Cox, National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, and Jared Olsen, a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives, joining as guests.

Cox and Olsen are part of a growing number of ideological conservatives seeking to end capital punishment.

Both panelists argued that the death penalty—which has historically garnered strong support among conservatives—actually goes against core conservative values, including limited government, the sanctity of human life, and Christian moral beliefs.

According to Cox and Olsen, many conservatives are inconsistent in their support of these ideals.

Olsen noted the first plank of the Republican Party platform in Wyoming asserts the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death—a value that many Christians derive from the Bible.

This value, Olsen said, is particularly salient when discussing abortion; however, it is less often applied to the issue of capital punishment. Olsen believes that if a conservative is to support life prior to birth, they must also do so after, regardless of the decisions an individual has made.

Cox, who identifies as a Libertarian, highlighted a similar inconsistency on the issue of limited government, charging, “Everyone is OK with big government as long as it’s big government they like.”

According to Cox, the biggest role a government can have is the ability to execute their own citizens.

Additionally, capital punishment requires many taxpayer funded resources—which she believes conservatives should be looking to limit.

As both an attorney and a Representative in Wyoming, Olsen was well aware of these costs. He explained how the instant a prosecutor suggests pursuing capital punishment, a list of requirements must be met.

One requirement calls for 2 attorneys on the case, and one of those attorneys must be certified to pursue the death penalty. In Wyoming, only 3 attorneys of that kind exist. For this reason, 70 % of the cost of pursuing the death penalty is legal; which, in his eyes, a conservative should recognize as an unnecessary burden on taxpayers.

And at the end of this lengthy process, Olsen said, many families are ready to forgive.

The expensive nature of pursuing the death penalty was also of concern to Olsen for socioeconomic reasons.

In Wyoming, a state rich in minerals, wealth is oftentimes determined by the distribution of natural resources. Counties with abundant reserves of these resources tend to be wealthier, and, as he points out, more likely to pursue the death penalty. In the words of Olsen, “where you are born should not determine whether or not you’re put into a system that determines life or death.”

Cox and Olsen both believe that conservatives must educate themselves in order to recognize that the death penalty goes against their core values.

Both panelists described the pro-death penalty position as a “default position” among many conservatives, who view capital punishment as an effective means of deterring crime and delivering justice to the family members of a victim.

But the panelists would urge these people to consider the actual facts.

Olsen recalled a recent incident with an older man running for mayor in Cheyenne, who had been a staunch supporter of the death penalty his entire life. Constant coverage of Olsen’s advocacy in the news led the man to challenge his beliefs for the first time, and he was convinced almost immediately.

As Cox puts it, “You got to get in front of people with the facts.”

When asked about the future of the death penalty, both panelists appeared optimistic but recognized that the elimination of capital punishment is still far on the horizon.



Death penalty for drug smuggling in China

An Australian national, Karm Gilespie, was sentenced to death by a Chinese court in June of this year, after being found guilty of drug trafficking according to the court website.

Gillespie was initially arrested at the Guangzhou airport in 2013, carrying over 7.5kg of methamphetamine in his checked luggage. Similarly, in 2019, Canadian citizen Robert Schellenberg was sentenced to death by a Chinese court in January 2019 for attempting to smuggle nearly 500lb (227kg) of methamphetamine from Dalian, a city in northern China, to Australia, using plastic pellets hidden in rubber tires.

China does not disclose the number of people who undergo capital punishment each year. However, according to estimates by Amnesty International, at least a dozen foreign nationals have been executed for drug-related offences, and many more are currently on death row in China. According to the human rights group, China enacts the highest number of death sentences of any country, with thousands thought to have undergone capital punishment in 2019 alone.

One of the most publicized cases in the last decade involved the British national Akmal Shaikh, who was executed in 2009 in China, despite claiming mental illness and the UK prime minister making appeals for clemency to the Chinese government. Shaikh was caught attempting to smuggle over 4kg of heroin in China in 2007. In addition, other Australians sentenced to death in China include Bengali Sherrif, who was caught at Guangzhou airport in 2015 after attempting to smuggle methamphetamine between China and Australia.

According to the statement issued by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, it was “deeply saddened to hear of the verdict.”

“Australia opposes the death penalty, in all circumstances for all people. We support the universal abolition of the death penalty and are committed to pursuing this goal through all the avenues available to us,” -- From the statement issued by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

The former foreign minister Simon Birmingham said Australia was “deeply concerned” by this case. “We expect at a level of principle that not only the death penalty should not be applied but also wherever people are in trouble, the rule of law ought be applied fairly,” said Birmingham.

The verdict is thought to further exacerbate tensions between China and Australia. Recently, China expressed its strong disapproval of Australia’s call to launch an independent investigation into the origins of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

In turn, Beijing issued warnings to Chinese citizens against travelling to Australia, citing a “significant increase” in racist attacks on Asian people, and warned Chinese students against studying there. Further, China has also placed a ban on Australia’s beef imports and imposed tariffs on its barley.



Pakistan’s Bloodthirsty Blasphemy Law Needs to Be Repealed

On Wednesday, Tahir Ahmad Naseem became the latest to be extrajudicially killed for blasphemy in Pakistan. The victim, who had formerly been an Ahmadi before leaving the community, had been under arrest inside Peshawar Central Jail since 2018 for claiming to be a prophet. He was facing trial for blasphemy, and was shot dead in the courtroom inside the Peshawar Judicial Complex.

There is gory symbolism in Pakistan’s latest blasphemy killing being committed inside a courtroom. It explains why, unlike Saudi Arabia or Iran – also among the 13 states that establish death as the penalty for sacrilege against Islam – vigilante justice is the norm in Pakistan. The country’s encouragement of mob violence is rooted in its paradoxical aspiration to be both a democratic republic and an Islamic state.

Where Saudi Arabia and Iran and continue to top the charts for executions, many of which are for “crimes against Islam,” the total number of judicial killings in Pakistan is zero. In fact, for seven years, 2008-2015, Pakistan simultaneously had a moratorium on the death penalty while upholding its codified capital punishment for blasphemy against Islam. It was during this period that Pakistan saw the most high-profile victim of its blasphemy law of the past two decades, when former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by his security guard in January 2011.

Since its inception, Pakistan has codified paradoxical legislation, encompassing jurisprudence borrowed from Western liberalism and Islamic sharia. The 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, for instance, calls the country both “Islamic” and a “Republic,” while granting sovereignty to Allah, the Quran, and Sunnah. Among many of its paradoxes, the constitution claims to allow freedoms of speech and religion, while denying criticism of Islam and “officially” excommunicating the entire Ahmadiyya Muslim sect.

While the preamble of the 1973 constitution itself contradicts Pakistan’s claim to be a democratic country, by virtue of elevation of one religion over others, the Islamist foundations found therein have since exploded to grotesque proportions in legislation spearheaded by both civilian and military leaders. This is best encapsulated by the blasphemy law.

The Pakistan Penal Code borrows Sections 295 and 295-A from the Indian Penal Code 1860, which were applied equally to all religions. The blasphemy law has since mutated into an Islamist tool in the Pakistan Penal Code with the addition of the Islam-specific 295-B and 295-C in 1987. These clauses establish death for blasphemy against Islam alone.

Following the addition of the exclusive protection for Islam, coupled with brutal penalties like capital punishment, Pakistan saw a mammoth hike in blasphemy cases. From 1987 to 2016, 1,472 Pakistanis were charged with blasphemy as compared to seven cases in the previous 60 years.

In the last 3 months alone, blasphemy cases have been launched against a singer, a football maker, academics, and an Ahmadi woman after a mosque refused to take charity from her. Earlier this month, former Foreign and Defense Minister Khawaja Asif was accused of blasphemy for merely saying that “all religions are equal.”

Indeed, the moment the law against blasphemy, which exists across 77 countries in largely diluted and redundant forms, was transformed into a Islamist rallying cry, the number of individuals queuing up to establish religionist supremacism precipitously accelerated. However, their lust for blood, promised by the Penal Code, remained unfulfilled.

As a result mobs and individuals have taken it upon themselves to serve out vigilante justice, which has seen at least 75 people being extrajudicially killed over blasphemy in Pakistan. This rationale – that individuals have to take the matter in their hands because the state isn’t hanging blasphemers – is ubiquitously expounded by the supporters of the latest murderer, declared a hero by many in Pakistan.

Among those glorifying the killer was Haleem Adil Sheikh, leader of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Two months ago, PTI’s minister of state for parliamentary affairs reiterated that blasphemers should be beheaded.

Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Salmaan Taseer, has a shrine in Islamabad, which is frequented by, among others, Muhammad Safdar, a senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader and 3-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law. Qadri’s admirers also include Rai Manzoor, the managing director of the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board, who is currently busy banning books for their blasphemous and treasonous content.

It is curriculum designers like Manzoor who have helped facilitate the state’s active push for Islamic radicalism in the Pakistani society by glorifying the legacy of Ilam Din, who murdered a Hindu publisher over blasphemy in 1929. Pakistan’s founding fathers Muhammad Iqbal, religiously, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, legally, defended Ilam Din. Among those who lauded Ilam Din, along with raising funds for his defense trial and funeral was Muhammad Din Taseer – Salmaan Taseer’s father.

And so the blasphemy boomerang intertwines fates. Ancestors’ glorification of blasphemy killers is resulting in their offspring being killed. The murder that was used to substantiate the blasphemy law in the 1920s has since grown into a blasphemy law that is used to substantiate murder in the 2020s.

The only way to stop Pakistan’s murderous rampage – with the blasphemy law signifying the gruesome expanses of Islamic radicalism – is for the state to shun its Islamist past and embrace absolute religious egalitarianism, which is the foundation of any democratic society. That requires subordinating Islamic law to a secular civil code, with the latter always triumphing in case of a clash. That, in turn, means that Pakistan should repeal its bloodthirsty blasphemy law, regardless of what Islam mandates.

Once outraged religious feelings become sufficient grounds for murder, the religionists will look for excuses to be outraged, and in turn murder. It’s the law of instrument: When Pakistan has weaponized the blasphemy law as an Islamist tool, its wielders will see blasphemers everywhere.

Even those who do blaspheme – against any religion – shouldn’t have to fear for their lives. Instead believers in human rights should wholeheartedly defend the fundamental right of freedom to offend – without which the freedom of speech does not exist.

(source: Opinion, Kunwar Shahid; The Diplomat)


Prisoner Morteza Pirkhezri Executed at Sanandaj Prison

A prisoner on death row for qisas (retribution in-kind) on charges of "premeditated murder" was executed in Sanandaj Central Prison.

According to Iran Human Rights (IHR), the identity of the prisoner executed this morning has been established as Morteza Pirkhezri, 42. He had been sentenced to retribution in-kind for “premeditated murder”.

An informed source told IHR: "Morteza killed his friend over “honour” issues 5 years ago while he was using drugs. He fled to Iraqi Kurdistan after the incident and was a fugitive for 3 years. He later returned to Iran and surrendered himself to police at the request of his family."

At the time of publication, the execution of this prisoner has not been announced by local media or officials.

According to Iran Human Rights Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran, 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 (mens rea) and the circumstances.



Iranians say no to executions----While many are dying from COVID-19, the Iranian regime is still trying to execute those arrested in the November protests. But people are speaking up.

3 young men arrested during the November 2019 protests were to be executed in Iran. However, millions of Iranians took an issue with this on social networks, declaring their rejection of the execution.

They are, Amirhossein Moradi, Saeed Tamjidi and Mohammad Rajabi. The "No to execution" campaign quickly went viral on Iranian and Farsi-language social networks. For more than three days, Iranians on social media, responded to the news that the judiciary has confirmed the death penalty for these young men.

The campaign had an impact and the execution of the three men was temporarily suspended. This is significant because execution and state murder are amongst the most important strategies of the Iranian state to maintain the system.

In Iran, any person and group that questions the state and its order socially, religiously, ethnically or politically can be subjected to the death penalty. This includes political prisoners and protesters but also ordinary people whose behavior, resistance, existence or identity has been criminalized. Specifically, this means: gays and lesbians, Kurds, Arabs, Afghans, Beluchis, Sunnis, Baha’is, Dervishes, political prisoners, protesters, women who have sexual relationships outside of marriage or who oppose the gender order of the Islamic Republic, and others who are considered a threat to the regime.

This policy of fear prevails when people know that their lives are in permanent danger and that the government is able to use massive repression if they deny the political and social order of the state.

This strategy needs a judicial system that sentences people to 10 or 15 years in prison for simply teaching their mother tongues like the cases of Zara Mohammadi, a Kurdish activist or Abbas Lesani a Turkish activist. We have seen similar processes in the cases of many students, workers and women who expressed themselves against the existing political, gender and economic order in Iran.

Iranian human rights organizations have often reported violations of prisoners' human rights and torture. According to Justice for Iran, an Iranian human rights organization based in London, Iranian state media released more than 860 confessions and defamations between 2009 and 2019.

The November 2019 protests were the largest since the establishment of the Islamic Republic. In just a few days, the Iranian state killed between several hundreds and 1500 people, according to Amnesty International, and Reuters.

After the protests, the state had to make a show of executing the 3 men. The 3 men are neither gay, nor political activists for ethnic or religious minorities, they are obviously not women, and can hardly be classified politically. Symbolically, what this meant for many Iranians is that the state was addressing all the protesters and saying, "I am now executing the most acceptable faces of this movement so that you can all draw your own consequences." And indeed millions of Iranians reacted to this message.

Many Afghans were also an active part of the campaign, even though they are negatively affected by structural and social racism in Iran. Nonetheless, the campaign was also heavily criticized by a number of ethnic minority activists when only 2 days before, 2 Kurdish prisoners were executed but did not receive much attention, and many others, including Kurds and Arabs are on death row and could be executed at any time.

Despite all its shortcomings and considering all the criticism it received, one positive thing to observe is that people who used the campaign hashtag did not only care about these 3 men. In fact, many people identified with these 3 men to the extent that they have written about their own experiences with the Iranian state and with the organized violence of the state. This included outrage about the fact that 2 of the men sentenced to the death penalty, Saeed Tamjidi and Mohammad Rajabi, were deported from Turkey despite having applied for asylum in Turkey.

Iran has not experienced a quiet day since the November 2019 riots. In December, as the escalation between Iran and the United States reached the point of a possibile war, people were still learning how many were killed and arrested during the November protests. Then, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing 156 people, including many Iranians. Shortly afterwards, the Coronavirus hit Iran and until today the country has been severely affected by the pandemic.

While many are dying every day because of the failure of the state in managing the Coronavirus crisis, the state still wants to execute those arrested in November. This is why the “No” that people proclaimed goes beyond the “no to executions”.



Egyptian court refers “Beheira Bride” murder case to Grand Mufti to consider death sentence

Damanhur Criminal Court in Egypt on Wednesday referred the case of 20-year-old bride Amira to the Grand Mufti of Egypt so he can issue a religious opinion on the death sentence resulting from charges that she killed her husband, al-Shahat, 28, 5 days after their wedding ceremony.

The court set September 30 a date to issue the final judgment.

Former Chief of the Beheira Security Directorate Alaa al-Din Abdel Fattah received notification from the Central Delengat Hospital that Shahat died due to rat poison slipped in his juice.

Shahat’s father said that Amira refused to marry his son because she was in a relationship with someone else.

Police arrested Amira and 2 other people, who denied being involved in the killing.



Pres. Weah Expresses Support for Capital Punishment for Child Molestation?

President George Manneh Weah has availed his unflinching support for capital punishment for those molesting minors in the country.

According to an Executive Mansion press release, President Weah has instructed that the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce structure a technical team with relevant stakeholders, to discuss, consult and flesh out finalized document on capital punishment of rape.

“As President of Liberia, it is my responsibility to lead all efforts to address social and societal irregularities. As Feminist-in-Chief, I have stated on many occasions that I have zero tolerance for Sexual and Gender Based Violence. Let me re-emphasize that this Administration remains unrelentingly committed to curtailing this evil scourge,” President Weah said.

President Weah statement comes right after government concluded a special stakeholder meeting on the overview of the status of rape and other Sexual and Gender Based Violence cases in the country.

The meeting follows a month-long engagement of the GoL’s Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on SGBV.

The Taskforce, chaired by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and Co-Chaired by the Ministers of Justice and Finance and Development Planning, submitted preliminary findings to the Office of the President on July 18th, 2020 for his consideration and further mandate.

President Wea,h following the findings from the engagement stressed the need to have a nationwide consultation meeting to address mitigate the scourge of rape, especially as it seemed to have surged during this COVID-19 Pandemic.

During the meeting, President Weah expressed that the country is witnessing an alarming increase in Sexual and Gender Based Violence especially rape, during a time when we are at war with the ravaging Coronavirus Pandemic.



‘Death penalty only targets the poor’ – groups----“This bloodthirsty regime fetishes death and violence, and Duterte strongly batting to reimpose death penalty is not surprising but no less infuriating — it’s as if the mass murder of the poor at the hands of the police in the sham drug war or in the hands of soldiers through the counterinsurgency program aren’t forms of death penalty already, while the rich, the regime’s most gung ho allies, and human rights violators can blatantly escape accountability without even an iota of remorse for their crimes.”

Different cause-oriented groups expressed disagreement with President Rodrigo Duterte’s proposal to revive death penalty by lethal injection for crimes specified under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

Human rights group Karapatan said that it would only “institutionalize the already ongoing State-sanctioned carnage of the poor.”

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said Duterte’s push of the measure during his annual address to the people “already speaks of the true state of the nation under Duterte: a nation suffering under the darkness of State-sponsored killings of the poor and attacks on people’s rights.”

“This bloodthirsty regime fetishes death and violence, and Duterte strongly batting to reimpose death penalty is not surprising but no less infuriating — it’s as if the mass murder of the poor at the hands of the police in the sham drug war or in the hands of soldiers through the counterinsurgency program aren’t forms of death penalty already, while the rich, the regime’s most gungho allies, and human rights violators can blatantly escape accountability without even an iota of remorse for their crimes,” Palabay said.

Justice system not for the poor

For fisherfolk group Pamalakaya, with the “current judicial system where impunity for the powerful prevails while ordinary folks are being deprived of legal due process, revival of the death penalty will mostly target the poor, not the rich and powerful criminals.”

Bayan Muna Partylist and Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Isagani Zarate also said that this will greatly impact those who cannot afford lawyers.

Zarate pointed out that studies have showed that “death penalty will not deter crimes especially in a corrupt justice system where the rich and the powerful get away with their crimes.”

“The immediate solution is systemic reforms of our justice system to eliminate corruption and delay, as well as stamp out impunity,” Zarate said.

He also added that one of the reasons for crime is poverty. Thus, he said that the most effective solution to deter crime is by lifting the people from poverty.

“If people have decent wages, and their family can eat 3 meals a day, have free education and health care, crime will surely go down,” Zarate said.

Leaders from Catholic and Protestant churches also expressed their opposition against the reviving of death penalty on drug-related crimes. They call on people of good will to join them in this fight.

“An attack on any human person, the image of God, is an attack on God,” they said in a statement.

“Nothing – neither human sin, nor injustice, nor evil, ‘nor anything else in creation can separate us from the saving love of God that is in Jesus Christ our Lord.’ (Romans 8:39) This is the faith we confess, and we oppose the death penalty because it is contrary to the Christian principles of respect for human life, mercy, forgiveness and charity,” they added.

