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

MAY 15, 2021:

TEXAS:

Capital Murder Suspect Pulls Race Card on District Attorney's Office

The woman accused of killing her baby in Feb 2019 is attempting to get her case thrown out due to racial prejudices, confirms court documents.

On Apr. 8, defense attorney Jenny Henley submitted a motion to dismiss the case to judge Brad Goodwin.

The 22 page document alleged that the case needed to be thrown out due to "prejudice and ethnic discrimination in prosecution." Lesley Moreno is accused of playing a role in the death of her baby, Nathaniel. Nathaniel died due to blunt force trauma. Moreno's husband Andrew Fernandez is also charged with capital murder. Both of them are facing the death penalty.

The defense is claiming that it is prejudice for the 2 to face the death penalty citing a separate case on the docket. In Jan. Destiney Harbour, Dustin Smock, and Cristin Bradley were indicted for injury to a child.

In the Harbour case they are accused of playing a role in the death of the baby. In that situation Horbour had a child at home, the family never gave it proper medical care, and at some point someone gave the baby Heroin.

The defense pointed out that District Attorney Allison Palmer was the prosecutor in both of the cases. In this case the Hispanic couple faces the death penalty while the White family is only facing felony injury to a child, not murder.

The document continued by pointing out that Moreno shouldn't be charged with murder at all. On Feb. 25, 2020 during a bond reduction hearing a detective with the San Angelo Police Department was the main witness that was called to the stand. The detective gave a eight points on why Moreno's bond should not be reduced. The following are those points:

1.The deceased had multiple injuries over and extended period of time.

2.The deceased had unexplained health issues over an extended period of time.

3."...no way, as a mother, she did not realize something was going on"

4.The detective believed that Moreno must have seen some bruising because Moreno had not followed up with doctor's appointments.

5.The alleged victim is deceased.

6.Moreno was an "unemployed mother"

7.Moreno "stayed home"

8."That's all I have"

During that hearing the bond reduction was denied.

The defense attorney claims that several of the points have no bearing on how Nathaniel was injured. She rebutted with point five which she claimed had no information regarding the cause of death, point six because of the mother being unemployed is a "nonsensical condemnation of motherhood, coupled with a condemnation of the economically disadvantaged," and point seven because the term "stayed home" might just as easily be considered a positive rather than a negative.

The attorney then went on to accuse the detective of building the case on the idea that Moreno had not personally inflicted the blunt trauma of the baby.

With the motion the defense is attempting to get the charges dismissed. This is the 68th pretrial motion since the case got on the docket in Feb. 2019. This is the 2nd oldest murder case on the 391st District court docket.

The court will meet again on June 1 to rule on the motion.

(source: sanangelolive.com)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

Option to die by firing squad awaits McMaster's approval

A bill that would make a firing squad an option for execution in South Carolina is headed to Gov. Henry McMaster’s desk after it cleared the state Legislature before the legislative session ended.

Senate Bill 200 would allow death row inmates to choose the firing squad as an option 15 days before the execution, along with electrocution or lethal injection, if possible.

Lethal injection was the default form of execution, but the unavailability of the drugs needed to perform the procedure has delayed executions in the state.

“Each of these victims deserve justice and they deserve swift justice,” said Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Georgetown. “There are people in this world who are horrible, horrible people. … Ladies and gentleman, it is a scary, horrible thing. They deserve to die. They deserve to die.”

Goldfinch said the focus of the debate should be more on the victims instead of being focused solely on the inmates. He listed several death row inmates and the graphic details of the crimes they were convicted of committing during debate of the bill.

South Carolina has not executed a prisoner since 2011, but lawmakers said the focus of the bill was on three individuals who currently are on death row and out of appeals.

The state is one of nine that use the electric chair, and 3 other states allow a firing squad.

Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said he is not for the death penalty, but he did suggest this adjustment three years ago, saying his idea somehow has “become mainstream.”

“This whole discussion can get very emotional, and I understand that,” Hutto said. “But that is why we are supposed to sort of set that aside as we discuss policy.

“We’re not extracting revenge," Hutto said. "We’re supposed to be determining the parameters of justice.”

Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, said he was a freshman senator in June 1977 when the body voted to reinstate the death penalty. He advocated for one of the discussed amendments, related to signatures from a defendant on a form, to be approved and the bill be sent back to the House.

The amendment ultimately was tabled.

“To be sitting in a courtroom and hear a judge sentence someone to death, I don’t care who you are, is an unbelievable feeling and emotion,” Setzler said. “But we need to be able to enact and execute the laws that we pass.

“If somebody can tell me or give me a reason why we need to do this today versus sitting across the table with three members of the House … and defend our position. I really don’t comprehend it.”

Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, said it was not worth delaying the process more over what he described as a “meaningless signature form.”

“Those victims deserve that we can give them the justice that we promised them,” Hembree said.

Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, offered several amendments to the bill that ultimately were tabled, including one that would prevent more additions to the list of execution options, including some methods he said were not relevant this century, including elephant stomping.

“What people don’t like is the optics of the firing squad,” Malloy said, citing a study that said “of the 34 firing squads since 1890 … there were zero botched with the firing squad.”

The Senate approved the House’s amended version of the bill Wednesday, 32-11, after the House approved the measure May 6.

(source: The Neighbor)

FLORIDA:

Carlie Brucia killer gets new sentencing hearing

The Florida Supreme Court on Friday ordered a new sentencing hearing for a man who killed 11-year-old Carlie Brucia in Sarasota County in a case that drew national attention.

Justices issued a unanimous, 1-paragraph order directing a new hearing for Joseph Smith, now 55, who was convicted in the 2004 murder. The order came more than 2 months after Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office acknowledged in a court filing that Smith should be resentenced because of rulings last year by the Supreme Court in other cases.

Joseph Smith listens to his public defender cross examine a witness about DNA evidence matching him during the sixth day of his trial at the Sarasota County Judicial Center on Nov. 15, 2005.

Read more: Did Joseph Smith get away with murder before young Carlie Brucia crossed his path? His brother says yes.

Those rulings came after a series of complicated death penalty developments that began in early 2016 when the U.S. Supreme Court found Florida’s death penalty system unconstitutional because it gave too much authority to judges, instead of juries, in imposing death sentences.

The attorney general’s office in March also acknowledged the need for new sentencing hearings for several other convicted murderers. Along with Smith, the Supreme Court on Friday ordered new hearings for David Sylvester Frances, Pinkney W. Carter, Gerald Delane Murray and Brandon Lee Bradley.