Among the signatories of the statement are Most Rev. Broderick S. Pabillo, D.D., Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza, General Secretary, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Most Revd. Rhee M. Timbang,Obispo Maximo of Iglesia Filipina Independienteand The Rt. Rev. Rex RB Reyes, Jr., D.D. of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Philippines.

They urged Duterte, the lawmakers and the people to heed the word of God to choose life.



Gatchalian wants death penalty for drug lords only

Amid the call of the president to revive capital punishment, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian admitted to filing a bill reviving the death penalty prior but as applied exclusively for drug lords only.

He told ANC in an interview it was based on his experience as a former Valenzuela city mayor.

“Even if drug lords get convicted and put in jail, they still manage to conduct businesses …so if they don’t meet the death penalty, we will have a difficult time curbing drugs in our communities,”’ Gatchalian explained, adding, drug lords provide the funds “to protect drug syndicates, drug peddlers."

In last Wednesday’s Senate plenary session, Gatchalian relinquished his membership in the Senate justice and human rights committee chaired by Senator Richard J. Gordon in lieu of Senator Ronald dela Rosa, former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, seeking congressional approval of his own pro-death penalty bill.

Gatchalian explained, "I can see Senator Dela Rosa’s passion on tackling death penalty so to give him the opportunity to participate in the deliberations of the committee as well as to vote in the committee, I relinquished my membership in the Justice Committee.”

Gordon, an anti-death penalty proponent, has sat on 10 pro-death penalty bllls.

"The chairman (Gordon), as we all know, dictates the pace and proceedings in the committee," Gatchalian explained.

Several other lawmakers are against the death penalty.

Asked why the death penalty bill should be accorded priority given the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Gathalian replied: "From my research, looking at the deliberations during the past congresses and senate deliberations on the average, a death penalty law will need around a year to a year and a half to be deliberated."

“No less than the Senate President (Vicente C. Sotto III) said it took them almost more than a year to come up with some form of voting on the death penalty law. So we can [at least] start the conversation," he added.

"We can present our arguments for or against it. The deliberations would take a year or more than a year. By the time we vote hopefully, the pandemic will be over.”

(source: Manila Bulletin)


Bicol bishop slams death penalty push

Bishop Joel Baylon of the Diocese of Legazpi slammed President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to restore the death penalty to go after perpetrators of the heinous crimes, specifically drug syndicates in the country.

“The Church has always maintained that capital punishment, in whatever form it comes, is never a deterrent to crime. Studies have proven this time and again,” said Baylon, chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care.

Baylon was reacting to Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, when the President called for the reinstitution of the death penalty by lethal injection.

The prelate lamented that for the 3rd time, the President used his SONA to make another push for the revival of death penalty for drug-related crimes.

Instead of reviving capital punishment, the Diocese of Legazpi prelate reiterated “restorative justice” as the more dignified choice.

“With the death penalty, justice is nothing but a punishment and never a way to reform the offender. But true justice is restorative, never punitive,” Baylon said.

Duterte in his SONA said the restoration of death penalty would not only help deter criminality but also save children from the dangers posed by illegal drugs.

He also renewed his threat to kill drug dealers even as rights groups said his drug war had claimed thousands since he became president in 2016.

Baylon had declared Monday a “Day of Prayer and Fasting” in all parishes in Albay in time for delivery of the President Duterte’s SONA.

He also issued a pastoral letter on Sunday asking all parish priests and the religious and lay people in the province to offer prayers for the President and all government officials.

The pastoral letter was read in the 47 parishes of the diocese during the Sunday Masses for peace, reconciliation and healing in the country.

The bishop reminded government leaders that public office is a public trust; that they must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest and exemplary lives.

Baylon said: “We are not ene­mies of the State. We are not anti-government. The church is in fact a great collaborator of the government especially amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, during many calamities like typhoon volcanic eruptions and other disasters.”

The church, according to him, respects the mandates of officials to govern the country, but “we, as shepherds of the flock, also have to fulfill our pastoral duty of proclaiming the Gospel values and ensuring that human rights are not threatened and are always respected.”

(source: The Manila Times)

JULY 30, 2020:


Commentary: Repealing Death Penalty --‘Essential to Racial Healing’ in Virginia

Recent police and vigilante killings of Black Americans have ignited a national call for systemic reform of law enforcement across the country, highlighting the link between extrajudicial abuse of force and widespread discriminatory application of unnecessarily harsh legal punishments against people of color. In the wake of these murders, Maryland public defender Kristina Leslie writes, “[m]eaningful and equitable criminal justice reform … must include abolishing the death penalty.”

Leslie, who also serves as president of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, authored an op-ed, Death penalty repeal is essential to racial healing, published July 2, 2020 in The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Her commentary explains how Virginia’s death penalty fits into its history of racial injustice and why the abolition of capital punishment is a critical element of the movement toward racial equity. “For generations,” she says, this country’s failure to effectively combat, or even confront, systemic racism has resulted in the brutal, discriminatory treatment of Black and brown people. Nowhere is racial bigotry more insidious than in the application of America’s harshest punishment — death.”

Leslie traces Virginia’s death penalty history, linking it to lynchings and other injustices and explaining how “racial bias inextricably is tied to the death penalty.” Virginia, the site of the first execution in what is now the United States, has performed 1,390 documented executions since 1608. Of those, “only 4 involved a white defendant killing a Black victim — all since 1997. This data suggests that Black lives are undervalued.”

A DPIC review of Virginia execution data from the 20th century demonstrates the historically discriminatory application of capital punishment against African Americans in Virginia. DPIC found that from 1900 to 1970, Virginia executed 73 people for rape, attempted rape, or robbery not resulting in death. Every one of those executed was African American.

Leslie’s op-ed spotlights several appalling instances of racism in the Commonwealth’s use of the death penalty. “One egregious case occurred in 1949,” she writes, “when seven young Black men were charged in Martinsville with the rape of a white woman. All seven men — several falsely threatened into confessing with nonexistent lynch mobs — were convicted of rape, and aiding and abetting rape by white juries, then assembly-line electrocuted on 2 separate days.” She notes that “[i]n stark contrast, at the same time as the Martinsville cases, the Norfolk Journal reported that a white Virginia man named Murrel Dudley was convicted of raping a ‘feeble-minded colored woman.’ He was fined $20.”

Leslie describes continuing racial disparities, including in the settings for capital trials and the personnel who carry them out. “Capital defendants in the commonwealth are restrained by waist chains and leg irons while seated in a courtroom adorned with portraits commemorating men of the Confederacy,” she writes. “Typically, the judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys all are white. As a Black lawyer, I am profoundly aware that my client and I are the only minorities in the room.”

Despite its history, Virginia is moving away from the death penalty. It has not executed anyone since 2017, and no one has been sentenced to death in nearly a decade. Governor Ralph Northam has said he would sign an abolition bill, and, earlier in 2020, the Virginia legislature enacted a new law making public the identities of companies that provide execution drugs to the state.

“Meaningful and equitable criminal justice reform, born in the wake of the recent police murders of Black Americans and subsequent protests, must include abolishing the death penalty,” Leslie concludes. “Virginia has the opportunity to be the 1st Southern state to abolish capital punishment to correct the wrongs of the past and advance toward a more just, equitable and unbiased tomorrow.”

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)


Russell County kidnapping, Capital Murder suspects make 1st court appearance

2 days after allegedly killing a Columbus woman, 4 suspects facing the possibility of the death penalty made their 1st court appearance this morning.

Circuit Court Judge David Johnson ordered all 4 co-defendants held without bond and appointed legal counsel to each one.

The 72-hour hearing in Alabama is just so the suspects can know what charges they face. And these 4 suspects could face the maximum punishment offered in Alabama.

Tameka Skinner, 39, was shot to death Monday morning in what the Russell County Sheriff’s Office says was a kidnapping and murder plot.

The 4 suspects — suspected mastermind 30-year-old Demetria Johnson of Columbus, 40-year-old Shaun Johnson and 30-year-old Joshua Tolbert also of Columbus and 33-year-old Jayvonn Phillips of Seale, Ala. — appeared in court the morning of July 29.

The judge put a gag order on everyone involved in the case, from law enforcement to attorneys to defendants, and even the victim’s family.

Demetria Johnson was jealous over Skinner dating the father of Johnson’s children, Sheriff Heath Taylor told News 3.

That led to her recruiting the other 3 suspects. Skinner was taken from an apartment in south Columbus and her car was stolen. Police were able to track the vehicle, leading them to the suspects off Porter Road in Russell County. A police chase of more than 90 miles ensued.

The suspects were captured when the car ran out of gas and crashed in Wetumpka. News 3 will continue to follow this developing story.

The 4 suspects will face kidnapping and robbery charges in Columbus, but the capital murder charges in Alabama take precedent.

(source: WRBL news)


Accused killers of 3-year-old Alabama girl face death penalty in 2 different courts

A couple who kidnapped and murdered a little girl in Alabama last year have been indicted on federal kidnapping charges.

As a consequence, Patrick Stallworth and Derick Irisha Brown are facing the death penalty in 2 different courts.

Both have already been charged in state court with capital murder of a child, after the death of Kamille "Cupcake" McKinney, a 3-year-old snatched from a birthday party.

Her body was found in a dumpster outside Birmingham 10 days later.

"This crime is every parent's worst nightmare and my heart goes out to her family," said US Attorney Prim Escalona, the top Justice Department prosecutor in northern Alabama.

"Today brings us one step closer to seeing that justice is served for this family and for our community."

Kamille vanished while playing outside the Tom Brown Village Housing Community on October 12 last year.

Stallworth and Brown have both blamed each other for the little girl's death.

Patrick Devone Stallworth is expected to be charged over the 3-year-old's murder.

Stallworth's girlfriend Derick Irisha Brown is also expected to be charged.=

Investigators were not aware of any link between the suspects and the girl's family.

"We can no longer assume that everyone is part of the village that is trying to raise the child," Birmingham Police Chief Patrick Smith said after Kamille's body had been found.

An autopsy showed Kamille died of asphyxiation by suffocation, and had methamphetamine and Trazodone, an antidepressant, in her bloodstream.

If it is proven Kamille died as a result of the kidnapping, the penalty in federal court is life behind bars or the death penalty.



In Baton Rouge police officer's slaying, man indicted on 1st-degree murder counts

The man accused of fatally shooting a Baton Rouge police officer and his girlfriend's stepfather a few hours apart last April was indicted Wednesday on charges that could lead to his execution.

Ronnie Kato, 36, of Baton Rouge, was charged by an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury with 2 counts of 1st-degree murder in the April 26 killings of Lt. Glenn Hutto Jr., 45, and Curtis Richardson, 58.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III, who was in the courtroom when the grand jury's decision was announced, said his office will continue to meet with the victims' families and that a formal decision on whether to seek the death penalty will be made in the near future.

"Today starts the formal, long, arduous, emotional life of this case," he said.

Kato is being held without bond. His case is assigned to state District Judge Richard Anderson.

Detectives believe Kato fatally shot Richardson, his girlfriend's stepfather, during a domestic dispute at a home on North Pamela Drive off North Sherwood Forest Drive the morning of April 26.

Then, 3 hours later, Kato allegedly shot Hutto and Cpl. Derrick Maglone as the 2 officers looked for him at a home on Conrad Drive near the intersection of Winbourne Avenue and North Foster Drive.

Kato barricaded himself inside the home on Conrad in the city's Howell Park neighborhood after the shooting and was taken into custody after a standoff with police that lasted several hours.

A detective testified at a probable cause hearing this month that Kato ambushed Hutto and Maglone with an assault-style rifle as the officers searched for him in the backyard of the Conrad home.

Kato was lying down inside a car with heavily tinted windows when he began shooting, Baton Rouge Police homicide detective Logan Collins said during the hearing.

Maglone, 35, was shot first, Collins said. He was critically injured and released from the hospital May 7.

After seriously wounding Hutto, who crawled toward Maglone and radioed for help, Kato stood over Hutto — a 21-year veteran of the police force — and fatally shot him, Collins testified.

Collins, the lead police detective on the case, said the same AR-15 rifle was used to kill Richardson and Hutto.

Hutto, a sergeant at the time of the shooting, received the rank of lieutenant posthumously.

Hutto and Maglone were among the half-dozen or so officers sent to the home on Conrad in search of Kato, Collins said.

(source: The Advocate)


Pima County to elect new county attorney----The winner of the Democratic primary faces no opposition in November.

For the 1st time since 1996, voters will elect a new Pima County attorney. 3 Democrats are running to replace retiring County Attorney Barbara LaWall.

Candidate Jonathan Mosher is the chief criminal deputy in the Pima County Attorney’s Office. Mark Diebolt is also a prosecutor, and Laura Conover is a defense attorney with experience in federal court. [Conover is not related to the reporter of this story.]

Diebolt did not answer AZPM’s invitation for an interview.

As Democrats, the candidates have similar views on many of the issues. There is a stark difference when it comes to the topic of experience in the Pima County Attorney’s Office. Conover is the outsider, and she is proud of that fact.

“The fact that I have not prosecuted in that office is my strength because only an attorney from the outside, I believe, is going to be able to come in and change the culture of that office in ways that are critical. We’ve got to move away from the war on drugs, we’ve got to stop demanding low cash bail that just keeps people trapped in jail because of poverty. We’ve got to finally put an end to the death penalty, which is also a waste of millions of dollars and all of that is going on right now and right under the watch of both of my opponents,” Conover said. “All we have to do is take a look at the president of the United States and see what happens when you get so frustrated with a system that you elect inexperienced, unqualified people. I’m the only candidate for lead prosecutor that has significant prosecution experience, significant office management experience and a vision for change. And it is the vision for change combined with ability to protect the core mission of the office,” said Mosher.

In recent months, Tucson has dealt with two in-custody deaths in the Tucson Police Department. Conover said reviews of that type of case need to be handled differently.

“There is a natural relationship between prosecutors and law enforcement. We shouldn’t bury our heads in the sand about that. That is the way the office works, so the only way to deepen trust with the public is to have the opportunity to have an independent prosecutor who is not appointed by me as county attorney and does not report to me as county attorney so we can have neutrality and an independent investigation and prosecution. The public deserves that,” said Conover.

Mosher agreed that an outside group should investigate deaths of people in the custody of law enforcement officers.

“I think we need to look at creating an independent prosecution agency and an independent investigation so that no agency is merely investigating itself and so no single elected official is simply making a decision alone,” Mosher said.

Both Mosher and Conover want to see a change at the county attorney’s office when it comes to drug cases. They agree that treatment is cheaper than incarceration for low-level offenses, but Conover and Mosher also said they are not letting people off for crimes they commit.

No Republican is running for Pima County attoney, so the winner of the Democratic primary is the de facto winner of the general election in November.

(source: Arizona Public Media)

USA----new federal execution date

Justice Department sets execution date for only Native American on death row----Navajo Nation objects to the death sentence for tribe member convicted of double homicide

The Justice Department on Wednesday scheduled the execution of Lezmond Mitchell, the only Native American on federal death row, for late August, his attorneys said Wednesday.

If the execution, scheduled for August 26, proceeds, it will be the 1st time in modern American history the government executed a Native American tribal member.

Mitchell is a member of the Navajo Nation. Under federal law, the U.S. government cannot pursue a death sentence for a capital murder committed on Native American land without the tribe’s consent.

Justice Department prosecutors in the early 2000s got around that restriction, however, by seeking the death penalty connected to a lesser charge.

Mitchell’s attorneys, Jonathan Aminoff and Celeste Bacchi, accused Justice Department prosecutors of exploiting a legal loophole.

“The federal government’s announcement that it now plans to execute Lezmond Mitchell demonstrates the ultimate disrespect for the Navajo Nation’s values and sovereignty,” they said in a statement.

The Justice Department pushed back in a statement, saying that Mitchell’s conviction and death sentence were affirmed on appeal by “every court that considered them.”

(source: Washington Times)


USA----impending/scheduled executions

With the execution of Dustin Lee Honken at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, on July 16, the USA has now executed 1,522 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.

1523-----Aug. 26----------Lezmond Mitchell-------------Federal

1524-----Aug. 28----------Keith Nelson-----------------Federal

1525-----Sept. 9----------John Ramirez-----------------Texas

1526-----Sept. 30---------Carlos Trevino---------------Texas

1527-----Dec. 31----------Harold Nichols---------------Tennessee (source: Rick Halperin)


Federal executions are one more example of Trump administration overreach

With some 150,000 lives lost, it’s entirely appropriate that the pandemic takes up most of our attention. In the frenzy of courageous nurses, doctors and scientists to save lives, not many of us have room for another catastrophe. For that reason you might have missed, or even ignored, the catastrophe that is taking place in every American’s name.

The federal government started executing people this month, after going 17 years without a single federal execution. In fact, the three people executed over the course of four days in July is more than the United States has put to death in half a century. No president, Republican or Democrat, has executed as many people since 1948, when Harry Truman was in the White House.

It’s alarming, but it may only be the beginning. The next federal execution is scheduled for Aug. 28, and there are 59 more federal inmates facing the death penalty.

The resumption of executions is not an isolated effort, but the latest overreach by an administration that has deployed its troops in cities that have passionately objected to their presence and has tried to force schools to reopen. (This intrusion by the federal government into matters the states and cities normally handle is why conservatives who dislike big government are leading the opposition to the death penalty in many places.) It’s hardly the only controversial move this White House has made during the pandemic, while most of us are preoccupied.

The administration has done so despite the opposition of family members of the executed prisoners’ victims. In the case of Daniel Lee, who was executed July 14, Earlene Branch Peterson, whose daughter and granddaughter were killed in the crime for which Lewis died, took the Justice Department to court. (Lee maintained his innocence. His co-defendant received a life sentence.) Perhaps because of this protest, U.S. Attorney General William Barr declared that family members have no right to be present for the executions of their loved ones.

These are the same family of murder victims who are used to justify executions. One more reminder that though the narrative of the government is always that it conducts executions “for the victims,” those closest to the murder victims often recognize that the death penalty does more harm than good. It extends trauma, creates new victims and exacerbates the wounds of violence. Violence is the disease, not the cure.

It is the latest reminder of how President Donald Trump regularly flouts the loyal support of televangelists and religious pundits who have called him “the most pro-life president in history.” This president and this attorney general are anything but pro-life.

On the other hand, there are now over 1,000 bishops, pastors and faith leaders calling for a halt to federal executions. I was moved to see a petition denouncing federal executions circulate nationally after this recent surge of executions (and honored to sign it).

Since he called for the execution of the Central Park Five — the teens later exonerated in a 1980s attack in Manhattan — Trump has supported retributive justice. When asked his favorite Bible verse during his 2016 presidential campaign, he cited “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” — the verse Jesus challenged, saying, “You’ve heard it said ‘an eye for an eye… but I tell you ...’”

Jesus goes on to challenge the ancient law known as “lex talionis,” from which we derive the modern word “retaliation.” This ancient form of justice allowed for reciprocal harm — inasmuch as you were harmed, you could return the harm. Jesus pushes back, commanding his listeners and wannabe disciples not to mirror evil and not to return the harm done to them — but to love their enemies.

Even now, we know we can do better than gouging out the eye of someone who blinded another person. We don’t rape people who rape to show that rape is wrong. But somehow in the most extreme case of murder we hold out this un-Christ-like, barbaric notion that we can kill to show that killing is wrong.

The logic is so flawed that one of the great thinkers of the early church, Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, put his finger on the strange notion: When an individual kills another person we call it evil, but when the state does it, we sanctify it and call it good. What a distorted version of justice, mused the third-century bishop. It is wrong to kill, whether it is done by a criminal or by a king … or by a president or governor.

This recent surge of executions not only contradicts hundreds of years of ethics in the church; it also goes against the national trends of the American people.

The United States has been steadily moving away from the death penalty. State by state, executions drop nearly every year to historic lows. Almost every year, another state abolishes the death penalty. With Colorado becoming the seventh state to legislatively abolish capital punishment last year, 22 states have no capital punishment provision on the books at all. Several more don’t use the death penalty. As a result, significantly more states have stopped actively executing prisoners than states that still do.

This year executions could be the lowest they have been since the Supreme Court upheld current death penalty laws in 1976. New death penalty sentences, too, are the lowest they have been in more than 20 years, even in Texas (where nearly half of the executions occur each year). We’ve hit a tipping point, as the majority of Americans now want to see an end to the death penalty, and that number rises considerably among young adults (one poll shows 80% of millennial Christians are against the death penalty).

The death penalty, in short, is on its way out, here and abroad. Globally, executions fell to the lowest level in a decade. When it comes to executing human beings, this is the company we find ourselves in: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Iraq. Those are the five deadliest countries in the world when it comes to executions. The U.S. is No. 7.

Trump publicly rebuked Iran for executing three people … the same week he himself executed three people. It doesn’t have to be this way. Let us rededicate ourselves to getting on the right side of history — and abolishing the death penalty, once and for all.

(source: Shane Claiborne is the author of “Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)


Grave Concern Over Possible Secret Executions of 5 Iranian Protesters

According to the relatives of the 5 protesters arrested at the December 2017/January 2018 nationwide protests, who are being held at Isfahan Central Prison, they have not had any contact with their loved ones. The securitisation of the city of Nikbakht in Isfahan (home to the 5 protesters) and the statements of some officials in conversation with their families are of grave concern that they may have been secretly executed.

Iran Human Rights (IHR) calls on the international community once more, to react immediately before it is too late, to prevent the execution of these 5 protesters.

Informed sources have told IHR that as of yesterday, Mehdi Salehi Ghaleh Shahrokhi, Mohammad Bastami, Majid Nazari Kondari, Hadi Kiani and Abbas Mohammadi have not had any contact with their families and what officials have told their families gives reason to believe that they will be executed within hours. The securitisation of the city of Nikbakht in Isfahan has doubled the families’ fears.

On Monday, 27 July, following IHR’s revelation that the Supreme Court had upheld the death sentences of the 5 protesters, judiciary officials were quick to issue a denial. Meanwhile, documents obtained by IHR show that the 5 men’s death sentences, who are co-defendants with 8 other people in the case, were upheld by the Supreme Court.

IHR Director, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam had previously said: “In addition to the inhumanity of the death penalty itself, we condemn the use of executions as a means of repressing protesters and creating fear in society. We call on the international community to put pressure on the Iranian authorities to stop these executions.” Referring to the unprecedented mass “don’t execute” hashtag campaign, which was started by social media users, Amiry-Moghaddam also stressed the need for collective action to echo the voice of the protesters to the world.



Egypt executes 7 people for allegedly killing a policeman in 2013

Egyptian authorities have executed 7 men for their alleged involvement in the killing of a police officer in the Ismailia governorate in 2013.

“The prison service on Tuesday carried out the sentence of death by hanging against seven people convicted of killing Captain Ahmad Abu Douma,” the security official told AFP.

Their bodies had been handed to their families, he added.

Abu Douma had been on patrol in Ismailiya, close to the Suez Canal, when he came under fire by unidentified gunmen on a motorbike and in a car, who seized his weapon.

According to human rights activist Ahmed El-Attar, the men were accused of fighting another gang in the street when a plain clothes police officer intervened to try and stop the shooting and one of the men shot him.

One of them, Essam Atta, published a letter on Facebook 2 years ago to say he was tortured to extract confessions, including threats to rape his mother and his sister.

In 2018 the Court of Cassation dismissed the defendants’ appeals and upheld the death sentence against them. Rights groups have said they were not given a fair trial.

Since Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s rise to power in 2013 there have been an unprecedented number of death sentences in Egypt.

Last year, Egypt ranked sixth on the list of countries that carried out the most executions in 2018.

Between January 2014 and February 2018 courts recommended the death sentence for at least 2,159 individuals and carried out 83 of them.

Between 2011 and 2013 one person was executed. 10 children have been sentenced to death under Sisi’s rule.

In February, eight Egyptians were executed after being accused of attacking three Coptic churches and a police checkpoint that killed 88 people in 2017.

Several of the detainees were forcibly disappeared and tortured to obtain false confessions.

Soaring numbers of executions have come after the increase of mass trials which see multiple defendants being sentenced to death at the same time.

Death sentences after a mass trial are illegal under international law.

In December last year Egyptian authorities executed three people convicted of terror-related charges, without informing their families.

In June 2017 Egypt’s Court of Cassation upheld death sentences against 6 men they accused of murdering a police guard after a deeply flawed trial. They were tortured to obtain videotaped confessions, the 1st time many of their families knew where they were or had heard from them since their disappearance.

They were raped, given electric shocks on the genitals, threatened that their mothers and sisters would be raped, and suspended in stress positions for up to 4 days and burnt with cigarettes.

(source: Middle East Observer)


Throne Day: King Mohammed VI Offers Royal Pardon to 1,446 Convicts----Royal pardon is a custom in Morocco on religious and national events.

King Mohammed VI has ordered a royal pardon for 1,446 convicts on the eve of Throne Day, which will take place on Thursday.

A press release from the Ministry of Justice announced on Wednesday that the list of the beneficiaries from the royal pardon includes convicts in detention and on provisional release.

The list includes 323 inmates who received pardon over their remaining prison term. Meanwhile, 940 prisoners had their terms reduced thanks to the royal pardon.

2 convicts’ sentences were also commuted from the death penalty to life imprisonment, while 2 others had their prison sentences commuted from life imprisonment to fixed prison terms.

The beneficiaries also include “free” convicts.

Approximately 39 prisoners benefited from pardon over remaining prison terms while on provisional release. Eight convicts benefited from pardon over their imprisonment terms while their fines were maintained.

Around 120 prisoners saw their fines canceled, while 10 convicts benefited from both pardon over their prison terms and cancelation of their fines. Two convicts benefited from pardon over their remaining prison terms and fines.

Royal pardons are a customary decision on religious and national celebrations, and Throne Day is no exception.



South Sudanese teen escapes death sentence

The quashing of a death sentence earlier imposed on a teenager has prompted calls for South Sudan to abolish capital punishment.

South Sudan’s Court of Appeal has quashed the sentence against Magai Matiop Ngong (18) because he was a minor when he mistakably shot his cousin during a confrontation.

Ngong was 15 at the time when, while he was involved in a scuffle with an elderly neighbor, drew his father’s gun and fired a warning shot to the ground, only for the bullet to rebound and kill his cousin.

The appeals court has sent his case back to the High Court to rule on an appropriate sentence.

It has ordered Ngong’s removal from death row.

More than 765, 000 people around the world had also petitioned President Salva Kiir to commute Magai’s death sentence.

Amnesty International welcomed the appeals court’s decision because under international law a child could not be sentenced to death.

“Magai is one of the lucky ones,” Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, said.

Muchena said at least two other people, who were children at the time of their crimes, had been executed in the country since May 2018.

The human rights advocate said the South Sudanese government must fully comply with local and international law that prohibited the use of the death penalty against anyone below 18 years of age at the time the crime was committed.

“The authorities must abolish this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment,” Muchena said.



Indonesian police seize 200 kilograms of methamphetamine from Myanmar

The Indonesian police seized 200 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine hailing from Myanmar and arrested four suspects, a police officer said.

The contraband was smuggled through a route from Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia, Deputy Chief of the Criminal Investigation Agency of the Indonesian National Police Inspector General Wahyu Hadiningrat told a press conference in West Java on Wednesday.

To avoid the police's suspicion, the illegal goods were put in 240 sacks containing corn, Hadiningrat said, adding that in Indonesia, the drugs were brought from Batam in Riau Islands province to Bangka Belitung province before arriving at the Tanjung Priok seaport in Jakarta.

Earlier on July 21, the police found crystal methamphetamine in 73 sacks of corn in Bangka Belitung, before the constable found 287 sacks in East Jakarta and 60 sacks in North Jakarta, which were suspected of containing illicit goods, Hadiningrat disclosed.

On July 23, the police arrested a person identified as SC who did checking at a warehouse in Cikarang town, West Java, he said, adding that SC was ordered to do so by a person identified as K who is still at large.

Besides SC, there are other suspects identified as R, A and Y. If found guilty, the suspects shall get a life sentence or death penalty.



Hawker sent to gallows for drug trafficking

A hawker was sentenced to death for trafficking in 41.7gm of heroin and monoacetylmorphines following a cross-appeal by the prosecution under the amended Dangerous Drugs Act (DDA).

A 3-member Court of Appeal bench, chaired by Nor Bee Ariffin, substituted the 30-year life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the rotan with the capital punishment.

“The appeal is allowed and substituted with the death penalty,” said Nor Bee, who sat with Hadhariah Syed Ismail and Nordin Hassan.

Zaliman Zakariah, 33, committed the offence in front of an apartment in Bayan Lepas, Penang, on Feb 1, 2016.

On Jan 30 last year, High Court judge Akhtar Tahir imposed the maximum (30-year) jail term and 15 strokes of the rotan after finding Zaliman guilty of trafficking.

Zaliman was appealing against conviction.

Court-appointed lawyer Anwar Raof, who represented Zaliman, said the drugs were found in the accused mother’s car. Zaliman was in possession of the ignition key.

“The accused had no knowledge, custody and control of the drugs to be found guilty of trafficking,” he said.

Deputy public prosecutor Nahra Dollah submitted that the trial judge had failed to consider Section 39B (2A) of the DDA.

Among the conditions imposed to get the jail term is that the convicted person should have assisted an enforcement agency in disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Malaysia.

The government then amended the law in 2017 to give courts the option of imposing either penalty albeit subject to certain conditions set out by the public prosecutor.

The new law came into effect on March 15, 2018.



Senate to form panel to start hearings on death penalty revival

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson is optimistic that the Senate would be able to resolve on Monday the probable creation of a Senate justice and human rights sub-committee to begin a public hearing on the proposed reimposition of the death penalty.

Lacson, chairman of the Senate national defense and security committee, said the Senate would hold a caucus to be attended by all senators before the resumption of their plenary session on Monday afternoon to resolve the issue.

Senator Ronald ‘’Bato’’ dela Rosa had presented himself to defend his pro-death penalty bill.

There are 10 death penalty bills that remain pending at the Senate Justice and Human Rights committee chaired by Senator Richard J. Gordon, an anti-death penalty advocate.

In yesterday’s Senate plenary session, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian relinquished his membership from Gordon’s committee in order that dela Rosa could become a regular committee member that will eventually allow him to defend or sponsor his bill.

Lacson, vice chairman of the justice committee and also a death penalty proponent, said yesterday he is confident that dela Rosa would be able to defend his death penalty position.

Both Lacson and dela Rosa are former Philippine National Police (PNP) chiefs.

In his privilege speech yesterday, dela Rosa said it is time to take up and pass into law the death penalty measure to finally end the halcyon days of drug traffickers in the multi-billion-peso drug trade.

Lacson said he believes dela Rosa would be able to score points after having weathered a barrage of questions when interpellated by his colleagues after delivering his privilege speech on the need to reimpose the death penalty.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said the creation of a sub-committee of the mother justice and human rights committee depends on Gordon.

In yesterday’s regular session, Gordon said he would call a committee hearing at the proper time but he himself would not sponsor or defend the death penalty bill is presented on the Senate floor.


Human rights group nixes return of death penalty

A human rights group said the poor would be the target of abuses should the capital punishment is restored in the country.

“Exacting genuine justice for crimes must not come at the expense of people’s rights and breeding more forms of injustice,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.

“We strongly assert a just and rights-based approach in addressing crime — one that also addresses the root causes of such drug-related crimes in the first place,” she added.

Karapatan strongly opposed President Duterte’s proposal to revive the death penalty for crimes involving illegal drugs.

Duterte renewed his call to lawmakers to pass a law for the reimposition of death penalty during his State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) last Monday.

In the 17th Congress, the House of Representatives gave its nod to House Bill 4727 reimposing capital punishment but it did not prosper in the Senate.

The group warned that reviving death penalty would only lead to more violence against poor Filipinos.

Karapatan also noted death penalty is not a deterrent to the crime as shown by local and international studies.

“Did the mass killings in the sham drug war stop the illegal drug trade in the country? No. Did the murderous rampage against peasants and indigenous peoples resolve the armed conflict in the country? No,” Palabay said.

She asserted the reimposition of capital punishment will violate the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which the Philippines signed and ratified.

(source for both: Manila Bulletin)


Cebu lawyers oppose death penalty after SONA 2020

The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) Cebu "strongly opposes" President Rodrigo Duterte's desire to reinstate the death penalty in the Philippines, calling the move "anti-poor."

"Although the reimposition of death penalty is intended to deter crimes and save children from the dangers of illegal drugs, NUPL Cebu believes that reviving the law is another anti-poor policy that would selectively target millions of helpless Filipinos, as observed in the ongoing war on drugs of the present administration and the selective enforcement of laws amid the COVID-19 pandemic," NUPL Cebu said in a statement to media.

The group also called on the Duterte administration to work first on fixing the current justice system in the country.

"NUPL Cebu would rather urge the President to call for the fixing of the justice and law enforcement systems first to assure the fair and impartial investigation and disposition of cases before implementing a legislation that is necessarily cruel and inhuman," their statement reads.

During SONA 2020: The view from Cebu, a roundtable discussion organized by Rappler about Duterte’s 5th SONA, lawyer King Anthony Perez, NUPL Cebu spokesperson, described the plan to bring back capital punishment as "unspeakably regressive."

Citing the arrest of the Cebu 8 and the disappearance of Elena Tijamo, Perez also said Cebu's realities run contrary to Duterte’s assurance that he would abide by his obligation to fight for human rights.

Early June, 7 activists in Cebu protesting against the passage of the Anti-Terror Bill – now a law – along with one bystander, were arrested by the police for alleged quarantine violations. Cebu City was then under general community quarantine (GCQ).

Critics pointed out that police broke the 1989 University of the Philippines (UP)-Department of National Defense Accord by scaling the walls of UP Cebu, in front of which the protesters were demonstrating, and began rounding up students who entered the university for refuge.

Later known all over the country as the Cebu 8, the protesters gained massive support nationwide and were soon released without bail.

Also in the same month, Elena Tijamo, a program coordinator for the Farmers’ Development Center (FARDEC) was taken by armed men from her home in Barangay Kapingganon, Bantayan in Cebu. Over a month since her abduction, the police are yet to identify possible suspects and motives for Tijamo’s enforced disappearance.



Catholic leaders reject Duterte’s call to revive death penalty in Philippines

Catholic leaders in the Philippines have spoken out against President Rodrigo Duterte’s call to reinstate the death penalty for illegal drug use and other crimes.

Fr. Silvino Borres, president of the Coalition Against Death Penalty (CADP), stressed that all people are made in God’s image, and God desires life and healing rather than death.

“Whenever you call for the death of another person even just in thoughts, we are already sinning against the Lord who calls everyone to life,” Borres said a homily this week marking the 14th anniversary of the death penalty being suspended in the Philippines.

Borres warned that the death penalty “is against God, who is the God of life and love,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines reported.

He called on Catholics to fight the culture of death by working “to shed light on every occasion where there is transgression on life.”

Use of the death penalty in the Philippines was suspended in 2006.

However, in his State of the Nation Address on July 27, President Duterte called for capital punishment to be reinstated as a deterrent in cases of heinous crimes, plunder and illegal drugs.

Since 2016, Duterte has been heading a brutal war on drugs in the Philippines. The president was elected on a platform promising to address the country’s drug problem, and he continues to enjoy high levels of approval among citizens.

However, the campaign against drugs has drawn significant international criticism for its reported extrajudicial killings and death squads. Thousands of people have been killed in the crackdown, with human rights activists suggesting the number may have exceeded 10,000. The alleged suspects are often shot by police under the allegation that they attacked first. In addition, extrajudicial killings have sprung up, with vigilantes killing hundreds of people suspected of drug sales or use.

The Catholics bishops of the Philippines have repeatedly denounced the violence. They have stressed the need for justice and have encouraged rehabilitation efforts rather than harsh enforcement measures.

Bishop Joey Baylon of Legazpi, who chairs the bishops’ Commission on Prison Pastoral Care, rejected the idea that the death penalty is an effective deterrent for drug use and other crime.

“Studies have proven this time and again,” he said in response to the president’s speech, according to ucanews.

“With the death penalty, justice is nothing but punishment and never a way to reform the offender. But true justice is restorative, never punitive,” the bishop said.

Baylon called on lawmakers to enact policies that respect human dignity and focus on “a justice that promotes healing and rehabilitation,” according to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

“While we believe that offenders must be made accountable for their acts or omissions committed against their victims and the community, they should be given proper treatment to enable them to rehabilitate and change for the better,” he said.

(source: Catholic News Agency)

JULY 29, 2020:


Gleaton Makes First Court Appearance, Held Without Bond

The court case stemming from last Friday's fatal shooting in Norfolk is officially underway.

28-year-old Deshawn Gleaton made his first appearance in Madison County Court on Tuesday, appearing via video conference from the Madison County Jail. Gleaton is facing multiple felony charges, including 1st degree murder, for the shooting death of 29-year-old Hailey Christiansen of Norfolk on July 24th.

The charge of 1st degree murder is a class one felony, which carries with it the death penalty in Nebraska. Madison County Attorney Joe Smith said during the hearing that the state is still evaluating whether or not to pursue the death penalty in this case.

Following a request by Smith, it was determined that Gleaton will be held without bond for the felony charges. Gleaton said that his family is looking into hiring an attorney, but for now he will be represented by a court-appointed attorney.

A 2nd case involving Gleaton was also continued, as he is still facing 3rd degree domestic assault and 1st degree criminal trespassing charges for an incident involving Christiansen on July 6th. Part of Gleaton's bond release was that he was to have no contact with Christiansen, however court records say she went to police on July 23rd, concerned over multiple phone calls she had received from a restricted number.

Christiansen was shot at 1105 Blaine Street on the morning of July 24th, and she died in surgery a few hours later. Gleaton will next appear in court on August 11th at 2 PM for a preliminary hearing.

(source: News Channel Nebraska)


Nebraska Pharmacy May Have Violated Drug Distribution Policies, State Refused Drug Give-Back Demands, Records Show

Nebraska may have executed Carey Dean Moore in August 2018 using drugs supplied by a pharmacy in violation of pharmaceutical manufacturers’ distribution policies, Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) records suggest.