(source: Sarsota Herald-Tribune)

OKLAHOMA:

Oklahoma Attorney General Attempts to Limit Supreme Court Tribal Sovereignty Ruling as State Appeals Court Voids Four Capital Convictions

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office has asked the United States Supreme Court to stay an Oklahoma appeals court ruling that voided the conviction of an Oklahoma death-row prisoner for a triple murder committed on tribal lands against members of the Chickasaw Nation while state prosecutors seek review of that ruling by the U.S. high court.

The state prosecutors’ filing in Oklahoma v. Bosse, which the tribe opposes, comes in the midst of four decisions by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals applying the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark July 2020 tribal sovereignty decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma to void state-court convictions for murders committed by or against Native Americans on tribal lands in Oklahoma. In a historic ruling, the court determined that Congress had never disestablished the Muscogee (Creek) Reservation and the lands within the historical boundaries of the reservation constituted “Indian Country” under federal law.

The same day McGirt was decided, the Court voided the conviction of death-row prisoner Patrick Murphy, a citizen of the Muscogee Nation, for the murders of two tribal members within the borders of the Creek Reservation. The Court ruled that the federal government, not Oklahoma, had exclusive jurisdiction over those crimes. On March 11, 2021, applying McGirt, the Oklahoma appeals court ruled that the murders committed by Shaun Bosse, who is White, were committed within the historical boundaries of the Chickasaw Nation Reservation and that the Oklahoma courts had no jurisdiction to adjudicate the crimes.

Since April 29, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has voided the convictions of 3 more Oklahoma death-row prisoners for murders committed on tribal lands. Miles Bench, an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation, had been sentenced to death for a murder committed within the boundaries of the Choctaw Reservation. 2 other death-row prisoners, Benjamin Robert Cole Sr. and James Chandler Ryder, are non-Native Americans who were convicted of crimes against citizens of the Cherokee Nation within the historical boundaries of the Cherokee Reservation.

In April, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office asked the state court to reconsider its ruling in Bosse’s case, arguing that state prosecutors retained concurrent jurisdiction over murders of Indians by non-Indians on tribal lands. Bosse and the Chickasaw Nation opposed the motion. After the Oklahoma court ruled in Bosse’s favor, state prosecutors asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.

On May 7, Bosse and the Chickasaw Nation filed separate briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court opposing the motion, saying that the state prosecutors’ arguments run counter to 2 centuries of Congressional statutes and U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

The Impact of McGirt v. Oklahoma

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt was groundbreaking with respect to determining whether lands were still “Indian Country” for purposes of federal law but did nothing to change what law applies once the status of the land has been established. Federal law has long declared that major crimes committed by or against Indians on tribal lands can be tried only in federal or tribal courts. McGirt held that large portions of 11 counties in eastern Oklahoma, including much of the city of Tulsa, were within the boundaries of the Creek Reservation established by a series of treaties between 1832 and 1866 in the aftermath of the federal government’s forcible relocation of five Native American tribes. The same arguments that led the Court to conclude that Congress had never disestablished the Creek reservation also apply to the treaties between the United States and the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole Nations.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has applied McGirt to recognize reservation boundaries and void capital convictions for offenses committed within the lands of four of the five tribes. The rulings do not free defendants of liability for criminal offenses, and federal prosecutors have undertaken steps to ensure they will face trial in federal court.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the vacation of Bosse’s conviction to determine whether McGirt has been properly applied to crimes committed in “Indian Country” against Native American victims by alleged offenders who are not Native American. Hunter’s stay application argues that the Court should grant review, asserting that whether states have concurrent jurisdiction “over non-Indians who victimize Indians” has “immense” practical importance. Hunter contends that permitting concurrent state jurisdiction over those offenses “furthers both federal and tribal interests by providing additional assurance that tribal members who are victims of crime will receive justice, either from the federal government, state government, or both.”

The attorney general’s filing asserts that the McGirt decision has dramatically increased the caseload for federal prosecutors in Oklahoma, as cases that were tried in state court are overturned and transferred to federal jurisdiction: “The Northern District of Oklahoma has already seen a 300-400% increase in criminal cases. In the Eastern District of Oklahoma, the U.S. Attorney had indicted only 3 Indian country crimes in 2017, but in just the first few months following McGirt, that office has already been referred 571 such cases with respect to the Creek reservation alone, not including the other recently-recognized reservations.”

Attorneys for Bosse and the Chickasaw Nation counter that the law on this issue was settled long before McGirt. “From 1896 and through McGirt itself,” Bosse’s brief explains, “this Court has recognized that in Indian country, federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over ‘crimes … by … Indians or against Indians.’” The Chickasaw Nation’s amicus brief opposing the state prosecutors’ motion notes that Congress has mandated this approach even longer. “Since 1790,” the Nation’s brief states, “Congress has exercised its Constitutional authority in Indian affairs by enacting statutes under which federal jurisdiction is exclusive over crimes by non-Indians against Indians on Indian lands.”

Tribal Sovereignty

The Chickasaw Nation argues that state prosecutors’ concerns about the impact on federal caseloads are policy issues that fall squarely within the purview of Congress, rather than the Supreme Court. The Chickasaw Nation and other tribes have been working with federal prosecutors and state authorities to draft federal legislation to allow for special compacts between the tribes and state governments with regard to criminal prosecutions for crimes committed on tribal lands.

“We’re not going to give up our jurisdiction,” said Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby. “We believe that we need to be the ones to decide what’s in the compact [with the state of Oklahoma] because this is the jurisdiction of the Chickasaw Nation.”

Stephen Greetham, senior legal counsel for the Chickasaw Nation, told NPR affiliate KOSU, “We celebrate the vindication of our treaties. We appreciate intellectual honesty and the solidity of the law that the court applied,” but he criticized the state of Oklahoma’s characterization of the ruling as creating a crisis for law enforcement and a danger to public safety. “We take great exception to folks who seem to be treating this like the sky is falling,” he said.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

NEVADA:

Judge mulls disqualifying Vegas DA in Nevada execution case

A state court judge is considering whether to disqualify the district attorney in Las Vegas from handling a prosecutorial bid to set the execution date for a convicted Nevada mass murderer.

A day after Gov. Steve Sisolak and the top Democrat in the Legislature declared efforts to repeal the state’s death penalty law dead, Clark County District Court Judge Michael Villani on Monday pushed back to June 4 a hearing on the district attorney’s request to set a late July date for the lethal injection of Zane Michael Floyd.

Floyd, 45, would be the 1st convicted killer put to death in Nevada since 2006.