The records show that Community Pharmacy Services, a local pharmacy based in Greta, Nebraska, provided the state with supplies of five potential execution drugs. The distribution policies of the companies that produced the medicines prohibited their sale for use in executions. Nebraska subsequently rebuffed requests by the manufacturers to return the drugs.

NDCS released the documents July 23, 2020, in response to a Nebraska Supreme Court order in open-records lawsuits filed by the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, and the ACLU of Nebraska. The records show that Community Pharmacy, which normally provides pharmaceuticals for long-term care facilities, received a $492,000 two-year contract to manage NDCS’s pharmacy from October 1, 2016, to September 30, 2018. The company invoiced NDCS $8,000 and $2,500 — disguised on invoices as “Miscellaneous expense” payments — for supplies of fentanyl, diazepam, cisatracuriam, and potassium chloride for the state’s one-of-a-kind four-drug execution protocol. The state also purchased a supply of the drug hydromorphone but did not use it in the execution. Hydromorphone was one of the drugs implicated in the botched execution of Joseph Wood in Arizona in July 2014.

The pharmacy’s owner, Kyle Janssen, posted a statement on the company’s website, saying he “regretted the decision as it does not align with our company’s values to provide the best patient care and customer service to the long-term care industry.”

The statement said: “In a deviation from our core business, we were hired to manage the pharmacy operations for the Nebraska Department of Corrections facilities from 2016-2018. During the course of that contract, the company was asked by the state to legally sell drugs to the department. The company fulfilled that order following all DEA protocols and procedures, and understood the potential use of those drugs.

“Community Pharmacy Services has never supplied drugs since then to the Nebraska Department of Corrections or any other department of corrections, nor will it ever again.”

In 2017, the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, and the Nebraska chapter of the ACLU separately sued NDCS after the department denied open-records requests for lethal-injection records related to the planned execution of Carey Dean Moore. In June 2018, two months before Moore’s scheduled execution, a Nebraska trial court ordered NDCS to disclose the records. However, the state appealed the decision, successfully thwarting release of the documents in advance of Moore’s execution. In May 2020, the Nebraska Supreme Court unanimously ordered NDCS to release the records.

Shortly before Moore’s execution, the German-based pharmaceutical company Fresenius Kabi learned that Nebraska intended to execute Moore with drugs manufactured by the company. The company filed suit in Nebraska federal court alleging that Nebraska had obtained the drugs “through improper or illegal means.” The lawsuit said the company’s distribution contracts with authorized wholesalers and distributors prohibited sales to departments of corrections. It further alleged that Nebraska had obtained the drugs “in contradiction and contravention of the distribution contracts,” most likely from an unauthorized supplier.

Two other companies who manufactured drugs that Community Pharmacy Services supplied for the execution — Hikma Pharmaceuticals USA and Pfizer Inc. — said they also asked the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services to return their drugs. The state refused. “We strongly object to the use of any of our products in the lethal injection process for capital punishment,” Pfizer spokeswoman Sally Beatty told the Lincoln Journal-Star.

Community Pharmacy Services would not respond to media questions as to whether its purchase of the drugs for use in lethal injection violated pharmaceutical company drug distribution contracts or could subject the pharmacy to legal liability.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)


Norfolk man accused of 1st-degree murder makes initial court appearance

The man charged in a deadly shooting in Norfolk, Nebraska, made his 1st court appearance on Tuesday.

28-year-old Deshawn Gleaton Jr. is charged with 1st Degree Murder, 1st-Degree Assault, Possession Of A Firearm By A Prohibited Person, and Use Of A Firearm To Commit A Felony. Gleaton Jr. was also appearing on early charges of 3rd-Degree Assault and First Degree Criminal Trespass.

He is accused of murdering 29-year-old Haley Christiansen on Friday.

In Tuesday's hearing, a Madison County Judge ordered Gleaton to be held without bond because he violated his previous bond when the shooting happened.

Madison County Attorney Joseph Smith said he did not know at the time of the hearing if he will be pursuing the death penalty for Gleaton Jr.

Gleaton Jr. was assigned to a court-appointed attorney.

A preliminary hearing was scheduled for 2 p.m. on August 11 at the Madison County Courthouse.

(source: KTIV news)


Utah prosecutors to pursue death penalty in murder case

Utah prosecutors will pursue the death penalty against a California man accused of shooting and killing a motorist last year.

Jonathan Llana, 46, is accused of fatally shooting Dennis Gwyther and injuring his passenger in May 2019 as the 2 were driving in northern Utah, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Monday.

Llana was arrested in Idaho after a 2-day manhunt. He was charged with a count of aggravated murder, one charge of attempted aggravated murder and six counts of felony discharge of a firearm.

Llana's case was delayed after he was declared not competent to stand trial in October 2019. But in March, he was found to be competent after receiving treatment at the Utah State Hospital.

Gwyther, 50, was a well-known LGBTQ activist in Utah. He was commuting to his job in Boise, Idaho when he was killed.

The last time a person was sentenced to death in Utah was in 2008. Floyd Maestas was given the sentence after stomping a woman to death during a robbery but died of natural causes in 2018.

Llana's attorney Craig Chlarson declined to comment.

(source: Associated Press)


California facility operators face elder abuse, wrongful death charges in resident’s murder

The owners of a California assisted living facility are facing a lawsuit from the family of an 87-year-old deceased former resident, alleging elder abuse, negligence and wrongful death.

The lawsuit, filed June 10 in the Superior Court of California, Riverside County, alleges that Sunbrook Residential Care in La Quinta, and its owners — Ramona and Ronald Sykes — engaged in elder abuse, neglect, intentional misrepresentation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, wrongful death and negligent hiring, supervision and retention, among other complaints.

The lawsuit was brought by the children of Ronald Clarke, who was murdered and placed in a trash can outside the home. His caregiver, Cristina Camino, was arrested last fall and charged with torture and murder. A criminal complaint alleges that Camino used a knife, box cutter, screwdriver and hammer in the murder. Camino pleaded not guilty in December. She is eligible for the death penalty.

The Sykes, who operated 3 Sunbrook facilities in the area, had licenses revoked at all 3 facilities earlier this year. Those facilities now are closed, and a phone number for the La Quinta home is disconnected. The suit charges that Clarke was improperly admitted to Sunbrook, a single-family house within a gated residential development, “merely for profits” and was “simply abandoned.”

Clarke’s condition made him dependent on the facility for medical care and health services, and assistance with daily personal activities, according to the family. The lawsuit also accuses the owners of underfunding and understaffing the facility.

Published reports from the Palm Springs Desert Sun quoted Ramona Sykes as saying “our insurance company was handling the lawsuit.” The reports also detailed several evaluation and complaint investigation reports going back to 2015.



Coronavirus: These 8 killers died on San Quentin’s Death Row

Endlessly conflicted over capital punishment, California hasn’t executed an inmate in more than 14 years, and although suicide, drug overdoses, inmate murders and old age claim a few of the condemned each year, a new killer has come to death row.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic early this year, at least 8 condemned inmates are believed to have succumbed to the disease that has swept the 168-year-old San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, where death row prisoners traditionally are housed. The deaths of 2 other inmates are under investigation amid what’s become one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the country.

California has more death row inmates — 716 — than any other state. But even as it sends more newly condemned killers to death row, with 2 more added in January and February, the execution chamber sits idle while state leaders and residents debate the legal and moral implications of capital punishment.

Though voters rejected death penalty repeals in 2012 and 2016, ongoing state and federal litigation challenging California’s execution protocol and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s March 13 capital punishment moratorium have stayed executions.

Just 15 of California’s 158 condemned inmates who have died since 1978 were executed, 2 of those by other states. Of the rest, 88 died naturally, 28 killed themselves, 15 others overdosed on drugs or were killed by others. Last year 9 condemned inmates died, 6 from natural causes, 2 from drugs and 1 by suicide.

Of the 13 condemned inmates who died this year, 3 are attributed to natural causes. 10 are listed as “pending” official causes of death, but the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation listed COVID-19 as a suspected factor for 8. They are:

Johnny Avila Jr., 62, died July 26 at an outside hospital. Avila was sentenced in Fresno County to die for murdering 2 women, 1 of whom was gang-raped, on a canal bank after a rural gathering near Fresno in 1991.

John M. Beames, 67, died July 21 at an outside hospital. Beames was sentenced to die for beating his girlfriend’s 15-month-old daughter to death in Tulare County in 1995.

Troy A. Ashmus, 58, died July 20 at an outside hospital[. Ashmus was sentenced in Sacramento County to death for the 1984 rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl who was fishing with her brother.

Jeffrey J. Hawkins, 64, died July 15 at an outside hospital. Hawkins was sentenced in Sacramento County to die for the separate 1987 shooting deaths of a customer during a market robbery near Sacramento and a bar patron near Galt.

David John Reed, 60, died July 7 at an outside hospital. Reed was sentenced to death in Riverside County for stabbing a Black homeless man to death in a racially motivated attack in Palm Springs.

Dewayne Michael Carey, 59, died July 4 at an outside hospital. Carey was sentenced in Los Angeles County to the death penalty for stabbing a woman to death in her home during a robbery.

Scott Thomas Erskine, 57, died July 3 at an outside hospital. Erskine was sentenced in San Diego County to die for beating, raping and murdering 2 boys ages 13 and 9 found dead 2 days after they didn’t return from bicycling along the Otay River in 1993. A genetic match linked him to their murders in 2004 while he served a 70-year term for rape.

Manuel Machado Alvarez, 59, died July 3 at an outside hospital. Alvarez was sentenced to death in Sacramento County for a 1987 spree of mayhem that included raping a woman, killing a man while trying to rob him and knocking out a 78-year-old woman to steal her car.

The 2 death row inmates whose deaths are under investigation are:

Joseph S. Cordova, 75, died July 1 at San Quentin State Prison, where he was found unresponsive in his single cell with no signs of trauma. Cordova was sentenced to death in Contra Costa County for the 1979 rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl in San Pablo. A genetic match tied him to the crime in 2002 while he was serving a prison sentence in Colorado for child molestation.

Richard E. Stitely, 71, died June 24 at San Quentin State Prison where he also was found unresponsive in his cell. Stitely was sentenced to death in Los Angeles County for the rape and murder of a woman in 1990 who was last seen leaving a bar in Reseda.

Lonnie D. Franklin Jr., 67, the “grim sleeper” sentenced in Los Angeles County for the murders of 9 women and a girl from 1985 and 2007, was found dead in his cell March 28. John Abel, 75, sentenced to death in Orange County for murdering a man during a robbery in 1991, died Feb. 15 at an outside hospital. And Thomas Potts, 71, sentenced in Kings County for murdering an elderly couple, died Feb. 5 at an outside hospital.

(source:John Woolfolk is a reporter for the Bay Area News Group, based at The Mercury News. A native of New Orleans, he grew up near San Jose. He is a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism and has been a journalist since 1990, covering cities, counties, law enforcement, courts and other general news. He also has worked as an editor since 2013----East Bay Times)


Scheduled Executions

Keith Dwayne Nelson is scheduled to be executed at 4 pm local time on Friday, August 28, 2020, at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana. 45-year-old Keith is convicted of kidnapping 10-year-old Pamela Butler from her Kansas City, Kansas home, and murdering her in Missouri on October 12, 1999. Keith has spent the last 18 years on federal death row.

Shortly after Keith’s premature, complicated, birth, he experienced a brain bleed that stopped his breathing and resulted in several oxygen deprivation, with lasting effects on his frontal lobe, which regulates behavior and impulse control. During his trial, several family members testified that Keith had a disadvantaged and difficult childhood. Keith’s mother frequently left her children alone and the home lacked sanitation and cleanliness. However, several of Keith’s siblings were able to overcome their upbringing, and become successful in their chosen careers. Keith was also allegedly raped as a child. Keith spent some time during his youth incarcerated, where he engaged in self-harm and multiple suicide attempts. While at a youth detention facility, he witnessed others being physically and sexually assaulted, and was physically assaulted as well, receiving several injuries.

On September 29, 1999, Keith Nelson offered a job to James Robinson in Kansas City, Kansas. While working, Nelson commented that he wanted to kidnap a woman, take her to a secluded location to torture, rape, electrocute, kill, and bury. Nelson claimed that he was going back to prison and wanted to go back for “something big.” James was uncomfortable with the comments, however James thought Nelson was joking and did not report the conversation to the police.

During the early morning hours of October 2, 1999, Michanne Mattson was attacked outside her apartment building coming home from a friend’s house. Michanne had noticed a white pickup truck following her while driving home. Michanne was grabbed, however she struggled and managed to get away. She was later able to identify her attacker as Nelson.

On October 12, 1999, Keith Nelson told an acquaintance that he wanted to kidnap, rape, torture, and kill a young girl that he had spotted in Kansas City, Kansas. A short time later, Nelson was seen, in his white Ford F-150 pickup in a residential area of Kansas City, Kansas. A young girl, Pamela, skated near the truck, whose door was slightly ajar. As Pamela skated by, Nelson jumped out of the truck, grabbed Pamela and threw her into the cab of the truck.

Pamela’s kidnapping was witnessed by several people, including her sister who saw Pamela fighting with a man in the cab, and a person who gave chase in their own vehicle. Nelson was able to evade his chaser, however, the person chasing him managed to write down his license plate number, which was verified by several other witnesses.

On the evening of October 12, 1999, a church custodian noticed a white pickup truck with a Missouri license plate parked in the church parking lot in Kansas. Later, after seeing the kidnapping story on the news, the custodian called the police, as the license plate matched. When the police arrived at the church, the truck was gone.

The truck was found abandoned the following day in Kansas City, Missouri. A police dog indicated that Pamela had been in the truck. A manhunt for Nelson began, and on October 14, 1999, he was seen hiding under a bridge. Nelson attempted to escape into the river, however he had been surrounded by railroad workers who detained him until the police arrived. When Nelson was asked the location of Pamela, he responded, “I know where she's at, but I'm not saying right now.” Pamela’s body was discovered the following day in a wooded area behind the church where his truck had been parked.

An investigation determined that Pamela had been raped and strangled to death. Nelson was connected to her rape through DNA evidence. He pled guilty to interstate kidnapping resulting in death.

While in prison awaiting his sentencing trial, Nelson attempted to commit suicide. During his sentencing trail, Nelson expressed no remorse for his crime, instead giving a profanity laced tirade to the court and the family of Pamela.

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



Prosecutors to consider death penalty in soldiers' case

Federal prosecutors suggested on Monday that they will seek the death penalty against 1 of 2 men accused in the shooting deaths of a Florida couple so they could finance a trip to Venezuela to fight the socialist government.

Attorneys for both sides held a video hearing for defendant Alex Zwiefelhofer, who along with fellow Army veteran Craig Lang is accused of arranging the deadly robbery of Serafin and Deana Lorenzo in April 2018 to finance the Venezuela trip.

U.S. Attorney Josephine W. Thomas suggested a discussion with defense attorneys to determine how they would proceed with the case in regard to the strongest mitigating factors to help determine how they intend to proceed. Thomas said there are a lot of aggravating factors, and with the facts of the case, it's likely prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

Defense attorney D. Todd Doss said he didn’t feel prepared for such a discussion because of an inability to investigate the case, as well as the defendant's history.

The 2 sides agreed to having the case continued to the December trial term with a special status conference scheduled for November.

(source: Associated Press)


Ex-Death Row Inmate Vows to Fight US Renewal of Federal Executions, Corrupt Justice System

The decision to renew Federal executions in the United States must be reversed and the entire US criminal justice system reformed, former death row inmate Kwame Ajamu told Sputnik.

Earlier in July, for the first time in 17 years, the US federal government began carrying out executions - putting three men convicted of murder to death in a single week after the Supreme Court greenlighted a new lethal injection protocol. The next federal execution is scheduled to take place in late August.

Ajamu was released from prison in 2003 after 28 years of being incarcerated for a murder he did not commit. Since then he has been a foot soldier fighting against the death penalty and will fight the corrupt system even harder now that the Trump Administration won its court battle to kill American citizens with a questionable drug.

"What I despise, what I hate is the very system that imprisoned me. That's why I go out and speak and fight for the abolition of the death penalty," said Ajamu, chairman of the board of Witness to Innocence (WTI), a non-profit organization based out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania which is dedicated to abolishing the death penalty in the United States.

Most US executions are carried out by local governments in states where the crimes were committed and the death penalty is legal (currently about 28 of 50 states have the death penalty). Hence, although the federal government has not conducted an execution since 2003, US state governments have executed over 600 people during the same 17-year time period, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).

Federal executions have been on hold due to legal challenges over the lethal injection protocol. However, on July 13, the Supreme Court cleared the way for the federal government to employ a new single-drug protocol using pentobarbital.

The next day, Daniel Lee was put to death at a federal facility in Indiana, followed by Wesley Purkey on July 16 and Dustin Honken on July 17. On August 28, Keith Nelson, convicted of murder and rape, will become the 4th federal inmate executed under the Trump administration.

Lee, the first person to be executed by the federal government after a 17-year hiatus, with his last words proclaimed his innocence.

"It doesn't matter if he [Lee] was guilty," Ajamu said. "I question whether the state has the authority to execute its own people."

Ajamu also said that - without a doubt - the US execution process is tantamount to torture.

"Dennis McGuire was executed in Toledo, Ohio in 2003. It took 90 minutes to execute him. His arm exploded. It's definitely torture," he said.

And in another case in 2014, Ajamu said, the cocktail of lethal drugs "literally burned [the man] from the inside out."

Critics accuse the Trump administration of resuming the executions to cater to its base after Attorney General William Barr announced in January that federal executions would resume. It was notable that the three convicts put to death were all white, although 60% of people on death row are Black, according to DPIC.

Ajamu said the flurry of executions after an almost 20-year lull also appears to have a specific goal in mind.

"This came at a very peculiar time. With everything going on," Ajamu said, referring to nationwide protests against police brutality and a pandemic that has killed more than 4 million in the US. "It's not ideological. Trump is profoundly racist. It is some ploy to further him being re-elected in November."

In 2018, Ajamu told an audience at Ohio State University that he remembers May 19, 1975 was a beautiful day. He, his brother and a buddy were playing basketball in their Cleveland neighborhood. Not far away, at an East Side convenience store, assailants threw acid in the face of a salesman by the name of Harold Franks then shot and killed him.

Ajamu, then named Ronnie Bridgeman and aged 17, his brother Wiley, 20, and Ricky Jackson, 18, were arrested and charged.

They were sentenced to death on the coerced testimony of a then-12-year-old boy, Edward Vernon. No physical or forensic evidence linked any of them to the crime, none of them had any prior criminal record, and defense witnesses provided all three with credible alibis.

Nevertheless, all 3 were sentenced to death just months after their arrest. Prosecutors tried to get the trio to take a plea deal to save their lives but they refused.

Ajamu was sent to prison, confined to a cell just wide enough to stretch out his arms, and introduced to his "hot date" - the guards' nickname for the electric chair.

In 2013, Vernon recanted his testimony while confessing to a priest, saying that he had made a false accusation under pressure from police.

On November 20, 2014, Cuyahoga County prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss charges against Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman. They were released at separate court hearings the following day.

In December 2014, Ajamu, who was still in prison, was also exonerated and his conviction was overturned. The Ohio Court of Claims calculated that Ajamu's brother was incarcerated for 13,630 days while Ajamu was behind bars for 9,108 days.