He is fighting his death sentence in state and federal courts. U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware II has said he might stop the proceedings long enough to review the constitutionality of Nevada’s untested lethal injection method and the as-yet-undisclosed drugs prison officials would use. Boulware will hear more about Floyd’s case next Thursday.

Before Villani on Friday, deputy federal public defenders David Anthony and Brad Levenson accused Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson of creating “the likelihood of public suspicion” that he improperly influenced the death penalty debate in the Legislature with the timing of his request for Floyd’s death warrant.

They asked the court to appoint a 3rd-party prosecutor instead.

Alexander Chen, the chief deputy district attorney handling the Floyd case, said state law requires the district attorney or the state attorney general’s office handle death penalty applications.

Levenson accused Wolfson, who favors the death penalty, of pressuring Democrats in the state Legislature — including two of Wolfson’s prosecutorial deputies, Senate Democratic Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Melanie Scheible — to scuttle a death penalty repeal bill.

Wolfson, Cannizzaro and Scheible did not immediately respond Friday to requests for comment.

Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat who was Clark County Commission chairman when 58 people were killed in a Las Vegas Strip shooting in October 2017, said Thursday he believes capital punishment should be used only in “severe situations.” The gunman in the Strip shooting killed himself before police reached him.

Floyd, 45, was sentenced in 2000 to die for the shotgun killings of 4 people and the wounding of a fifth at a Las Vegas supermarket in 1999.

Levenson told Villani the repeal bill passed the state Assembly but never got a Senate hearing. He accused the Senate leaders who work for Wolfson, Cannizzaro and Scheible, of being “two people who stood in the way.” He suggested their non-Legislature jobs were on the line.

“If they didn’t do what they were supposed to do, would they be invited back?” he asked.

Chen said there are other lawmakers in the Senate and dismissed as “disingenuous” the argument that his prosecutorial colleagues were to blame for the bill’s failure.

Levenson read into the court record a quote Wolfson provided to the Las Vegas Review-Journal for a March 26 report about his call to execute Floyd.

“I think the timing is good,” Wolfson said. “Our legislative leaders should recognize that there are some people who commit such heinous acts, whether it be the particular type of murder or the number of people killed, that this community has long felt should receive the death penalty.”

“We would be moving forward with the Zane Floyd efforts at obtaining the order and warrant of execution notwithstanding the Legislature,” Wolfson said at the time. “I’m not purposefully moving forward with Floyd because of the Legislature. But because they’re occurring at the same time, I want our lawmakers to have their eyes wide open because this is a landmark case. They need to be aware that there are these kinds of people out there where the jury has spoken loudly and clearly.”

Levenson told Villani that Nevada residents and his client “deserve the assurance that the lawyers representing the state who are seeking Mr. Floyd’s execution, the harshest penalty that there is in law, are doing so fairly and not to further an agenda to manipulate the other branches of government.”

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Nevada progressives upset bills stall in Dem-led statehouse

Downcast Democratic Party-aligned groups and activists rebuked leaders from their own party Friday after proposals they championed to repeal the death penalty and expand tenant protections failed to make it past a key legislative deadline.

Bills that made it through one chamber — either the state Senate or Assembly — must advance out of committee in the opposite chamber in order to remain under consideration in the legislative session.

Proposals to limit police use of force, crack down on housing discrimination and ban law enforcement agencies from using ticket and arrest quotas passed Friday, while efforts to limit when the death penalty can be sought and when landlords can take tenants’ security deposits and charge late fees stalled amid heated opposition and a lack of negotiated compromise.

The intra-party conflict reflects tensions facing both parties as they work to maintain their appeal to moderate voters while also satisfying an increasingly vocal activist base.

“I’ve been burned so many times in this building that I don’t even know what’s left,” Annette Magnus, the executive director of Battleborn Progress, told viewers of her “Out in Front’ webcast on Thursday evening.

Nevada has trended blue in recent years. Democrats now make up 36% of the electorate. Republicans account for 31%, and voters registered as nonpartisan are 26%.

Since 2018, Democrats have commanded majorities in both the state Senate and Assembly and occupied the governor’s mansion. With that trifecta of government control, they can pass any non-tax proposal without across-the-aisle support and send it to the governor for final approval.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, a Las Vegas Democrat, said her party’s lawmakers had taken major strides to reform the criminal justice system in recent legislative sessions and noted Thursday that proposals that address police use of force, cash bail and criminalizing traffic violations remained under consideration.

“We’ve done a lot of work here in the state of Nevada, and I’d encourage anyone who thinks we’re not doing enough to take a look at other states and ask whether or not we are. Because I know when I talk to colleagues from other states, they are amazed that we’re able to make such progress. You’re seeing that again this session,” Cannizzaro said. It is not fair “to say that, because every measure doesn’t make it over the finish line, that we’re not tackling problems in a real way.”

But the extent of criminal justice reform and the Legislature’s failure to repeal the death penalty has not satisfied many, including public defender John Piro.

“The session has shown us that — no matter what — police unions wield an outsized amount of power. They just do. In this building, for some reason, their voice is always going to trump community members’ voices. That’s disheartening,” he told Magnus on “Out in Front” on Thursday.

“Why are we coming up here if we’re not going to help our kids, our seniors and our mentally ill? What are we doing?” he added.

Laura Martin, the executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said progressives had long been told that if Nevada Democrats gained control of state government, they could transform the state by passing tenant protections, raising minimum wage, expanding protection for immigrants and reforming the criminal justice system. She said disappointed activists who had knocked on doors and campaigned for Democratic candidates for the statehouse might not be as inclined to turn out to vote in the 2022 midterm elections.

“A lot of times the Democrats in the Legislature play to an audience that probably will never support them in elections, at the expense of people who always do but maybe won’t anymore,” she said.

(source for both: Associated Press)

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DA’s pursuit of Zane Floyd execution can proceed, judge says

A judge on Friday rejected a bid to disqualify the Clark County district attorney’s office from its pursuit of a July execution for Zane Floyd, convicted of killing four people in a Las Vegas grocery store.

District Judge Michael Villani handed down the decision a day after Gov. Steve Sisolak and state Democratic leaders announced that a bill to end capital punishment in Nevada failed in the Legislature.

The judge found that the dual roles of Sens. Nicole Cannizzaro and Melanie Scheible, who work as prosecutors when not acting as legislators, did not amount to a constitutional violation of separation of powers.

“Cannizzaro and Scheible are on leave of absence from the District attorney’s office and, therefore are not performing executive branch functions under their current status as legislators,” Villani wrote in his order. “They are being compensated by the legislative branch of government opposed to the executive branch, and while serving in the legislature they are not under the control of the elected District Attorney.”