Ajamu had to let his frustration out on something - and so he targeted the heart of the criminal justice process.

"I made the system the punching bag. It felt good," Ajamu said.

Having lived the experience of being wrongly accused and facing death, Ajamu said he would advocate for a "complete Integrity Unit' in every police department to monitor the police and prosecutors to ensure that no one else get trapped in a situation where laziness, police corruption, racism and other factors cause innocent men, women and children to become entangled in the criminal justice system.

He also supports defunding police departments - redirecting money from departmental budgets to social services, mental health, affordable housing and other societal needs as opposed to tearing the whole thing down.

"We need the Integrity Unit because anything past a misdemeanor is a possible death sentence," said Ajamu.

Jennie Sheeks, WTI's director of development and communications, said she remains hopeful that the death penalty will one day be a distant memory in the United States.

"We're having a lot of success. It's being abolished state-by-state," she said. "Trends show that fewer states have the death penalty and in some states you can narrow it down to a few counties. It's cruel and unusual, against the common norms. It's no longer considered normal or accepted and public opinion polls are against the death penalty for the first time. One hundred and seventy people have so far been proven to be innocent and exonerated."

She said prison advocates believe that the last two men put to death by the federal government, before the July executions, were very likely innocent.

"There's one study which shows that about 4 percent of people on death row are probably innocent. For every nine people executed, one has been exonerated. That's pretty horrible if you think about that," Sheeks concluded.



Is Canada helping other countries kill people?

A steadily decreasing number of countries still impose the death penalty as the ultimate sentence in criminal cases. Canada has been part of the trend to abolish the death penalty, having done so decades ago.

In the 2001 case of United States vs. Burns, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that people cannot be extradited to face the death penalty abroad, unless the country requesting them agrees to keep death off the table.

Canadians, the Supreme Court said, take seriously the idea that the death penalty is not only a human rights abuse but bad public policy, in part because of the very real danger that it will be imposed on people who have been wrongfully convicted. Canada does not impose it, and does not assist other countries in doing so.

Or do we?

Legal assistance treaties

There are other ways besides extradition in which we assist foreign states in their own criminal prosecutions. Because both people and evidence cross borders more frequently now than ever before, Canada has a number of mutual legal assistance treaties (MLATs) with other states.

These treaties oblige Canada, at the request of the foreign state, to seize evidence located in Canada and transmit it for use in the foreign state’s prosecution.

Canada is among many states that use MLATs, and on the whole they are important co-operation mechanisms for fighting transnational crime. However, there have long been concerns about whether and when limits should be placed on this form of co-operation by countries hoping to protect human rights.

The problem: What if a state provides evidence for use in a foreign prosecution, but the foreign state breaches the human rights of the accused? What if the person is tortured, denied a fair trial or subjected to the death penalty? Is the state that sent the evidence implicated in this conduct, and if so is it lawful to send the evidence in the first place?

Over time, there has been a trend towards governments placing limits on MLATs to address exactly these kinds of concerns.

The U.K. Supreme Court dealt with this kind of scenario in March 2020, in a case called Elgizouli vs. Secretary of State for the Home Department. The U.S. had made an MLAT request for evidence to be used in a prosecution for grave crimes allegedly committed in the Syrian conflict, but refused to provide assurances that the death penalty would not be imposed.

The British government decided to provide the evidence anyway, choosing to override its normal policy of not providing assistance without such assurances.

The Supreme Court unanimously held that this was an unlawful move because it did not adequately address the human rights of the accused — and some judges opined that this would put the U.K. in breach of its own human rights obligations under both domestic and international law.

Decisions not made public in Canada

What’s interesting about the case is how it highlights the significantly different situation in Canada. In the U.K., not only was the relevant policy on use of MLATs published on a government website, but the original decision to provide assistance to the U.S. was available to be challenged in court.

The situation in Canada is significantly different. Here, all of our MLAT relations are handled by the International Assistance Group, a specialized office at Justice Canada, which fields requests from other states and makes the decisions about whether and how to respond to them.

However, while the execution of these decisions is eventually subject to some amount of court supervision under the relevant legislation, the decisions themselves are never published or made publicly available. Even the person targeted by the foreign investigation does not always have notice of them or any opportunity to challenge them.

One could venture that, legally speaking, Canada should limit MLAT requests where human rights concerns exist; the 2001 Supreme Court ruling in Burns suggests this, as does a 2014 case called R. vs. Wakeling.

However, the Supreme Court of Canada has so far only set vague guidelines, and we don’t know how the International Assistance Group actually makes its decisions. There is no indication Canada even has a formal policy, or if so, what it is.

There is no public indication whether, when an MLAT request is made, Canada asks the foreign state if the death penalty is a possible outcome, and if so, whether any consideration is given to whether we should provide evidence.

No transparency

This lack of transparency is all the more startling when you realize that there are guidelines and reporting duties in place for the RCMP, CSIS and the CBSA.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that the International Assistance Group ignores these concerns, or that it fails to strive to comply with the law. In fact, what we do know about Canada’s MLAT practice suggests that Canada is careful and does not co-operate in death penalty cases. The answer to the admittedly provocative headline of this article is, actually, “no.” But what about cases where other human rights, such as the right to a fair trial, are implicated? There, things are more opaque.

As the Elgizouli case in the U.K. shows, as well as Canada’s own history with Maher Arar and others, co-operating with other states can be perilous. Governments sometimes make mistakes, potentially with great cost to individuals.

With a sophisticated government body such as the International Assistance Group, it would be absurd to suggest that there’s no policy in place. However, we should know what it is, and there should be more public scrutiny of the decisions it makes.



Another Juvenile Offender Will Be Hanged in One Month for Confessions Made Under Torture

A juvenile offender in northern Iran, who was convicted of alleged murder at just 16 after being tortured in prison, will be hanged in less than a month.

Hamid Ahmadi Maldeh has spent 14 years in Lakan prison in Rasht, after getting involved in a fight as a teenager in order to save a friend. He has made the confession under torture of killing the individual.

If his family is unable to pay blood money (the term used to refer to compensation given to relatives for the death or injury of a family member), the 30-year-old will die in August, according to Farkhondeh Jabbarzadegan, the head of Iranian charity group We Are the Shared Pain.

She said that the sum of 500 million tomans (around $21,368) must be paid in full by August 21, but the Ahmadi Maldeh family cannot afford the sum due to poverty. Jabbarzadegan tried to save his life by talking to the victim’s family, but they have refused to speak to the group, forego the death sentence, or agree to the execution, which is why the case has taken 14 years.

She said: “[Hamid] has spent the best years of his life in prison and has served his punishment. Now the victim’s family has agreed to blood money, so we are trying to acquire it.”

Ahmadi Maldeh is suffering from psychological problems due to torture inside the prison, including being taken to the gallows three times, according to Amnesty International, each time having to say goodbye to his family.

His sister said: “It was very hard. He would shed tears and tell our mom, you did your best for me, I wasn’t able to live up to it, but surely the gallows are my destiny.”

Jabbarzadegan said that Ahmadi Maldeh wants to help others if he is allowed to live. He has already started by introducing other death row inmates to campaigning groups, which has led to their death sentence being overturned.

Amnesty said that his retrial requests have been denied despite the unfairness of his original trial, which relied on “confessions” made under torture

“He was held at a police station without access to a lawyer or his family. He says that police officers held him for three days in a filthy, urine-stained cell; tied his hands and feet together and pushed his face down on the cell floor; tied him to a pole in the yard; kicked his genitals; and denied him food and water. One officer told him that he should not fear execution and should just “confess” to the stabbing so that the investigation would be concluded as soon as possible.”



Intensification of Pressure on Human Rights Defenders: Iran Authorities Freeze Nasrin Sotoudeh’s Bank Accounts ---- Iran Human Rights warns against the increasing pressure on human rights defenders and their families and calls for a response from Iranian civil society and the international community

Iran authorities have frozen the prominent human rights defender’s bank accounts. According to her family, none of the charges against Nasrin Sotoudeh were finance related.

Iran Human Rights warns against the increasing pressure on human rights defenders and their families and calls for a response from Iranian civil society and the international community.

Mahmood Amiry Moghaddam, IHR director, said: "The Islamic Republic leaders who failed to silence Nasrin Sotoudeh by sentencing her to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes, have now resorted to unlawfully freezing her bank accounts to pressure her family even further. If there is no adequate response by the international community, this will become a systematic method of pressurising other defenders.”

Reza Khandan, Nasrin Sotoudeh's husband, posted on his Facebook page yesterday that Nasrin’s bank accounts had been frozen on the orders of the Prosecutor’s Office.

Accompanied by Nasrin’s lawyer, Reza Khandan went to the Pasargad Bank’s legal department, the Evin Prosecutor's Office and the Tehran Prosecutor's Office to question why the accounts had been frozen, but no explanation was given.

In his post, Reza Khandan described it as "the beginning of confiscating family’s assets" and wrote: "We consider the actions of the Prosecutor’s Office to be in line with putting economic pressure on the family in times of crisis and the economic collapse which are due to the incompetence of the governing bodies ruling the country and we will not remain silent in the face of this inhumane act.”

There is precedence in doubling down on human rights activists and political prisoners through economic pressure by the Islamic Republic and it has been used as a means of repressing civil society activists.

Nasrin Sotoudeh is a lawyer, human rights defender, member of the Iranian Human Rights Defenders Association and an activist against the death penalty. Previously imprisoned for her professional and human rights activities, she was arrested again on 13 June 2018 and sentenced to 5 years in prison in absentia for “concealing a spy.”

In a separate case of seven different charges, she was sentenced to 148 lashes and 33 years in prison by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, presided over by Judge Moghiseh. In protest to the failure to comply with procedural rules in her case, Nasrin Sotoudeh did not appeal and the ruling was upheld. Given the number of cases and convictions charged against her, it is unclear how much time she will have to serve.

Nasrin Sotoudeh has represented many human rights activists, women's rights activists, victims of child abuse and juvenile defenders on death row. She has also been convicted of “membership in an illegal group” for her work with Legam, a campaign that seeks to abolish the death penalty step by step. She has been serving out her sentences at Evin Prison since 2018.



Death penalty requires judicial reforms first, says Poe

Reviving the death penalty without judicial reforms would send the innocent to their deaths, which would be the opposite of efforts to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Sen. Grace Poe.

In a statement on Tuesday (July 28), Poe said the country has gone to “great lengths” in saving lives and preventing deaths in the fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

“We must also protect the lives of the defenseless and disadvantaged from the peril of injustice,” she said.

The senator added that without reforms in the country’s judiciary, the capital punishment will unfairly target the poor.

“Without the needed reforms in our justice system, the innocent poor with scant resources to wage a decent defense in court will be the ones at risk in any attempt to revive the death penalty in the country,” she said.

Poe reaffirmed her position on the issue after President Rodrigo Duterte, during his fifth State of the Nation Address, renewed a call to revive the death penalty and defined its mode of execution as lethal injection.

Neophyte Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, a trusted ally of Duterte, said he was “happy” about the President’s renewed appeal to lawmakers to bring back the death penalty to life.

Duterte’s call for the revival of the death penalty will “boost” its chances of approval in Congress, said Dela Rosa, Duterte’s first national police chief and architect of the controversial Oplan Tokhang which is being blamed for hundreds of extrajudicial killings.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief, too, however, said that while he personally supported the revival of capital punishment, he believed it faced “very rough sailing” in the Senate, a deliberative body.


Gamboa suggests death penalty for peddlers possessing a minimum of 50 grams drugs

If Philippine National Police chief Gen. Archie Gamboa had his way, the proposed revival of death penalty should be imposed for drug-related crimes involving the seizure of over 50 grams to one kilogram of illegal drugs.

“Siguro maglalaro dun from 50 grams to one kilogram (of illegal drugs). I think it is enough na dapat i-impose yung death penalty,” Gamboa said over ANC on Wednesday when asked who should be punished with death penalty.

(Maybe it would depend from 50 grams to one kilogram. I think it is enough that death penalty would be imposed.)

Gamboa noted that they conduct intensified surveillance in their drug operations if the drug offender carries a minimum of 50 grams of narcotics.

“In the campaign of PNP actually, ang ginawa kong sort of leverage for them is possibly to confiscate 50 grams and above. When you say 50 grams above it would entail a lot of work, a lot of surveillance and a lot of effort,” he said.

The PNP’s top official, likewise, agreed with President Rodrigo Duterte’s appeal to pass a law reviving capital punishment for drug-related crimes in the country.

“With the intent of the executive even the President already told in the Sona (State of the Nation Address) that it is really for high-value individuals or high amounts of shabu confiscated so yes we agree,” Gamboa said.

Nevertheless, Gamboa said he leaves it up to the Senate and House of Representatives in crafting the bill to revive death penalty in the Philippines.

In his 5th Sona on Monday, Duterte renewed his call for returning death penalty through lethal injection for drug-related crimes.

(source for both: Philippine Inquirer)


PNP seeks death penalty for minimum possession of 50 grams shabu

The Philippine National Police (PNP) is pushing for a 50-gram minimum confiscated shabu as requisite for capital punishment as it expressed support for President Duterte’s call for Congress to reimpose the death penalty law.

PNP chief Gen. Archie Francisco Gamboa said they could also propose to increase the minimum confiscation to 1 kilo once Congress starts discussing the passage of the law.

“On the part of the PNP, our leverage for them is possibly 50 grams and above because when you say 50 grams and above it would entail a lot of work and a lot of surveillance and effort,” said Gamboa.

“You cannot just pick up somebody or you cannot just apprehend somebody and then confiscate 50 grams. So probably, around 50 to 1 kilo I think that’s enough to impose the death penalty,” he added.

Gamboa explained their support of the death penalty as stemming from arrested drug traffickers admitting they transact business in the Philippines due to the lack of a death penalty law here.

“This is a revelation coming from the different people who were actually apprehended na they find in a way convenience that’s why they do it here in the Philippines because there is no death penalty here that’s why the reimposition of death would definitely definitely be a deterrent in our campaign against illegal drugs,” said Gamboa.

The PNP has been at the forefront of Duterte’s drug war, with PNP data revealing there were already more than 5,000 drug personalities killed since 2016.

The PNP, however, does not release specific data on their operations, including the exact number of suspected drug personalities allegedly killed by vigilante groups.

The PNP was excluded in the campaign against illegal drugs twice due to allegations of irregularities including the killing of Kian delos Santos in Caloocan City.

The PNP was also dragged into controversy due to alleged drug war-related corruption following the kidnap-slay of a South Korean business executive at the hands of police anti-narcotics operatives.

(source: Manila Bulletin)


Gordon warning: PH faces international shame if it opts out of treaty vs death penalty

The Philippines risks falling in disgrace if the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte decided to opt out of an international treaty, ratified by the Philippine Senate, which bars signatory countries from imposing the death penalty.

Sen. Richard Gordon made this warning on Tuesday (July 28) following Duterte’s renewed push for the revival of capital punishment, which had been abolished in the Philippines in 2006.

Gordon, chair of the Senate justice committee, said reviving the death penalty would not be easy since the Philippines is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the 2nd Optional Protocol.

“There is an international agreement which we signed, the 2nd Optional Protocol,” said Gordon at an online interview.

“All countries who signed it cannot issue the death penalty and that is ratified by the Senate,” he said.

“So that cannot be easily done,” Gordon added in Filipino, referring to the push for the death penalty.

During his penultimate State of the Nation Address on Monday, Duterte called anew for the reimposition of capital punishment for crimes involving illegal drugs.

“I reiterate the swift passage of the law reviving the death penalty by lethal injection for crimes specified under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002,” the President had said.

Asked if he thought the administration would opt to pull out from the treaty to clear the way for the revival of the death penalty, similar to the country’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute, Gordon said “constitutional issues” would be raised if the President chose to do so.

“There will be a constitutional issue there because this was ratified,” said Gordon. “We will earn international opprobrium unfairly to our people,” he said, referring to another word for disgrace.

Duterte has long been pushing for the reimposition of the death penalty, saying it would be a deterrent to crimes involving illegal drugs.

But Gordon said he believes otherwise.

“My position has always been clear, I don’t think the death penalty works,” he said.

“I don’t think it will be a deterrent. Especially because the public must see the justice system work. Why are we not making the justice system work?” he said.

In Filipino, he said the reason reviving death penalty worries him is the practice by law enforcers of planting evidence. “You just put drugs there, you plant it. How does it go?” he said. “That’s what worries me,” he said in Filipino.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier said the return of capital punishment in the country would have a “better chance” in the upper chamber should it apply only to high-level drug trafficking.

Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, an unflinching ally of Duterte, said he was happy that the President made a new plea for death penalty’s return.

Duterte’s call for the revival of the death penalty will “boost” its chances of approval in Congress, said Dela Rosa, Duterte’s first national police chief and architect of the infamous Oplan Tokhang which is being blamed for hundreds of extrajudicial killings.



Philippine clerics attack Duterte's death penalty plans----True justice is never punitive, bishop tells president after he proposes reviving capital punishment for drug offenses

At least 2 Catholic bishops and a Jesuit priest have attacked a claim made by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in his State of the Nation Address that the death penalty is the solution to the country’s drug problem.

In his address to Congress on July 27, Duterte said reviving the death penalty for drug trafficking and other heinous crimes would instill fear among criminals.

The death penalty was suspended in the Philippines in 2006 when former president Gloria Arroyo approved a moratorium that was continued by her successor Benigno Aquino.

Bishop Joel Baylon of Legazpi, chairman of the bishops’ Commission on Prison Pastoral Care, however, said the perceived effects of the death penalty had been “repeatedly debunked” in various studies.

“The Church has always maintained that capital punishment, in whatever form it comes, is never a deterrent to crime. Studies have proven this time and again,” he said in a statement.

Bishop Baylon also said that instead of reviving the death penalty, the Duterte administration should focus on more dignified options.

“With the death penalty, justice is nothing but punishment and never a way to reform the offender. But true justice is restorative, never punitive,” Bishop Baylon said.

Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga said reviving the death penalty would weaken the Philippines’ bargaining chips in negotiating for Filipinos on death row abroad.

“With the death penalty, we lose moral authority and credibility to beg for life, to save lives of our imprisoned overseas Filipino workers,” Bishop Santos said.

“We convince countries like Saudi Arabia that the Philippines is a Catholic country whose people are life-loving. We believe that people change for the better. With the death penalty, we lose authority in saying the same to countries that impose the death penalty.”

Jesuit Father Silvino Borres, president of the Coalition Against Death Penalty, said criminals had an “affirmative right to rehabilitation.”

“Whenever you call for the death of another person, even just in thoughts, we are already sinning against the Lord who calls everyone to life. Even if he calls for justice for sinners and those who committed crimes, he calls for them to live and be rehabilitated because the Lord does not delight in the death of the wicked,” said Father Borres in a homily during a Mass following the president’s address.

He said that despite the death penalty being suspended in the Philippines, the culture of death was flourishing.

“Be also mindful that even though, legally speaking, there is no state-sanctioned killing, we know that a culture of death is still here among us,” Father Borres added.

(source: Union of Catholic Asia news)


DILG backs Duterte call to bring back death penalty

The reinstatement of the death penalty for drug traffickers will strengthen the country’s campaign against illegal drug trade, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary Eduardo Año said.

“We need to pass it in order to reinforce our fight against illegal drugs. In Asia, tayo na lang ang naiiwan na walang death penalty,”Año reiterated, saying President Rodrigo Duterte’s push during his penultimate State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday was a welcome development.

Almost all heinous crimes committed are related with the use of illegal drugs, according to Año.

“This is an important deterrent for criminals to stop drug trafficking. So many lives have been wasted because of drugs,” the DILG chief said.

During his SONA on Monday afternoon at Batasang Pambansa, President Duterte urged the Congress to bring back the lethal injection for convicts of illegal drug-related crimes.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, for his part, said the revival of death penalty has “better chances” now at the Senate after it died with the adjournment in the previous Congress.

“We can try again another shot at it, especially now that the President focused only on crimes in RA 9165. Better chances,” Sotto said referring to Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

“I will not use the word junk. It was simply not interpellated immediately and died with the adjournment of Congress,” the Senate President added.

Several bills seeking to revive capital punishment in the country have been filed in the Senate, but the measure has yet to hurdle the committee level as it faces strong opposition both from some legislators and the public.

Death penalty in the Philippines was abolished in 2006 under then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, but Duterte has been seeking to legalize capital punishment again, saying it can deter the narcotics business in the Philippines.

(source: Panay News)


Court sentences Bangladeshi man to death for murdering fellow countryman 2 years ago

A Bangladeshi man was sentenced to death by the High Court here today after he was found guilty for the murder of a countryman 2 years ago.

Judge Mohd Radzi Abdul Hamid meted out the sentence on Mohammad Jobi Ullah, 40, after finding the defence having failed to raise reasonable doubts against the prosecution’s case.

Mohammad Jobi, a labourer, was charged with murdering Minto, 40, who was also his housemate, at Jalan Megat Harun, Taman Jasa, Bukit Mertajam, at 11.15am on March 25, 2018.

Deputy public prosecutor Yasinnisa Begam Seeni Mohideen prosecuted, while lawyer K. Thanges represented Mohammad Jobi.



Pakistan Has Cornered Kulbhushan Jadhav From All Sides Without Any Options – India

The case of Kulbhushan Jadhav is getting complicated. Pakistan has reportedly blocked all options for effective remedy available to New Delhi in the case of alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, India’s Foreign Ministry stated.

At a news briefing, Anurag Srivastava, a spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, said Islamabad failed to provide “unimpeded and unhindered consular access as well as relevant documents.”

“India has so far requested consular access 12 times over the past one year. However, Pakistan has so far not been able to provide an unimpeded consular access,” he said. “The meeting of consular officers with Jadhav on July 16 was scuttled by Pakistani authorities.”

He said consular officers were instructed not to hand over any document to Jadhav and could not obtain his signature on documents needed to file a review petition for the death sentence awarded to him by a Pakistani military court.

“In the absence of an unimpeded and unhindered consular access as well as of the relevant documents, as a last resort, India tried to file a petition on July 18,” said Srivastava.

“However, our Pakistani lawyer informed that a review petition could not be filed in the absence of power of attorney and supporting documents related to the case of Jadhav.”

– ‘Obfuscatory tactics’

Islamabad rejected New Delhi’s claims as its “usual dilatory and obfuscatory tactics.”

“Pakistan remains committed to the implementation of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) judgment of July 17, 2019. Necessary steps have been taken in this regard, including the provision of unimpeded and uninterrupted consular access to India,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aisha Farooqui told reporters on Thursday.

“India has, however, been using various pretexts to hinder the process for review and reconsideration.”

She said Pakistan has also offered India third counselor access but there has been no response from New Delhi yet.

“The first consular access was provided on September 2 last year and the second on July 16 this year. Pakistan has offered a third consular access as well,” Farooqui said.

“We hope that rather than using its usual dilatory and obfuscatory tactics, India will cooperate with Pakistan’s courts to give effect to the judgment of the ICJ.”

She said Pakistan recognized its international obligation and invited Jadhav and India to file a review appeal.

“Neither has done so till date,” the official said.

– ‘Spy’ case background

Jadhav – who Pakistan says was a serving officer in the Indian Navy – was arrested in 2016 in the town of Mashkel in the western Balochistan province, a few miles from the border with Iran.

Allegedly disguised as Mubarak Hussein Patel, a Muslim, he was accused of running a spy network for the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s premier intelligence agency, from the Iranian port of Chabahar.

New Delhi denies Islamabad’s charges, declaring Jadhav a retired naval officer who was “kidnapped” in Iran, where he was doing business but his presence in Pakistan was never explained credibly.

A Pakistan military court sentenced Jadhav to death in April 2017 on espionage and terrorism charges. No date, however, was set for his execution, which would be by hanging.

India approached the ICJ, which stayed the execution in May 2017, pending a final decision in the proceedings.

In July 2019, the ICJ ruled that Jadhav be treated under the Vienna Convention, asking Pakistan to provide him consular access and continue to stay his execution.

* Islamuddin Sajid contributed to this story from Islamabad



Death row convicts freed due to ‘life expectancy right’----Supreme Court allows siblings review petition filed after a delay of 16 years

The Supreme Court has overturned death sentence of 2 brothers – Sikandar Hayat and Jamshed Ali – who have sent 25 years of their lives in jail on account of “the right of expectancy of life”.

By majority of 2-1, a 3-judge bench accepted a review petition filed by the death row prisoners 16 years after rejection of their appeal by an apex court bench in a murder case.

The bench, headed by Justice Maqbool Baqar and comprising by Justice Yahya Afridi and Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed, converted their death sentences into life imprisonment.

As the brothers have been in prison since 1993, they will be released forthwith. Usually, prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment are set free after 15-year-imprisonment.

In this case, the apex court adjudicated a number of key questions.

Firstly, it deliberated whether a review petition filed after a delay of 5844 days is maintainable or not, and if the delay in filing the same can and should be condoned.

Secondly, it deliberated whether the insufficiency and weaknesses in prosecution's evidence during the trial, as asserted by the counsel for the petitioners, could be considered in the instant review petition.

Thirdly, it reviewed whether the evidence produced by the petitioners to prove their date of births was sufficient and if so, was the same correctly appreciated by the lower courts.

Finally, it considered whether there was any legal principle that might benefit the petitioners, at this belated stage, to seek a lesser punishment than that of death awarded by the competent court, and confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2002.

Authoring the majority judgment, Justice Afridi held that the petitioners have the right of expectancy of life as they are incarcerated for more than 25 years, while their legal challenge before the competent legal judicial forums continued.

He noted that for the same set of evidence, two co-accused had been acquitted without any distinguishing feature in their role compared to that of the petitioners and that too, without corroboration of independent evidence.

“Finally that the crime was a sudden and unpremeditated act, and thus warrants revisiting the sentence of death confirmed by this court in its judgment under review," the judgment said.

It noted that the right of expectancy of life is a right of a convict sentenced to death, who while consciously pursuing his judicial remedies provided under the law has remained incarcerated for a period equal or more than that prescribed for life sentence.

It said courts have considered this delay in the final judicial determination of a convict's fate to be one of the mitigating circumstances for the commuting sentence of death to life imprisonment. “This positive application of discretion by the appropriate court is regarded as the rule of expectancy of life,” it said.

Justice Afridi noted that in the present case, the petitioners are also seeking review of the quantum of the death sentence maintained by this court in its judgment under review.

The court noted that the right of expectancy of life had genuinely accrued to the petitioners having admittedly being incarcerated in the death cell for a period more than 25 years, while they were seeking justice from the appropriate judicial courts of our country.

"All these factors, which are apparent on the face of the record, when taken in a cumulative manner, cannot go unheeded, more so when the petitioners are facing capital punishment. These mitigating circumstances make out a case for review of the judgment of this court dated 13-6-2002," it said.

Question of juvenility

As far as the juvenility of the petitioners is concerned, the court noted that petitioners were granted more than adequate opportunity to discharge the onus that they were less than 18 years on the date when the crime was committed in 1993.

The court noted that the evidence they produced did not convince the trial court as well as the appellate court to be sufficient, and that too for good reasons.

"All factual and legal issues were correctly appreciated by the two courts below, warranting no interference by this court. However, this would never demean the proceedings initiated by the petitioners to claim their juvenility on the basis of their statutory rights.”

In case the claim of the petitioners to juvenility had been out rightly false, their said claim would not have taken 3 rounds to the trial court based on 2 remand orders by the high court.

“In fact, the crucial ossification test to determine the age of the petitioners could not be carried out but for their advanced age.”

However, on general medical examination of the petitioners, the opinion of Dr Khalid Javed took the petitioners to be in their early youth, if not being juvenile at the time of the commission of the offence.

Without conducting the ossification test, the possibility of determining the actual age of the petitioners at the time of the crime would remain undetermined.

"In such circumstances, despite the rejection of petitioners’ said claim to their juvenility, the same could not be out rightly declared as totally fraudulent aimed to delay and abuse the due process of the law.

“Therefore, our criminal justice system cannot be totally absolved of the delay of seventeen years in deciding the claim of the petitioners. Surely, no party should suffer for the act of court," it said.Issue of time-barRegarding 16-year-old time barred review petition, the court held that there is judicial consensus to condone the delay in entertaining petitions filed by condemned prisoners, especially, when they face the capital sentence or a long imprisonment sentence or for being in jail and having no access to legal assistance or safe administration of justice for the reappraisal of evidence.

"In the circumstances of the present case, the petitioners who are through the instant petition, seeking after 16 years, the review of the judgment passed by this court in the year 2002, cannot be out-rightly denied a hearing without considering the merits of the case, and more so, when the petitioners are facing capital punishment.

“In these circumstances, the delay in filing the present criminal suo motu review petition is condoned."

Dissenting note

Justice Qazi Amin in his dissenting note observed that penalty of death is forfeiture of natural span of life of an offender; the wage became due after dismissal of petitioners’ appeal in this court as well as mercy petition with the President of Pakistan way back on 15.12.2006.

“A frivolous, motivated and oblique pursuit to defeat the ends of justice cannot be equated with bona fide recourse to law nor the time manipulated thereby validly pressed into service to claim a concession,” he noted.



The last survivor of a defiant dance with death and Nelson Mandela is laid to rest.

The last survivor of a defiant group of young activists who stared down death in the name of freedom has been laid to rest in his home of Soweto, in Johannesburg among the people he had served in politics for 7 decades. With him died a lot of the hopes for freedom and prosperity for all South Africans that he fought for until his last breath.

In paying tribute to Andrew Mlangeni,who died aged 95, Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi had stinging words for the country’s post aprtheid leaders as he spoke as the funeral on behalf of Gauteng premier David Makhura, laid low by COVID-19.

“”The struggle you waged may turn to be something else if we don’t self-correct. That the sacrifices you made, if nothing drastic is done, may be fruiltess,” says Lesufi.

“The mistrust between the leadership and our people is growing daily, Never in our history have greediness and corruption preoccupied the mind of our people. In your honour , we need to let go of all these wrong things.”

Last Rivonia trialist Andrew Mlangeni dies aged 95

Mlangeni was accused number 10 in the so called Rivonia trial that began in 1963 and lasted for a year. Accused number one was Nelson Mandela who was to turn world opinion in favour his band of brothers who stood, resolutely, behind their principles in the face of the death penalty. The apartheid authorities had failed to secure convictions of the increasingly troublesome activists, with treason charges, in the 1950s because of the complexities of proof. Sabotage was a lot easier to prove and prosecutors pressed for the death penalty when the trial concluded in 1964.

Even on the cold morning in 1964, when the accused ascended the stairs at the Palace of Justice in Pretoria for teh verdict they didn’t know whether they were going to hang. The judge sentenced them to life in prison, which meant that Mlangeni, who had been trained by the military in China, spent 27 years behind bars.

Ironically Mlangeni spent a lifetime in prison for doing nothing wrong. The authorities transferred the sabotage of the late defence minister Joe Modise to Mlangeni’s charge sheet and never even bothered to question him about it in court.

Mlangeni pleaded guilty to all charges in solidarity with his comrades, on principle, in the cause of putting the apartheid government of the day on trial. It worked and soon the desperadoes of the struggle were being seen as the principled Benjamin Franklins of Africa, in the words of advocate George Bizos, one of the men who defended them.

The kind of selfless principle that South Africa, in 2020, is crying out for.



Quashing of teenager’s death sentence must lead to abolition of the death penalty

Following the South Sudan Court of Appeal’s decision on 14 July to quash the death sentence imposed on Magai Matiop Ngong because he was a child at the time of the crime, and to send his case back to the High Court to rule on an appropriate sentence, and his removal from death row on 29 July, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena said:

“We welcome the Court of Appeal’s decision to quash Magai Matiop Ngong’s death sentence because under South Sudan and international law a child cannot be sentenced to death. Magai is one of the lucky ones. ”

Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Director for East and Southern Africa

“We welcome the Court of Appeal’s decision to quash Magai Matiop Ngong’s death sentence because under South Sudan and international law a child cannot be sentenced to death. Magai is one of the lucky ones. At least two other people, who were children at the time of the crime, have been executed in the country since May 2018; their lives extinguished as well as all the hopes their families had for them.

"The South Sudanese government must fully comply with national and international laws which prohibit the use of the death penalty against anyone below 18 years of age at the time the crime was committed. The authorities must abolish this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment."


In its annual letter writing campaign, Write for Rights, Amnesty International prioritized the case of Magai mobilizing its global membership to write to President Salva Kiir to commute the death sentence. More than 765,000 people around the world took action, calling on President Salva Kiir to commute Magai’s death sentence, and expressing their solidarity with Magai.

South Sudan is 1 of 4 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that carried out executions in 2018 and 2019.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.

(source: Amnesty International)


Independence Day Orator Joins Call for Death Penalty for Rapists

Does the crime of rape warrant the death penalty? If not, then given the alarming rate of reported rape cases in Liberia, what will it take to stop the crime? If so, is Liberia even ready to reintroduce the death penalty as a means of addressing the alarming rate of rape against women and girls across the country? Extreme, no doubt. But there may be a slow but sure consensus brewing, so far with two individuals of national repute — one a soldier and the other a preacher — having boldly declared their support for the death penalty for the crime of rape.

Rev. Dr. Simeon L. Dunbar, National Orator of this Year’s Independence Day celebration, has joined Maj. Gen. Prince C. Johnson, III, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), to reintroduce death penalty for rapists as a means of drastically reducing the harmful act against women and girls across Liberia.

Gen. Johnson at an event on sexual and gender-based violence held in Monrovia on the 11th of July, said even though the international community does not support this decision of death penalty, “I think, with the huge number of statistics we have on rape, there is a need that we revisit the issue of the death penalty for those who sexually abuse our women and girls in Liberia.”

He said it is saddening that men will even go to the point of raping minors, adding: “It is said that a person who has been sexually abused, will make a complaint to the police station, and someone from the security sector also abuses her instead of protecting her.”

Barely a fortnight after Gen. Johnson had voiced an identical opinion, Rev. Dunbar used his platform as National Independence Day Orator, in the presence of President George M. Weah, the 54th legislature, government ministers and Liberia’s international partners to call for the death penalty to be reintroduced for rapists.

Rev. Dunbar is a renowned preacher of one of the largest churches in Liberia.

Speaking under the Theme: “Standing Together in a Time of Pandemic,” Rev Dunbar said “Rape perpetrated by inhumane men who claim to be citizens of this God-fearing nation. IT IS SAD AND IT NEEDS TO STOP. If that means introducing the death penalty on these evil perpetrators, so let it be.”

Rev. Dunbar said, “it is beyond sickening that while we are battling COVID-19, we have to deal with reoccurring cases of rape of teenagers and babies who have not even learned to talk.”

He said citizens are still at war with far greater pandemics than COVID-19, adding that the people cannot and will not stand together to win any battle in a society that condones injustice, rampant corruption, disobedience or non-adherence for the rule of law, nepotism and tribalism, sexual violence and gender-based violence, lack of genuine reconciliation, lack of patriotism, lack of accountability, lack of integrity and with no fear of God; for God hates these vices.

He called on the security sector to adhere to the rules that govern this land and not abuse them.

According to data from the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, there were 182 cases of rape reported in January 2019, as compared to January 2020, when 172 rape cases were reported. In February 2020, there were 174 rape cases as compared to the same month in 2019, which recorded 169 cases of rape. In March 2020, there were 160 rape cases reported compared to the same month in 2019, which recorded 154 cases of rape.

The Gender Ministry data suggests that between 2019 and 2020 there was very little disparity between the the number of rape cases reported each moth during the 1st quarter of either year. And for a small population like Liberia, this means that within the 1st quarter of any given year, on average, more than 500 women fall prey to rape, counting only the reported cases.

However, the analysis also says “all the 15 counties have not reported, but this trend analysis on reported rape has shown that February and March 2020 reported higher cases of rape as compared to the same period 2019.”

Brenda B. Moore, Founder and Executive Director of the Kids Education Engagement Program, said she supports the death penalty for rape if the act resulted in death but if not, the perpetrators should serve time in prison.

“For me, I do not agree with the death penalty if the act did not result in death. If it resulted in the death of a person, I do believe that [there should be] life for life,” she said in a telephone interview.

Moore, a survivor of sexual violence and an advocate against the crime, is calling for more courts across Liberia to be able to try those rape cases that have been reported and the implementation of those laws to ensure perpetrators face the full weight of the law.

“I want to see a country where all system are strengthened,” she explained, “that when you are accused of rape, you will have your days in court and, when convicted, you go to jail for ten years, which means your liberty will be seized, not to have cases at police stations and still straggling to go to court.”

The Secretary-General of the Civil Society Human Rights Platform, Adama K. Dempster, has said while it is true they are concerned about the high wave of reported rape cases and further molestations of women and girls, they are not in support of death penalty for those that sexually abuse women.

Dempster said given the nature of the role of the human rights community, they are working to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.

He recounted that on 22 July 2008, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, assented to a bill that amended the 1976 Penal Code by providing that death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole shall be imposed on an offender who, during the commission of the crimes of terrorism or hijacking or armed robbery, causes the death of his victim.

Dempster said the law also provided that a person convicted of one of the above offenses and who raped or attempted to rape his victim or who caused partial or permanent disability to his victim shall be sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of release at the age of 90 years old.

“The death penalty was introduced for the above offenses despite of the fact that Liberia ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty, on 16 September 2005, which specifically obliges States Parties to ‘take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within’ their jurisdictions,” he said.

(source: Daily Observer)

JULY 28, 2020:


Virginia Department of Corrections won’t disclose past sources of lethal execution drugs

A new bill passed by the Virginia General Assembly this year aimed to add transparency to the state’s execution process by declassifying the sources of its lethal injection drugs.

But the Virginia Department of Corrections recently denied a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Mercury for the names of its suppliers over the last decade, noting that the new law doesn’t apply to contracts that were already signed by the state.

“Specifically, the 2020 amendment provides that the identity of an outsourcing facility ‘that enters into a contract’ is no longer confidential or exempt from the Freedom of Information Act,” wrote Ryan McCord, the department’s legal compliance manager, in a response letter last week. “The General Assembly expressly chose the word ‘enters,’ rather than ‘entered into,’ or ‘has entered into,’ indicating that the law does not apply to contracts executed prior to the statutory amendment.”