Federal public defenders representing Floyd were in court Friday to ask the judge to appoint 3rd-party prosecutors in the case.

Villani delayed a separate decision on whether to set a July execution for Floyd, who would be the 1st prisoner put to death in the state since 2006.

Floyd, now 45, received the death sentence after killing 4 and seriously wounding another in a 1999 shooting at an Albertsons on West Sahara Avenue.

Assistant federal public defender Brad Levenson argued that Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson’s public opposition to repealing capital punishment influenced the lawmaking decisions of Cannizzaro and Scheible.

“There is at least a reasonable possibility that some specifically identifiable impropriety did occur and the likelihood of public suspicion outweighs keeping the district attorney on this case,” Levenson said. “It’s clear from what happened yesterday that the Senate prosecutors were involved in derailing the bill.”

Wolfson was not present at Friday’s hearing, but Chief Deputy District Attorney Alex Chen said that prosecutors were working to fulfill a decision from jurors.

A jury convicted Floyd about a year after he used a 12-gauge shotgun to fatally shoot four employees — Lucy Tarantino, 60, Thomas Darnell, 40, Chuck Leos, 40, and Dennis “Troy” Sargent, 31 — inside the grocery store. Zachary Emenegger, 21, was shot twice but survived after playing dead.

Floyd also was found guilty of repeatedly raping a woman in a guesthouse at his parents’ home before the shooting.

Assembly Bill 395, which would have banned executions and commuted the sentences of those on death row to life in prison without parole, passed in the Assembly last month. But the bill failed after Sisolak said he did not support a full repeal of the death penalty.

“DA Wolfson has made opinions regarding the death penalty, as well as AB 395, but there’s nothing that prohibits him from doing that,” Chen said. “In fact, a lot of individuals running for office probably have an opinion on something like this. It would not automatically mean that they can’t fulfill their duties.”

Chen argued that appointing special prosecutors would mean that “a warrant of execution could never be fulfilled. And to me it seems like their motivations to get the Clark County district attorney’s office off of this case are clear.”

But Levenson argued that the legislation languished without a Senate vote because of the prosecutors’ leadership roles.

He pointed specifically to Cannizzaro, the Democratic majority leader.

“It was her decision, and her decision alone, that killed the bill,” Levenson said. “There is a strong interest in disqualifying the DA’s office from this case. The citizens of this state, as well as Mr. Floyd, deserve the assurance that the lawyers representing the state who are seeking Mr. Floyd’s execution, the harshest penalty that there is in law, are doing so fairly.”

Floyd’s lawyers are also trying to stop his lethal injection through federal court, where a judge suggested this week that he could order a stay of execution.

(source: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

LAOS:

Harsher penalties demanded for officers involved in drug offences

Party and government leaders have demanded that state officers involved in the abuse of narcotic drugs should be subject to harsher penalties than ordinary citizens a move seen as setting officers as an example.

The Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday issued a notice requesting the Ministry of Public Security to include tougher penalties in the drug suppression agenda.

Laos is naming the prevention and control of narcotic drugs as a ‘national agenda’ a status that requires decisive action and the involvement of various sectors to step up the battle against the current threat posed by narcotics.

Drug abuse and trade are a threat in Laos, undermining social security and order.

From 2015-2019, police processed 13,753 drug related cases and arrested 20,221 people, including 2,714 women. This figure included 403 foreigners.

Police seized more than 943kg of heroin, over 10,000kg of cannabis, over 6,000kg of amphetamine pills, over 8,000kg of crystal methamphetamine (ice), 577kg of opium and other items.

The Ministry of Public Security is finalising the draft of the national agenda on drug prevention and control before submitting it to higher authorities for consideration.

The Prime Minister’s Office’s demand for harsher penalties against offending state officers is in line with guidance issued at a meeting of the Politburo the Party’s top political body and the Party Central Committee’s Secretariat.

The final draft of the national agenda on drug prevention and control will be submitted to the upcoming extraordinary plenary session of the 11th tenure Central Committee of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party.

After discussions by the extraordinary plenary session to reach consensus, the draft will be forwarded to the upcoming 2nd ordinary session of the National Assembly for debate and approval before the state president promulgates it.

Once the national agenda is promulgated, the Ministry of Public Security, Office of the Supreme People’s Prosecutor, People’s Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice were told to delegate their scope of work and regularly coordinate to address drug abuse. Progress made in addressing the abuse of narcotics will be reported at Politburo meetings.

The government told the Ministry of Public Security to lead its line agencies in seriously waging war on drugs to create confidence among the general public. The ministry was also told to create conditions that enable people to participate in the fight against narcotics.

Ministries and state organisations were told to amend the relevant laws and legislation to support the implementation of the national agenda.

The government will retain the death penalty for serious drug offenders in the hope that it will act as a deterrent and discourage people from becoming involved in drug abuse.

The government has stressed the need to encourage efforts to create and declare more drug free villages.

(source: Vientiane Times)

DR CONGO:

DR Congo Eid clashes: Court hands down death sentences

29 people have been sentenced to death in the Democratic Republic of Congo in connection with Eid violence that erupted in the capital, Kinshasa.

1 police officer was killed and dozens of others were injured in clashes between rival Muslim groups.

They had gathered to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, but fell out over who should lead the event.

The death penalty is no longer applied in DR Congo and those found guilty will serve life sentences instead.

Trial broadcast live

The police had used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse thousands of people who gathered outside the Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa on Thursday for the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

Some of the officers injured in the violence are still in a critical condition, the authorities say.

A wounded policeman, Nsonso Lenga Lambert, sits in a police vehicle that was damaged when 2 groups of Muslims clashed outside Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo - 13 May 2021.

The clashes were fuelled by a leadership dispute between 2 camps within the Muslim community.

41 people were arrested at the scene and were put on trial on Friday. The court session was broadcast live on television and went on all night.

There were 31 convictions - 29 people were given the death sentence and 2 received 5-year jail terms.

Given the speed with which the sentences were passed there are bound to be concerns over the fairness of the trial, says BBC World Service Africa editor Will Ross.

(source: BBC News)

MAY 14, 2021:

TEXAS:

In a Rare Show of Accountability, a Texas Attorney Has Surrendered His License----A judge called his actions in a death penalty case "shocking prosecutorial misconduct that destroyed any semblance of a fair trial.”

Clinton Young was convicted by a Midland County jury of capital murder in 2003. He is being held at the Allan B. Polunsky Unit, where he is kept in solitary confinement.

Weldon Ralph Petty Jr., a chain-smoking bespectacled attorney, was a quiet fixture at the Midland County courthouse for 2 decades. By day, he often appeared before judges as an assistant district attorney in the 11-story brown brick courthouse in the heart of the oil boomtown. But by night, he worked as a paid legal assistant for those same jurists—sometimes advising them how to handle criminal cases he also was prosecuting.

For more than a decade, Petty, 78, committed “brazen misconduct” by simultaneously acting as a prosecutor and a paid adviser to supposedly impartial judges, according to a scathing judicial opinion issued April 28. The opinion calls for overturning Midland County’s only death penalty case due to Petty’s prosecutoral misconduct and the judge’s failure to recuse himself, and opens the door for a new trial for Clinton Lee Young, who has been on death row since Petty prosecuted him in 2003.

A February expose by USA Today first reported that Petty was paid by judges as a clerk in at least 350 cases from 2001 until his retirement as an assistant district attorney in mid-2019. At least 73 of the people Petty helped to prosecute remain in prison. Dozens of those convicted recently received letters advising them of Petty’s conflicts of interest and his failure to disclose his side jobs with judges. It’s unclear whether any defense attorneys will file appeals necessary to air other defendants’ claims in court.

In response to a motion from the Bar disciplinary counsel, Petty has surrendered his law license in lieu of disciplinary action, according to an order issued by the Texas Supreme Court. Formal disciplinary action against a current or former prosecutor is extremely rare in Texas. Petty did not respond to a request for comment.

Normally, prosecutors are barred from privately communicating with judges about legal matters, even indirectly related to their own cases. Judges’ clerks, in turn, are forbidden from disclosing internal reviews to prosecutors or defense attorneys. Petty’s behavior failed on all counts, writes visiting judge Sid Harle, who issued broad findings of fact and conclusions of law in response to Young’s latest state appeal.

In his April 28 opinion, Harle branded Petty’s behavior as “shocking prosecutorial misconduct that destroyed any semblance of a fair trial.” Harle wrote that Petty violated Young’s due process rights, and that the judge who employed Petty should have disqualified himself from the case since Petty was his employee. Harle has recommended that the courts declare all judgments entered against Young to be “null and void.”

Young was sentenced to death in 2003 for his role in a methamphetamine-fueled crime spree that resulted in two deaths. He was 18 at the time of the murders. As part of their work on the case, his appellate attorneys discovered that prosecutors made side deals with co-defendants that were not disclosed. But they didn’t know that Perry, who was part of the prosecution team, was simultaneously working for judges, including Judge John Hyde, who presided over Young’s trial.

Petty’s double roles—and dual state paychecks—apparently were condoned by two previous elected district attorneys in Midland, who failed to disclose his conflicts to Young or other defendants, though they were legally obliged to do so. Petty’s contract in 2001 allowed moonlighting. His supervisors did not halt the practice even after his paychecks from the prosecution and from the judiciary were questioned by the Internal Revenue Service in a 2008 audit, court records show.

That changed in August 2019, when the current Midland County District Attorney Laura Nodolf discovered Petty’s moonlighting in a review of billing records, and disclosed it. She also recused her office from Young’s pending appeal. Nodolf did not respond to a request for comment, but in a letter in the court file she has described Perry’s conduct as a “direct violation” of the state’s code of conduct for attorneys.

Since June 2013, the State Bar of Texas has fielded about 400 complaints about prosecutors. At least 2 others were compelled to resign to avoid disciplinary action, according to bar officials, and 2 were disbarred for misconduct in capital murder cases. One of those disciplinary actions involved a death penalty case: Former Burleson County DA Charles Sebesta was disbarred in 2015 for his egregious misconduct that sent another innocent man, Anthony Graves, to death row.

Graves, now an author and legal defense activist, spent 18 years on death row before winning his freedom. He said the Petty case is “just one of many cases that continues to highlight the unethical practices coming out of the district attorneys offices across the country and why there needs to be an oversight committee to hold prosecutors accountable.”

Nicole Casarez, an attorney who fought for years to help exonerate Graves said that she worries that the bar tends to “enforce the rules in only a few flagrant cases, while ignoring most misbehaving prosecutors.” Hyde, who presided over Young’s trial, is now dead. But, Casarez says, “Petty is only half of the equation here. I’m concerned about the judges that he worked for—some of them are still on the bench. I would like to see the State Commission on Judicial Conduct hold them accountable for how they, too, denied these defendants their constitutional right to a fair trial.”

(source: Texas Observer)

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

Quintin Jones is on death row for killing his great-aunt. The victim's sister is pleading for clemency.

A Texas death row inmate scheduled to be executed on May 19 is pleading with Governor Greg Abbott to spare his life.

Quintin Jones was convicted of killing his great-aunt in 1999 when he was 20 years old. His supporters say Jones turned his life around in prison, and is remorseful.

Members of Jones' family are also hoping his execution will be stopped.

Texas leads the nation in executions each year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Of the six people expected to be put to death in 2021, five of them are in Texas.

Now, Jones is making a final plea on his own behalf, in hopes he will not be one of them. With the help of the New York Times, he made a video asking Abbott to grant him clemency — stopping his execution, but keeping him behind bars.

"All I'm asking you to do, Governor Abbott, is give me a second chance at life," Jones said in the video.

A reporter asks Jones how he is different from the 20-year-old who was put on death row 21 years ago.

Jones paused for a moment.

"More thoughtful, love myself more," he answered, his voice cracking with emotion.

Jones does not deny that in 1999, he brutally killed his great-aunt Berthena Bryant for $30 to buy drugs.

His great-aunt Mattie Long — the victim's sister — said she has forgiven Jones.

"I love him very much," she told CBS News' Omar Villafranca.

Long said she and Bryant were extremely close. She does not believe Jones should die.

"I think the governor should spare him, because he has changed and he's a different person than he used to be," she said.

Writer Suleika Jaouad wrote a recent opinion article advocating for Jones' clemency because she believes he has transformed his life.

"He had an unimaginably difficult childhood of abuse and violence and addiction and neglect, but as he said to me, his childhood did not excuse what he did," she said.

Jones and Jaouad have been pen pals for roughly a decade. She said he helped her get through her cancer treatment.

"I've had the privilege of witnessing his compassion, his thoughtfulness," Jaouad said. "And I'm not the only one. He's had many other pen pals around the world, and this had a huge impact on their lives as well."

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Texas death penalty case costs an average of $2.3 million, about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years.

Support for the death penalty is declining across the U.S. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, only 36% of Americans chose the death penalty when asked whether the death penalty or life without possibility of parole "is the better penalty for murder."

"When you look at a case like this one, really the only question is whether people believe that the death penalty is an appropriate kind of punishment for this particular set of facts," said Paul Cassell, a professor at the College of Law at the University of Utah.

Cassell said there were only 2 arguments that could be made in support of the death penalty.

"One is the utilitarian argument that we can deter crime by imposing the most serious punishment for 1st-degree murder," he said. "And the other is the retributive argument, that if we look backward, we want the punishment to fit the crime."

Governor Abbott, a Republican, has only granted clemency to someone on death row once.

Jones said in his plea recorded by the New York Times that he knows clemency would not mean freedom.

"I know instead of dying on the 19th, I'll die years later. But it won't be in the free world. It'll be in prison. And I can accept that because there's other avenues in prison that I can take to better myself and better others along the way," he said.

More than 120,000 people have signed a Change.org petition asking Abbott to grant Jones clemency. The governor's office has not responded to CBS News' request for comment.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles is considering clemency. Once it decides, it will send its recommendation to the governor.

(source: CBS News)

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

Suleika Jaouad: Quintin Jones is seeking redemption. He shouldn't be executed.

During cancer treatment, I made an unlikely pen pal: a death row prisoner in Texas by the name of Quintin “Quin” Jones.

I was 23 and battling leukemia. In a column, I called it my "incanceration." My words, my circumstances connected with Quin, though we couldn’t have lived more different lives. He wrote that he understood what it was like living in isolation and facing mortality. His letter was unforgettable.

4 years later, I was in remission, and I went to visit Quin on death row.

I returned to see him last week. Quin is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday, May 19. It’s one thing to have theoretical views on the death penalty. It’s another to sit across from a man days away from the execution chamber. To see the fear in his eyes. To watch him break down and say, “I’m good. Don’t worry about me. I don’t want to cause anybody any more pain.”

In the decade I have known Quin, almost everything about him has surprised me. I didn’t expect his thoughtfulness or sense of accountability. His unimaginable childhood was one of poverty, abuse and addiction. But he has never blamed his circumstances for his crime. In 1999, when he was 20 years old, he brutally killed his great-aunt Berthena Bryant while high on heroin and cocaine.

“For a long time I believed I deserved the death penalty,” Quin said. “I no longer think I should be executed, but I believe I deserve to remain behind bars for the rest of my life.”

I also believe he deserves to live for many reasons. The death penalty is often framed as bringing closure to the victim’s family, but in this case, the victim’s family - Quin’s family - is pleading with the state to commute the death sentence. Berthena’s closest relative, her sister Mattie Long, says that Quin’s execution will bring more heartbreak. “The world will not be better off if Quin is executed,” Quin’s twin brother Benjamin Jones said in the clemency petition. “Both of us have long forgiven Quin. Please don’t cause us to be victimized again through Quin’s execution.”

Quin’s family is modeling restorative justice, where harm is repaired, not perpetuated. There is a precedent for mercy here. In 2019, Thomas “Bart” Whitaker was on death row for orchestrating the murders of his mother and brother. His father, Kent Whitaker, who was shot during the attack, pleaded for his son’s life. Governor Abbott granted clemency.

In addition to Quin’s family’s pleas, there are reasons to believe the sentence was unjust in the first place. To apply the death penalty, the jury had to believe Quin would pose a threat, even in prison. But the state’s argument for “future dangerousness” hinged on now discredited science and a flawed methodology. Quin has been a model prisoner, with no record of violent transgressions.

There are other issues, including unequal treatment based on race. This isn’t a hypothetical concern: Riky “Red” Roosa, the leader of the gang Quin joined, is white and 18 years older than Quin, and he was convicted of murdering two persons. He received life sentences with the possibility of parole. Quin, who is Black, was put on death row for one murder.

We are a nation that prides itself on second chances. Quin has repeatedly expressed deep remorse for what he did. He has spent 21 years on death row—23 hours a day in solitary confinement—reckoning with his past, asking forgiveness from those he harmed, writing letters that have made a difference in people’s lives, including mine. He has transformed himself into a kind, decent, compassionate man.

He’s not seeking freedom—he is seeking redemption. “I am a Christian,” Quin has said. “I believe in heaven and hell, and I’m trying to go to heaven afterward.”

With the support of Berthena Bryant’s family and along with over 100,000 others, I’m asking Governor Abbott and the Board of Pardons and Paroles to reconsider Quin’s case and convert his death sentence to life without the possibility of parole.

“Because I was so close to Bert, her death hurt me a lot,” Mattie Long said. “Even so, God is merciful... I am writing this to ask you to please spare Quintin’s life.”

(source: Austin America-Statesman)

NEW HAMPSHIRE:

Renny Cushing: Dying while legislating — 'There’s no end of the work to do'

Rep. Renny Cushing, the House Democratic leader, is being treated for stage four prostate cancer.

Renny Cushing doesn’t have a lot of time.

Last year, he got the diagnosis no one wants to hear: stage 4 prostate cancer. Cushing found out after he had been hospitalized for acute kidney failure. By then, the cancer had already metastasized in his bones and lungs.

There are many ways someone might choose to spend the last months of their life: reading, traveling, resting. But in the hospital, Cushing was thinking about the upcoming election. Did he still have time to get his name off the ballot? Who was he going to get to run in his place? He didn’t know.

The doctor told Cushing that, left untreated, he would have anywhere between 9 and 18 months to live. Cushing has since been fighting for more time. Treatment, so far, has been a mixed bag. A treatment he started in October was working, until it wasn’t. Now he’s part of a phase two clinical trial.

Cushing didn’t end up finding a replacement candidate or withdrawing from the race. Last November, he ran and won, not an easy task in the purple town of Hampton. But the Democrats lost the House, and the minority leadership position was open. It would be a contested race. The conversation about whether to run is one that some people would have with their family, a spiritual adviser, their close political allies. Cushing spoke to his oncologist.

In October, Cushing started a new cancer treatment. In November, he was elected House minority leader.—

“I told the caucus, ‘If you elect me, I will lead you through defeat.’” That’s what he’s spending his last months doing.

Time is limited. Cushing has been told to leave his calendar in the hands of the legislative staff aides.

“I shouldn’t control my schedule because I’m really good about double booking,” he said.

Cushing has been involved with politics in New Hampshire since he was a teenager, but there’s more he hopes to do. He has a progressive agenda he still wants to push through, even though the Democrats don’t control the House, Senate, Executive Council, or governor’s office. And much that he hoped to champion last session was put on pause because of the pandemic.

“There’s no end of the work to do,” he said.

Cushing said Elvis Presley had a belt buckle that read TCB, “Taking Care of Business.” He wants one that says DWL: “Dying While Legislating.”

“This is my first time dying, so I’m doing the best I can,” he said. “And, you know, I’m living. I’m going on living.”

On living

Cushing still lives in the sea green clapboard house where he grew up with his seven siblings, part of a big Irish Catholic family. The paint is peeling in places. It’s the house where he and his wife, Kristie Conrad, raised three children – all daughters who are now adults. One lives in Dover; the other two have since left the state.

Cushing’s grandparents came to Hampton for their honeymoon in the 1920s and never left. When Cushing was growing up, people were constantly coming and going: There was always an extra plate at the table, a corner that could fit a sleeping bag. It was a good place to grow up. “I know the gift of unconditional love,” Cushing said.

In high school, he became a jock. Cushing likes to say that he majored in football. But he also started speaking up about problems in the community and the world. After his cousin came home from Vietnam with stumps instead of legs, Cushing became aware of the war in a new way. He started reading and learning more about it and came to believe it was a mistake.

He began working with a few teachers in town and civil rights activist Allard Lowenstein on the “Dump Johnson” movement, supporting antiwar candidate Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 presidential election. And Cushing started fighting to lower the voting age from 21 to 18, since he believed that younger voters would help elect an antiwar candidate. That was the first time he went to Concord to testify in Representatives Hall. He was 15.

“We got clobbered,” he said.

But a few years later, the 26th Amendment passed, and Cushing, then 20, voted for the first time. The antiwar candidate, George McGovern, lost.

Even so, “there was some small little satisfaction I took walking to that ballot box, knowing I get to vote, even though it took a few years,” Cushing said.

Another formative part of Cushing’s adolescence had nothing to do with New Hampshire politics and everything to do with an itch to see the world. At 16, he left home with $40 and a cardboard sign that read, “Any ride, anywhere. Please.” He crossed the country catching rides in cars and on freight trains; he’ll tell you that there’s an art to hopping freight trains. He dreamed of New Orleans but ended up in juvenile jail in Berkeley, California, after he was caught sleeping in a bush.

He went home a few weeks later, but he wasn’t done traveling. Over the years, he made it to Mexico and Canada, picked oranges in Wildwood, Florida, and picked grapes for $7 a ton in the San Joaquin Valley of California. He did finally make it to New Orleans, where he ran out of money before hopping on yet another freight train. It took him to Atlanta, where he got a gig working on the back of a trash truck.

“This was 3 years after Dr. King had been assassinated standing in solidarity with garbage workers in Memphis,” Cushing said. “There were signs. The vestiges of American apartheid were there.”

The people working on the truck were Black. Cushing was the exception. He noticed that they picked up trash from the white part of town twice a week, but just once from the Black neighborhoods. Being there taught him about dignity, he said.

A little portrait of Martin Luther King is installed over Cushing’s desk in his home office, where he logs into his computer to lead the House Democrats on Zoom.

It was in Mexico that things really changed for Cushing. He saw the military dictatorships up close when he hitched through Central America. He was in Oaxaca, Mexico, picking tobacco, when the 1973 military coup happened in Chile. President Salvador Allende took his own life after Augusto Pinochet and the junta seized control. Cushing heard the news on the town’s lone transistor radio and afterward a man turned to him and said: Siempre cuando hay un hombre quien trata de ayudar a los pobres, lo matan: “Whenever someone tries to help the poor, he gets killed.”

That was when Cushing realized he had learned enough from his travels. He was ready to go home.

“I thought, this has been really good, Renny, you’ve got a great education. Now, maybe it’s time to go back and make the revolution,” he said.

The revolution

Cushing got back to Hampton in 1974. By 1976, he and Conrad had become founding members of the Clamshell Alliance, a group that was protesting the Seabrook nuclear station. For Cushing, it was about nothing less than defending democracy: People voted against having a nuclear plant, but construction plans backed by one of the state’s most powerful corporations rolled forward. Cushing’s sympathy was with those affected by the plant, who didn’t know what eminent domain was.

“It was corporate corruption, and it became so basic, so pervasive that it became invisible,” Cushing said. “And in many ways we’re living with the consequences of it to this day.”

A demonstration opposing the nuclear plant turned into the largest mass arrest in state history: 1,414 people were taken into custody. Cushing worked on the cause for a decade. The friends he made during his days at the Clamshell Alliance are among his closest.

“When you end up being arrested and jailed and all of your dreams smashed, when you go through that process, you are bonded forever with the people with whom you shared that experience,” he said.

“When you select your family,” he said, “those people are my family.”

Family

That Cushing has spent the better part of his life talking about death was not so much a choice: Cushing’s father, a schoolteacher, was murdered in Cushing’s childhood home.

The home he has since reclaimed, the home where he will spend his final days.

On June 1, 1988, an off-duty police officer, Robert McLaughlin, knocked on the door of the Cushing family home. When Cushing’s father opened it, McLaughlin fired 2 shotgun blasts into the schoolteacher’s chest, killing him.

McLaughlin and his wife lived kitty-corner to the Cushing home. The way Cushing tells it, that morning came around and McLaughlin decided that would be the day he would kill a Cushing.

It was also the day Renny met Barbara Keshen, the homicide attorney who was assigned to the case.

“Mr. Cushing and Robert McLaughlin had had some sort of exchanges throughout the years. They were neighbors, they knew each other,” Keshen said.

Cushing links it to Gladys Ring, another neighbor, who was pulled over and charged with resisting arrest in September 1976 on her way to novena, a Catholic prayer service. Cushing went to see her after his father told him that Ring had been beaten up by police.

“I could see the bruises on her arm. She was freaked out,” he said.

Cushing and his brother Michael got a petition together, which stirred up a “hullabaloo” in town.

“At the end of the day, the cops said, ‘What’s the word of a 67-year-old lady against a cop?” The cop in question was McLaughlin.

Cushing had opposed the death penalty before his father was killed, but afterward he found himself in a strange position where he felt obligated to speak out against it. He worried that his silence would be taken for tacit approval.

That’s what he spent the next 20 years doing. Those who know Cushing describe him as indefatigable. He would just keep working on it, in the face of defeat after defeat.

Keshen, who most recently served as the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, became a close friend and ally in the fight to abolish the death penalty.

The first thing you learn from Cushing is patience, Keshen said. They needed it in the years to come as they worked to get enough votes for repeal.

“He firmly believed that if people didn’t get the message that repeal was the right thing to do it was because we weren’t expressing the message appropriately, not that people were mean or vindictive,” Keshen said.

Cushing spoke about his experience as the family member of a murder victim often, and Keshen believes that perspective created connections with people and helped them “evolve.” Cushing explained that a state-sanctioned execution would not fill the empty seat at his family’s table. The killer had already taken his father, and Cushing had decided long ago that he would never let his values be taken away from him.

“It’s not about forgiveness,” Cushing said. “You do it, from a victim’s perspective, to hang on to your own ideals.”

Our criminal justice system, he says, is so much about winning and losing. It’s about punishment instead of truth-telling and healing. Those are the things he sought in the wake of his father’s death.

Cushing toured the country and internationally talking about his father and the death penalty. Reliving that traumatic experience in public over and over did take a toll.

Renny Cushing stands with Sister Helen Prejean in Representatives Hall in 2014.

But in 2019, New Hampshire’s death penalty was finally repealed, with enough votes to override Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto. Keshen is not alone in crediting Cushing for that step. He had been working toward that moment for decades.

“He is one of the sweetest men I’ve ever met,” Keshen said. “Very smart, very committed to all kinds of justice. He has made New Hampshire a much better place in a million ways.”

Paul Twomey, who volunteers as legal counsel for the House Democrats, said Cushing still has boundless energy.

“When he’s committed to something, he will stay with it forever,” he said.

He talks with Cushing on the phone nearly every day, and there’s always something else that needs doing, from ensuring remote access to House hearings for disabled legislators to medical marijuana for cancer patients to the fight for environmental protections after toxic PFAS chemicals were found in wells near the Coakley Landfill on the Seacoast.

‘When you are old’

These days, Cushing has been reading Yeats. And he likes Neruda’s love poems. He calls himself an aging romantic and a fading revolutionary. He says the poetry sustains him, now that he has to spend 1 day a week in the hospital for his cancer treatment.

That poetry has seen him through the years: from his childhood in a big, loving family, throughout his vagabond days hitchhiking across the United States and into Central America, and now that he’s dedicated his life to public service. He has carried the little poetry books with him on the road for the past 20 years.

It was a Yeats poem that accompanied Cushing during his days hitchhiking through Latin America. His then-girlfriend inscribed “When You Are Old” on the first page of the Spanish dictionary that Cushing used to teach himself the language.

“When you are old and grey and full of sleep,” it begins, “And nodding by the fire, take down this book / and slowly read, and dream of the soft look / your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.”

The poem is about unrequited love, “how Love fled,” but Cushing speaks of his own life in terms of fulfillment, not frustration.

“I am overwhelmed by the amount of love I have in my life,” Cushing said. “I love people. I’m very lucky. Growing up in a family of seven you learn a couple things. One, I learned that love is not finite.”

And unconditional love, he said, will get you through anything.

(source: The New Hampshire Bulletin)

PENNSYLVANIA:

When Larry Krasner took over the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office in 2018 after decades as a civil rights and defense lawyer, he quickly overhauled staffing, set policy goals, and instituted a series of tone-setting mandates.

For instance, when requesting a prison sentence, each prosecutor was told to state in court the estimated cost to taxpayers of the incarceration. But several busy defense lawyers said they never recalled seeing that happen. The times it did, it irked some judges — even drawing a threat to hold an assistant DA in contempt, according to one DA’s Office staffer — so some prosecutors quietly dropped it.

Krasner says the policy stands.

The fate of that directive was one example of the challenges that arise when a bold reform ideology meets the daily churn of a busy courthouse that, when not beset by a pandemic, can grind through 10,000 cases a year.

In Krasner’s first term, many of his more substantive reforms have been instituted with greater success — even if they’ve been overshadowed in the public consciousness by surging gun violence, opposition from the police union, and a challenge from former homicide prosecutor Carlos Vega in Tuesday’s primary election.

True to his campaign promise, and to the outrage of some victims’ families, Krasner has not filed a single notice to seek the death penalty. He agreed to resentencing in 18 capital cases. His Conviction Integrity Unit has successfully advocated for 20 exonerations of men who collectively served centuries of wrongful imprisonment — while calling out official misconduct by both police and prosecutors. He also began dropping drug-possession charges for defendants who enrolled in treatment, rather than jailing them or forcing them into diversion programs that pose an ongoing risk of incarceration.

In part through his efforts, Philadelphia cut the number of people on probation or county parole by a third and reduced racial disparities in sentencing — all with no increase in recidivism, according to an analysis by his office. His bail policies also resulted in a 22% reduction in defendants who spent a night in jail, an independent study found, with no impact on re-offending or court attendance. His efforts, including backing the expansion of “early bail review” hearings within days of arrest, have also helped keep the city jail population below 5,000 people for most of his tenure.

Perhaps most important was a shift toward a culture of transparency, according to Keir Bradford-Grey, Philadelphia’s former chief public defender.

“If we had clients where the evidence was questionable after we did our investigation, in the old days we couldn’t go to a DA and say, ‘Hey, look at this. You may want to withdraw the case,’” she said. “With Larry’s team, there was much more opportunity to talk things through and share information that wasn’t going to just be taken, hidden in a file, and then the DA find a way to circumvent that information and go forward with the case.”

Viewed through a different lens, though, that could be seen as the DA dropping potentially viable cases — and police, from street patrols all the way up to the commissioner, have taken aim at Krasner as a result.

“There’s nothing to deter folks,” Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has repeated, in interviews and at crime scenes, seemingly blaming the DA for a rise in gun violence.

Krasner has countered that the rising violence, mirrored in other cities, is driven by complex factors, including the pandemic. He also defended his conviction rate, which was almost 85% before the pandemic, pointedly calling it the “we don’t cheat rate.”

The Fraternal Order of Police emerged as a major critic early in Krasner’s term, casting him as “Mister Softee” in one recent campaign stunt. Former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain was among those who took to saying that criminals affectionately call Krasner “Uncle Larry.”

Krasner’s approach also rankled some other justice-system players, including some judges and predecessors like former Gov. Ed Rendell, a two-term Philadelphia DA who endorsed Vega and said Krasner puts too much emphasis on reform and not enough on safety.

In an interview, Krasner rejected that claim. “That is a deliberately false narrative. ... The truth is you cannot have safety without reform. It’s the reform that loosens up the resources to make us safer.”

He cited his approach to the gun crisis as an example. Working with the courts, he said, he was able to consolidate and expedite fatal and nonfatal shooting cases with the aim of quicker resolutions — resolving cases 40% faster — before the pandemic closed courts. He said he’s also worked with police to place prosecutors in every detective division and the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center, resulting in improved relationships and more effective intelligence-gathering.

His relationship with police has not been helped by the fact that he has prosecuted 23 officers for on-duty misconduct. Krasner called it a “sea change from prior administrations