Sen. John Bell, D-Loudoun, who introduced the bill during the 2020 session, said Monday that the department’s interpretation aligned with his own intentions for the bill. “The reason why is because we were worried about some legal contracting issues we’d have with agreements that have been made prior to this,” he added. “We didn’t want to cause legal problems for the commonwealth.”

Bell said that future purchases would be subject to the new discoverability law and suggested that existing contracts between VDOC and drug suppliers should be revisited in light of the legislative changes. Currently, though, it’s not clear how many purchasing agreements are still in effect.

“VDOC has not entered into any contracts with lethal injection drug manufacturers, suppliers, or compounders since the passage of the statutory amendments,” McCord wrote. At least one compounding pharmacy ended its agreement with the state on May 5 — less than a month after the new law was signed — according to a letter included as part of the department’s response to the Mercury’s FOIA request. The letter was sent to VDOC Director Harold Clarke by the company’s lawyer, McCord wrote, but the department redacted both the name of the pharmacy and the attorney.

VDOC spokesman Greg Carter did not immediately clarify whether the department has any other outstanding contracts with drug suppliers.

The interpretation of the law maintains the status quo of secrecy surrounding the state’s execution process. In 2016, VDOC redacted the identity of the compounding pharmacy that provided the department with drugs for its next two executions (the state spent $66,000 — roughly 63 times the previous year’s price, the AP reported).

The same year, convicted mass murderer Ricky Gray — one of the last prisoners to be executed in Virginia — unsuccessfully petitioned for a stay of execution, arguing that the state’s 3-drug protocol would “chemically torture [him] to death.” An independent pathologist later reported that something went wrong during Gray’s execution, saying the autopsy indicated an acute pulmonary edema that likely felt similar to drowning.

Virginia, like other states, has turned to compounding pharmacies as large FDA-regulated manufacturers have made conscious efforts to prevent their products from being used for capital punishment. Smaller compounding facilities can blend and alter drugs, but generally aren’t subject to the same federal regulations as pharmaceutical manufacturers. Rob Dunham, executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, said Monday that it’s led to wide variability in the quality and purity of drugs from those sources.

In 2018, Buzzfeed reported that Missouri, which spent years fighting lawsuits against its secretive execution laws, sourced its lethal injection drugs from a compounding pharmacy with a history of significant safety violations. The same was true in Texas. But Virginia’s current protections make it impossible to know whether the state sources its drugs from reputable sources.

“Secrecy is less about protecting the identity of the supplier from the public and more about protecting the state and the supplier from the law,” Dunham said. A recent court order revealed that a small Nebraska pharmacy provided the state’s Department of Corrections with lethal execution drugs made by major manufacturers that opposed their use in capital punishment. One company, Fresenius Kabi, even sued to try to prevent the state from using its products, arguing that they “could only have been obtained through improper or illegal means.”

Dunham, a former capital litigator who represented death row inmates in Pennsylvania, said the only real way to challenge VDOC’s interpretation of the new law was in court. It’s a process that multiple media outlets have pursued in an effort to bring transparency to Virginia’s execution process. In 2019, four news organizations filed a lawsuit alleging that the state was restricting their First Amendment right to view executions in their entirety. That case was tossed out by a federal judge in June.

The lack of transparency comes amid renewed calls for Virginia to abolish the death penalty completely as the state grapples with its Confederate legacy and nationwide calls for criminal justice reform. Virginia is the country’s historical leader in executions and has killed 113 inmates since 1979, when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment after a 12-year moratorium. The two remaining inmates on the state’s death row are Black men. Dunham said Virginia’s criminal code is marked by an “overtly racist legal structure,” including discriminatory application of the death penalty.

“In antebellum Virginia, different crimes were punishable by death if you were Black than if you were White,” he added. According to one article in the American Bar Association’s ‘Human Rights Magazine,’ “free African Americans (but not whites) could get the death penalty for rape, attempted rape, kidnapping a woman, and aggravated assault— all provided the victim was White.”

Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School and expert in lethal injections, was skeptical that Bell’s bill would have an impact on executions in Virginia. “Some of these departments of corrections have not only gone across state lines, but they’ve gotten drugs internationally,” she said Monday, pointing out that Missouri officials exchanged envelopes of cash for vials of pentobarbital. “So, I think it just goes underground and both departments and companies engage in this dance of drug purchases.”

Both she and Dunham said it was more likely that shifting political tides, including the state’s new Democratic majority, would lead Virginia to abolish the death penalty. The state held its last execution in 2017, and Dunham said courts are no longer imposing new death sentences. In February, VDOC spokeswoman Lisa Kinney said the state was missing rocuronium — a muscular relaxant used in its execution protocol — and would need to order more to carry out an execution.

“I think that puts Virginia on the cusp of outright abolition,” Dunham said. “And at this particular historical moment, after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, we may be facing a criminal and legal system reckoning in Virginia.”



3 indicted for robbery, murder at Crestview motel

3 have been indicted after robbing and killing a man at a Crestview motel, according to the Office of State Attorney.

Jasmine Williams, Eric Dorsey, and Tykira Deandrade are charged with 1st degree felony murder, robbery with a firearm, and 2nd degree felony murder.

According the state attorney’s office, the three defendants robbed the victim, Kaylum Gray, who had rented a motel at the Hilton Motel in Crestview on May 19.

During the robbery the victim shot one of the defendants involved, Jakeith Edwards, who then shot the victim, the release states. Both Gray and Edwards died from their injuries.

Williams, Dorsey and Deandrade left the scene but were later arrested at the North Okaloosa Medical Center. Their next court date is August 6, the release adds.

The maximum penalty for the charges could be the death penalty or life in prison without parole. The state attorney’s office will conduct a death penalty review within the next 30 days.

(source: WEAR TV news)


Accused family-killer Anthony Todt claims wife killed their kids, then herself

Anthony Todt, the man arrested after the bodies of his wife and children were found at a Celebration home in January, blamed his wife for the killings in a recent letter — claiming she poisoned the kids with a tainted dessert, murdered them while they slept, then took her own life.

“Long story short, she gave them the Benadryl/Tylenol PM pie, separated them, woke up at 11:30 [p.m.], stabbed and then suffocated each one,” Todt wrote in a letter to his estranged father, Robert Todt. “At the news of this I ran to the bathroom and puked — I was weak.”

Todt’s claims about the deaths of his wife, 42-year-old Megan Todt, and the couple’s children — Alek, 13; Tyler, 11; and Zoe, 4 — came on page 16 of a 27-page letter dated June 19.

It was addressed to Todt’s father in Westfield, Mass., but copied as evidence by the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office, which released it to the Orlando Sentinel on Monday in response to a public record request.

The letter could shed light on Todt’s defense at trial, though in the letter he urges his father to keep the missive “in confidence.” Attorneys representing Todt for the Ninth Circuit Public Defender’s Office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I would have called a press conference months ago, but I was told by my attorneys, who happen to be some of the best in the state, that that was not the appropriate way to handle the case,” Todt wrote. “So I just sit in idle, making a list of lawsuits [for] when I get out.”

A grand jury in February indicted Anthony Todt on four counts of first-degree murder. The Sheriff’s Office has said he confessed to the killings — though the substance of his confession has not yet been made public — and State Attorney Aramis Ayala has said her office will seek the death penalty.

In his letter, Todt writes that he is “10000% INNOCENT of all these preposterous charges” and wants to “correct all inaccuracies” from “the creative writing machine,” a reference to the news media, and the Sheriff’s Office, which he says wanted “to score a big win” by arresting him.

Todt portrays himself as a doting, if flawed, husband and Megan Todt as sickly and in need of constant care, having for years suffered from a wide variety of illnesses, including Lyme disease and depression. Her illnesses prompted the family’s move to Florida from Connecticut, he wrote.

“I was determined she was going to get better, and she was, though the good days were amazing but the ‘bad days’ were even more depressing for her,” he wrote.

The day of the killings, he wrote, was a “phenomenal” day at their home on Reserve Place, as Megan Todt woke up without pain for the first time in months and the family spent time together.

Todt said he went to a nearby condo they owned after dinner to do “maintenance tasks” and retrieve a Mickey Mouse necklace that Zoe had been begging for, intending to stay the night there, but returned to the house after realizing he’d arrived at the condo without his tools.

At home, he said he found his sons playing basketball and joined them, then sent them inside when it got dark.

“They said mom was preparing dessert and was I going to join them,” he wrote. “I said ‘no’ as I was trying to lose some weight, etc.”

He said he walked back to the condo and sat in the driver’s seat of his minivan “to take a small siesta,” but slept into the morning, waking in a panic because he usually did therapy with his wife daily at 4 or 4:30 a.m. He wrote that he rushed home “fearful of the scolding.”

Inside, he wrote he found the remnants of a pie, which “looked very good, as all my wife’s desserts were, but smelled horrible” — adding, “turns out it was a Benadryl pudding pie.”

He claimed he found his wife at the top of the stairs, which is when she confessed to having killed their children. He said he discovered the kids dead in their beds with no sign of struggle, and he wiped their faces with a wash cloth and “worked to make them look more comfortable.”

As he did so, he said Megan Todt calmly checked on him, asking if he was OK.

“No... you murdered our children,” he said he replied, to which she said his wife responded, “I released their souls.”

He went on to describe a chaotic scene in which Megan Todt stabbed herself in her abdomen in their bedroom and drank a family-sized bottle of Benadryl as he begged her to let him call for help and she begged him to help her die. The letter says he couldn’t find the phones.

“I have to be with my babies,” she said, according to Anthony Todt’s account.

He wrote that he “tried CPR until I physically couldn’t anymore.”

After her death, he wrote that he moved the bodies to a bedroom and laid them “in comfortable sleeping positions,” covered them “for warmth and protection” and placed rosaries in their hands. He wrote that he later attempted suicide several times — “yet another thing I sucked at.”

He said he spent the weeks that followed in a barely remembered haze — he doesn’t say where — before Jan. 13, when federal agents and Osceola deputies came to the family home arrest him in an alleged insurance-fraud scheme, leading to the discoveries of the bodies.

Todt apparently wrote the letter in response to his father’s participation in a February report by the Hartford Courant, in which Robert “Bob” Todt discussed the traumatic impact of the 1980 shooting of Anthony Todt’s mother — which he witnessed as a 4-year-old boy.

“There’s only so much trauma a young kid can take at that point,” said Robert Todt, who as a teacher was accused of hiring a student to kill his wife, Loretta. He was convicted at trial and served time in prison.

Though Robert Todt remains adamant he had nothing to do with the crime, he told the Courant he was away from home that night due to an extramarital affair, which left his family vulnerable.

“I offer you forgiveness for not being there to protect us that night, March 19, 1980,” Anthony Todt wrote in the letter. “Although we were both not there [on] our respective nights in question, for different reasons, I cannot forgive myself if I don’t first forgive you.”

The younger Todt wrote that he plans to start a nonprofit in his family’s memory — “MATZB2019: Alive and at Peace” — to provide resources for the chronically ill. The acronym combines the 1st initials of Megan Todt, the children and the family’s dog Breezy, which he is also accused of killing.

= “I know that I need to work on the name,” he added.

(source: Orlando Sentinel)


The Governor Can Demand to Know the Truth in 2 Death Penalty Cases----DNA testing could resolve the innocence claims of 2 Tennessee men — 1 set to die and 1 already dead

Earlier this month, Gov. Bill Lee invoked perhaps his most significant power for the first time when he granted a reprieve to Harold Nichols less than three weeks before Nichols was set to be executed. Lee has allowed four men to be executed since he became governor in January 2019. He denied pleas for clemency from those men and has not used the power to commute the sentences of anyone in prison, or to grant any pardons.

That’s not particularly unusual. Governors are often hesitant to grant executive clemency, fearing a political backlash. That’s why it’s typically reserved for one’s final days in office. But it doesn’t have to be that way — Lee can show mercy whenever he wants to.

In Nichols’ case, the governor’s intervention was not motivated by questions about the man’s guilt. Nichols confessed to the 1988 rape and murder of Karen Pulley, as well as a series of other rapes in the Chattanooga area. There are reasons his attorneys and supporters thought clemency was warranted — among them, testimony that he is a changed man and the fact that Chattanooga prosecutors agreed two years ago that Nichols was eligible to be resentenced to life in prison. But Lee’s hand was forced by “the challenges and disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a short statement from his office announcing the reprieve. That will keep Nichols out of the death chamber through the end of the year.

But the cases of 2 other men — 1 still on this year’s execution calendar and another long since executed — cry out for the governor’s attention. Both were convicted and sentenced to death in Shelby County, which is home to less than 14 percent of the state’s population but accounts for nearly half of the state’s death row.

Last year, with the backing of federal public defenders and the Innocence Project, April Alley announced a renewed effort to have DNA testing done on evidence that could prove her father, Sedley Alley, was innocent when he was executed by the state of Tennessee in 2006. Alley was convicted for the brutal 1985 rape and murder of Suzanne Collins. He confessed to the crime under police interrogation, but attorneys have argued that his case has all the signs of a false confession. Parts of his confession, for instance, matched police theories at the time that turned out to be erroneous. Alley had also told April that he had no memory of committing the crime.

Alley’s attorneys fought for DNA testing before his execution, insisting that it could prove his innocence. The state Board of Probation and Parole recommended that then-Gov. Phil Bredesen stay Alley’s execution so that DNA testing could be performed. Bredesen granted a stay, but punted on the matter of DNA testing, leaving it to the courts. The courts blocked the testing in a decision that the Tennessee Supreme Court has since found to be in error.

In a letter sent to Lee last year, attorneys for April Alley asked the governor to do what his predecessor had not — order DNA testing on the evidence. A Shelby County judge would later dismiss a petition seeking testing in the case, but Alley’s attorneys argued in the letter that Lee still has the authority to intervene.

“While we believe the court has the authority to order the DNA testing of the evidence, you also have that authority, which constitutionally is broader than the authority of the courts in this matter,” the attorneys wrote. “You can order the DNA testing in the course of considering the issuance of a pardon and exoneration for Sedley Alley.”

In the Alley case, DNA testing could clear a man’s name and reveal that the state of Tennessee committed an unimaginable and irreversible act. But in the case of Pervis Payne, DNA testing could keep the state from doing so.

Payne is an intellectually disabled Black man who was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1987 murder of a white woman named Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter Lacie Jo. He has always maintained his innocence, saying he came upon the bloody crime scene while checking to see if his girlfriend — who lived across the hall — was at her apartment. Overwhelmed by the horror before him, Payne testified in court that he fumbled around trying to help before he ran off, afraid that the police would instantly believe he was the murderer. They did.

But more than 30 years later, Payne’s attorney Kelley Henry, who also represented Alley, discovered previously undisclosed evidence — a bloodied comforter, sheets and pillow — that had never been tested. In a Dec. 30 court filing, Henry wrote that the case against Payne had been “concocted out of whole cloth” and based on “outdated racial stereotyping.” At the very least, DNA evidence that was apparently hidden from the defense does nothing to make one doubt her characterization of the case.

Now, the Innocence Project has also taken up Payne’s case. Last week, attorneys filed a petition seeking DNA testing.

The court may well side with them. But the governor could step in right now. Never mind the pandemic, which has now caused the delay of 3 executions scheduled in Tennessee this year and could also lead to a stay for Payne. Lee could arguably announce a reprieve right now, declaring that Payne will not be executed without DNA testing on evidence that was withheld from his attorneys for 3 decades.

In response to a request for comment on the Payne case — and questions about whether the governor agrees with death row attorneys that he can order DNA testing — Lee’s spokesman Gillum Ferguson said that Lee “reviews all clemency cases in detail before making any decisions and he will have more to say about Mr. Payne’s case upon further reviews.”

Every Tennessean should want to know whether the state executed an innocent man nearly 15 years ago, and whether it is mere months away from executing another. Does the governor?



COVID-19 may delay quadruple murder case

Judge Connie Steinheimer has made it clear, repeatedly, she wanted to keep the case against Wilber Martinez Guzman on schedule if at all possible, but she, nor anyone else, counted on the coronavirus.

Martinez Guzman is charged with a murder spree which left four people dead in Washoe and Douglas Counties in January of 2019.

The evidence in the case is fairly straight forward, but the outcome may turn on other issues.

The 2 district attorneys made two decisions early on--that they would prosecute the case jointly and that they would seek the death penalty. Both decisions raised legal issues, but death penalty introduced problems still unresolved.

His attorneys say Maartinez Guzman’s IQ has been measured at 67 and may be lower. If that can be proven, he would be legally determined intellectually disabled and that--according to the law--would take the death penalty off the table.

They’ve pinned their hopes on an examination by Dr. Antonio Puente, a neuropsychologist, fluent in Spanish and experienced in court cases. But he’s said the answers he needs lie in Martinez Guzman’s native El Salvador with those who knew him as a boy.

In March, he traveled there only to be denied entry as the country closed down because of the virus. It’s anyone’s guess when he might be allowed back in and he says the kind of testing he needs to do can’t be done--as the court hearing is--by remote teleconferencing.

“Are we not having a face to face discussion right now albeit, through an intereactive teleconferencing platform,” Douglas County District Attorney challenged Dr. Puente at a court hearing Monday.

Puente said such examination has never been done in a capital case, and he doesn’t want to be the first.

“You want the real deal, that stands up to science and any legal challenge? then it’s all face-to face.”

Judge Steinheimer set this hearing months ago in hopes of meeting a trial date in late August. That schedule is already upended by the virus. The defense is essentially arguing it may have to wait for a vaccine.

(source: KOLO news)

CALIFORNIA----death row inmate dies

San Quentin death row inmate dies from apparent COVID-19 complications

Death row inmate Johnny Avila Jr. died from what appears to be COVID-19 complications at an outside hospital on Sunday, according to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The exact cause of death has not yet been released.

Avila was sentenced to death in Fresno County on March 21, 1996, for 2 counts of 1st-degree murder. The 62-year-old had been on death row since March 31, 1995, according to CDCR. There are currently 716 people on California’s death row.

(source: KGET news)


Family Says They Were Retraumatized by Government’s Conduct During Federal Executions

When Attorney General William Barr announced in July 2019 that the federal government planned to resume federal executions by putting to death Daniel Lewis Lee, the Department of Justice press release announcing the death warrants trumpeted that “we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.” But the family of Nancy Mueller and her 8-year-old daughter Sarah Powell — murder victims in Lee’s case — had long opposed his execution. The Department of Justice did not consult them in announcing the execution, ignored their pleas for clemency, and derided as “frivolous” their request that the execution be delayed until after the COVID-19 pandemic, so they could attend without risking their lives. The way the government behaved throughout the course of killing Daniel Lee in their names, they say, has retraumatized them and prevented them from attaining peace.

Lee was executed on the morning of July 14, 2020, strapped to a gurney for more than four hours while federal prosecutors worked to lift a series of stays of execution and injunctions issued by federal courts in Washington, D.C., Southern Indiana, and Chicago. “We have spoken out that this is not something we wanted,” said Monica Veillette, a cousin and niece of the victims. “Over and over it’s been said that it’s being done for my aunt and cousin, it’s being done for our family. And in the end, they completely dismissed us.”

Although the family opposed Lee’s execution, they believed attending the execution would be an important move towards healing. But once they raised health questions about the pandemic, the federal officials stopped communicating with them. With their lawsuit pending seeking to put off the execution until after the pandemic, the government told them they had no legal right to witness the execution and gave them no phone call, notice, or explanation alerting them that the execution would go forward. “William Barr stole that piece of our healing from us by pushing this [execution] forward during a pandemic when we couldn’t safely attend,” Veillette said.

In an email to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette only hours after Lee’s execution, Veillette asked, “Who does something like this in the middle of the night [and] feel[s] good about it?”

In October 2019, Earlene Branch Peterson asked President Donald Trump to grant clemency for Lee, who was sentenced to death for the murders of Peterson’s daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. She said, “Yes, Daniel Lee damaged my life, but I can’t believe taking his life is going to change any of that. I can’t see how executing Daniel Lee will honor my daughter in any way. In fact, it’s kind of like it dirties her name, because she wouldn’t want it and I don’t want it. That’s not the way it should be. That’s not the God I serve.”

Peterson, her daughter Kimma Gurel, and Veillette, who had been designated as witnesses to the execution, asked the Department of Justice to temporarily postpone Lee’s execution until after the pandemic, citing Mrs. Peterson’s age (81) and health conditions that placed Gurel and Veillette at heightened risk from COVID-19. When prison officials brushed aside their request, the three filed a lawsuit in federal court in the Southern District of Indiana seeking to enjoin the execution from taking place. They argued that the Department of Justice had violated federal law by “scheduling Mr. Lee’s execution during the COVID-19 pandemic without adequate measures in place to protect them.” The District Court granted their motion on July 10 and issued a preliminary injunction halting the execution.

Federal prosecutors then moved to vacate the injunction, arguing that the same victims on behalf of whom it claimed to be carrying out the execution had “no interest in the matter,” characterizing their safety concerns as travel “preferences,” and calling their motion “frivolous.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit vacated the injunction, and after federal prosecutors repeated their demeaning comments in pleadings in the U.S. Supreme Court, the high court in a 2:00 a.m. decision declined to halt the execution.

“What does it say about them that they disregard our rights and voices and valid health and safety concerns while calling them ‘frivolous’?” Veillette asked. “My 81-year-old gramma had her daughter and granddaughter murdered, but even in her never-ending sorrow, made the choice to fight for justice because it’s the right thing to do according to her own morals and faith. … [That] says something about her immense courage and sense of belief that our justice system should serve and protect all people fairly and equally, including Daniel Lee and including her.”

In a radio interview on Indiana Public Media the week after the execution, Veillette said the government’s conduct had denied her peace. But, she said, “I want justice in our justice system more than I want peace for one individual. We lost our family members, you know, they were murdered. We are still grieving that loss.”

“This is a heavy burden to live with,” said Veillette.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)


Capital Punishment Back in Catholic Consciousness After Executions----The U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of legal challenges against the reinstitution of federal executions has renewed the national debate over the death penalty.

Dustin Lee Honken’s final words were a plea to Mary, Mother of God.

“Mary, Mother full of God, pray for me,” Honken said while strapped to a gurney staring at the ceiling.

With that, it was time for Honken to leave the mortal world.

Honken, 52, became the third convict to die by lethal injection in July, after the federal government ended a 17-year hiatus from capital punishment.

In July 2019, Attorney General William Barr announced that the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Prisons would resume federal executions for the first time in nearly 20 years, and he named 5 people, including Honken, who would be the 1st group of federal death-row inmates to be executed.

Four of the convicts, all of whom were sentenced to death for multiple murders, challenged a new execution protocol that permits the use of only one lethal drug instead of the 3 drugs normally used. In November 2019, U.S. district Judge Tanya S. Chutkan issued an injunction delaying the executions until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled whether or not to take up the case.

But on June 29, the Supreme Court declined to hear the inmates’ challenge, clearing the way for the executions to take place as planned.

Father Mark O’Keefe, Honken’s spiritual adviser, stood wearing a face mask in the corner of the execution room and watched him die. He, along with the spiritual adviser for Wesley Ira Purkey, had sued the Justice Department in an effort to stop the executions. They argued the timing, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, made it dangerous to attend the executions and therefore interfered with the free exercise of religion.

The Supreme Court dismissed those claims on July 16, allowing both executions to be carried out.

Catholic Opposition

All 4 Catholic bishops in Honken’s home state of Iowa wrote to President Donald Trump on July 1, pleading with him to commute Honken’s sentence to life without the possibility of parole.

“We believe that state-sanctioned killing would not deter or end violence, but instead perpetuate a cycle of violence,” the Iowa bishops wrote. “We oppose the death penalty to follow the example of Jesus, who both taught and practiced the forgiveness of injustice.”

Before the federal executions resumed, the U.S. bishops also appealed to the Trump administration to reverse course. “As articulated to the Supreme Court in another case earlier this year, the bishops have been calling for an end to the death penalty for decades,” Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said in a June 29 statement. “Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have all called for an end to the death penalty around the world.”

In the same week as Honken’s death, the government executed convicted killers Daniel Lewis Lee, 47, and Purkey, 68, at the Terre Haute prison.

Lee, a white supremacist, stood convicted of the 1996 Arkansas murders of William Frederick Mueller, his wife, Nancy Ann Mueller, and Frederick Mueller’s 8-year-old stepdaughter, Sarah Elizabeth Powell. Purkey stood convicted of the 1998 interstate kidnapping and killing of 16-year-old Jennifer Long of Kansas.

Attorneys for Lee and Purkey appealed the executions all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which allowed the government to proceed in a 5-4 vote.

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, an organization that opposes the death penalty, condemned Lee’s execution in a statement. Lee’s death was the first of the three executions.

“By all measures, this execution was unnecessary and avoidable,” Vaillancourt Murphy said. “The federal government relentlessly plotted its course to execute Daniel Lee despite a historic decline in public support for the death penalty, clear opposition by the victims’ family, unwavering Catholic opposition to the restart of federal executions, and an unyielding global pandemic, which has already taken more than 135,000 American lives.”

Development of Catholic Thought

The 3 executions in July, and another planned in August, run counter to contemporary Church teaching, which opposes the use of the death penalty.

In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope St. John Paul II instructed that, due to the availability of other means to ensure public safety in modern societies, cases where it is still justified to execute criminals “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” That teaching was subsequently incorporated into the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1997.

Pope Francis further amended the Catechism in 2018 to state, “The death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” His update pledges the Church to work toward abolishing the death penalty worldwide.

John Paul’s II’s earlier change already left little room for Catholics to approve of the death penalty in the United States or other developed countries, said Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“In these circumstances, where people’s lives are not endangered by someone who committed capital crimes, Pope John Paul II urged strongly that it not be done,” Bishop Sheridan said. “He advocated respect for the dignity of all human life all the way to the end, even under these circumstances. That’s where I am on this issue.”

Until 2018, support for the death penalty had trended downward in the United States over the last two decades, even though support only dropped below the majority of the general population in 2016 to 49%. A Pew Research Center poll in 2018 shows that support for capital punishment grew in the U.S. general population, and the increase was more pronounced among Catholics.

Honken Died a Catholic

A jury sentenced Honken to death in 2005. He stood convicted of killing 5 federal witnesses, including 2 children, in the early 1990s. Prosecutors said Honken killed people he feared might help convict him of making and dealing methamphetamine.

Relatives of Honken’s victims issued a statement saying the execution brings “a sense of closure.” Though he opposes the death penalty, Bishop Sheridan said he understands the comfort it brings survivors of murder victims. He would compassionately advise them to find a more lasting and meaningful means of moving on.

“While an execution might bring some kind of closure, I don’t think it’s the best kind of closure. A road toward forgiveness is a much better way to bring closure for those who have suffered such unimaginable loss,” the bishop said.

Witnesses of his execution say a medical team released a fatal dose of pentobarbital into intravenous lines that ran into Honken’s right hand and left arm. He died shortly thereafter.

By the accounts of people close to him, Honken died as a Catholic who devoted his life to Jesus in prison. Before praying for Mary’s intercession, Honken recited the 19th-century poem Heaven-Haven: A Nun Takes the Veil by Jesuit Father Gerard Manley Hopkins.

“He was really a redeemed man,” said Vaillancourt Murphy. “He had undergone a very real conversion. This is very sobering and very sad.”

Efforts to Halt Execution

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, was the archbishop of Indianapolis when he visited Honken in prison. Like the bishops of Iowa, he wrote a plea to the president to stop Honken’s execution.

“He is serene about the future and tries to show solace for his companions on death row,” Tobin wrote to the president.

Honken’s lawyer, Shawn Nolan, issued a statement saying the government killed the wrong Dustin Honken. They killed the man who was reborn as a follower of Jesus, not the old drug dealer convicted of murder.

“There was no reason for the government to kill him, in haste or at all,” Nolan said in a written statement. “In any case, they failed. The Dustin Honken they wanted to kill is long gone.”



Prosecutors Struggle to Resume Guantánamo Trials----The coronavirus pandemic is forcing the military to consider creating a quarantine zone at the court compound to allow proceedings to continue in the case of the alleged 9/11 plotters.

This article was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Military prosecutors struggling to restart war crimes tribunals at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in the midst of the pandemic are proposing to transform the crude court compound of tents and trailers into a quarantine zone.

The plan would airlift about 100 people from across the United States to Guantánamo on Sept. 5 — everyone bound for the courtroom, except the defendants — and then isolate them for two weeks at the makeshift site called Camp Justice. Then the men accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks would be brought from the prison to the courtroom to begin 6 weeks of hearings in the case, from Sept. 21 to Nov. 3, the height of hurricane season.

Efforts to get the hearings going again face several obstacles. Guantánamo has no capacity for widespread coronavirus testing and must send any samples to labs in the United States to get results. The naval base that houses the courtroom and the prison has limited health care facilities. And the case currently lacks a full-time judge.

A prosecutor, Clayton G. Trivett, notified defense lawyers last week of the planning, which he said would consolidate court hearings and personnel to prevent “posing unnecessary risk to the resident base population of 6,000 people.”

Earlier proposals called for key participants to be quarantined individually around the base in motel-style guest quarters and barracks, rather than in 50 2-person trailers that require renovation.

Left unclear is how, during their 2 weeks of quarantine, the legal teams would prepare for pretrial hearings in the death-penalty case against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and 4 other men on charges they conspired in the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Even in the best of times it is not easy to hold war court hearings at Guantánamo Bay. The coronavirus crisis has magnified the challenge.

The 45-square-mile U.S. base at Guantánamo, behind a Cuban minefield, functions like a small American town, with a 12-bed hospital, a school system, bars, a seaport and scattered trailer parks because of a shortage of permanent housing. Participants in the court proceedings except the defendants fly in regularly from the mainland.

For the pandemic, the military stopped most flights, instituted a quarantine for new arrivals and imposed a blackout on information after disclosing two cases in the spring. It is more isolated than ever.

A boiler broke at the base’s top-secret Camp 7 prison in June and it took the military nearly 2 months to get a spare part to the island, leaving high-value prisoners and their guards without hot water at a time of strict hygiene guidelines to cope with the coronavirus.

Now, the military is soliciting bids from private contractors to prefabricate, ship and install a second national security courtroom at the compound. Interested contractors must reach the base by early August to quarantine for 2 weeks before a site visit the week of Aug. 17.

The bid will be awarded Nov. 30, to complete work within 6 months, a timetable that would be hard to meet without quarantines and the virus. The new courtroom would accommodate a 2nd military judge to hold hearings in Guantánamo’s other death-penalty case — against a Saudi man accused of orchestrating the Qaeda bombing of the U.S. Navy destroyer Cole off Yemen in 2000.

But hearings in that case are also on hold. Lawyers for the defendant, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, notified the military judge recently that the prisoner’s 67-year-old capital lawyer is unable to travel from his home in South Florida, a coronavirus hot zone, and younger defense team members near the Pentagon are working from home because their work is not deemed essential enough to merit access to military child care.

Morris D. Davis, a retired colonel and a former chief prosecutor who quit the job in a dispute in 2007 — while Camp Justice, which was intended to last 5 years, was under construction — said hurricane season was always a concern in “trying to do a terrorism trial on a military base in Cuba.”

“That was a novel and herculean task in and of itself without adding Covid-19 on top of it,” he said.

Prosecutors disclosed the Camp Justice quarantine plan days after a key capital defense lawyer who is new to the Sept. 11 case filed notice at the court that, after work and travel eventually return to normal, he would need 30 months to prepare for trial.

Complications had already cast doubt on whether the Sept. 11 trial, predicted to last more than a year, would begin by the 20th anniversary of the attacks, in 2021. Most classified defense work has been on hold since virus-related restrictions paralyzed travel for many of the lawyers, who are spread across the country.

The lawyer, David I. Bruck, 70, one of the nation’s leading capital defense lawyers, joined the case in April to replace a 75-year-old defense lawyer who left the team representing one of the defendants, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, for health reasons. But Mr. Bruck, who is based in Virginia, has not yet received a security clearance and has not been able to travel to Guantánamo to meet Mr. bin al-Shibh, who is accused of being a deputy to Mr. Mohammed in the Sept. 11 hijacking plot.

None of the defense lawyers have met personally with any of the 40 wartime detainees at Guantánamo since the start of the outbreak because they are considered particularly vulnerable if they are infected. All the detainees are in their second decade of custody and many have conditions that put them at high risk, including obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

A New York City criminal defense lawyer who this year shared a 6-man tent at Camp Justice to observe a session of the case for the American Bar Association likened the prosecution plan to a modification of the way professional sports leagues are resuming games — but on a naval base in Cuba without the testing and medical care, and with greater risk and lawyers in their 60s and 70s.

“In basketball, a guy gets sick they take him out and test everybody twice in 48 hours,” said Joshua L. Dratel, who defended a case at the Guantánamo war court in 2006 and 2007, when lawyers were put up in officers’ quarters. “What if 20 people got sick at Camp Justice? Could the hospital even handle it?”

The proposal for a quarantine starting in September is part of a flurry of efforts by the prosecutors to resume hearings in all four active war crimes cases after a series of setbacks and obstacles — including an adverse court ruling against the prosecution in a rare case of a prisoner who has cooperated with the prosecution.

The last hearing at the court compound was held in late February in the case of Majid Khan, a confessed Qaeda courier who turned government witness in 2012 but who has yet to testify in a single case. The judge in that case, Col. Douglas K. Watkins, recently rebuked prosecutors for withholding evidence and awarded Mr. Khan a year off his ultimate sentence.

Colonel Watkins accused the government of “gamesmanship” in the ruling on July 13, a month after another upset to the prosecution that concluded that tribunal judges could award sentencing credit for torture or other abuse in U.S. military custody.

“Being accused of playing hide the ball is pretty toxic,” said David C. Iglesias, a retired Navy captain who has worked as both the U.S. attorney in New Mexico and a supervising prosecutor at Guantánamo.

(source: New York Times)


2 Prisoners Hanged at Urmia Prison

2 prisoners sentenced to Qisas (retribution in-kind) for "premeditated murder" were executed in Urmia Central Prison this morning.

According to Iran Human Rights, the two men’s sentences were carried out in Urmia Central Prison this morning. The identities of the two men have been established as Ali Abdi and Amirhossein Ghahrian.

According to HRANA News Agency, which first reported the news, Amirhossein, who was transferred from the juvenile ward to solitary confinement in preparation for his execution, was arrested and sentenced to death around 5 years ago when he killed his wife during a domestic dispute.

Yesterday, IHR reported on the 2 men being transferred to solitary confinement along with 2 other prisoners at Urmia Central Prison.

At the time of publication, the execution of these prisoners has not been announced by local media or officials.

According to Iran Human Rights’ Annual Report in the Death Penalty in Iran, at least 225 of the 280 executed in 2019 were charged with "premeditated murder" in Iran.

As there are no legal distinctions between murder and manslaughter in Iran, the accused will receive the death penalty regardless of the circumstances and the intent.


Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentence for 5 Protesters Amid Iran Authorities Denial ----Meanwhile, document evidence seen by Iran Human Rights shows that the 5 men’s death sentences, who are co-defendants with eight other people in the case, was upheld by the Supreme Court

News broken by IHR yesterday that the Supreme Court had upheld the death sentences of five protesters arrested in Khomeini Shahr, Isfahan, has been met with denial by judiciary officials in Iran. This is while IHR has document evidence verifying the ruling, in which the 5 men have each been sentenced to death twice for participating in the nationwide December 2017/January 2018 protests.

Iran Human Rights calls for the revocation of the death sentences and calls on the international community not to be indifferent to the ongoing wave of executions in Iran.

IHR spokesperson, Mahmood Amiry Moghaddam said: "The incompetent leaders of the Islamic Republic are unable to solve any societal problems and when people protest, they respond to them with bullets and death sentences. The sole purpose of these unlawful and inhumane sentences is to prevent any further dissent and targets the most marginalised in society. The anti-death penalty campaign must continue on a broader scale.”

Yesterday, IHR reported that the Supreme Court had upheld the death sentences of five protesters arrested in Khomeini Shahr, Isfahan, in December 2017/January 2018 has been met with denial by judicial and establishment officials in Iran. Iran Human Rights has obtained document evidence that the five protesters’ sentences were upheld by the Supreme Court. Islamic Republic officials had previously denied news that the death sentences of the three protesters arrested in November 2019, Amirhossein Moradi, Mohammad Rajabi and Saeed Tamjidi, had been upheld, but it was proven to be true a few days later.

According to the report, the Supreme Court had upheld the death sentences of Mehdi Salehi Ghaleh Shahrokhi, Mohammad Bastami, Majid Nazari Kondari, Hadi Kiani, and Abbas Mohammadi. Hours after publication, judiciary officials released a statement denying the news.

The statement from the public relations of the Isfahan Province Judiciary published across state media reads: “News published by some dissident media and hyped up on social media ascribing the Chief Justice of Isfahan Province as confirming the sentences of eight protesters arrested in 2017-2019 are complete lies and Supreme Judicial Authorities have not upheld any such sentences.”

Meanwhile, document evidence seen by Iran Human Rights shows that the five men’s death sentences, who are co-defendants with 8 other people in the case, was upheld by the Supreme Court.

These documents prove that the Supreme Court upheld the sentences of Mehdi Salehi Ghaleh Shahrokhi, Mohammad Bastami, Majid Nazari Kondari, Hadi Kiani, and Abbas Mohammadi on charges such as "baghy" (rebellion) and "moharebeh" (waging war against God).

On 26 June, in a speech prior to the Friday Sermons, Isfahan’s Chief Justice, Mohammadreza Habibi had first announced the news that eight protesters arrested over the last 3 years had been convicted of “corruption on earth” charges.

According to the documents obtained by IHR, the Isfahan Revolutionary Court had convicted the 5 protesters on charges including “baghy” (rebellion) through effective efforts and activities to advance the rioters’ goals, “moharebeh” (waging war against God) through using firearms and intending to deprive the community of security and shooting at officials, “mofsed-e-filarz” (corruption on earth) through disrupting public security and directing the rioters to disrupt public order and safety and disturbing public opinion.” In addition, they have also been convicted of other less serious charges including drug possession.

According to IHR sources, the defendants had told the court that they had been tortured to make false confessions, and did not have access to lawyers of their choice throughout the legal proceedings.

In the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election, Iranian authorities also executed some prisoners to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Some of the prisoners had been arrested a few months before the so-called green movement protests.

(source for both: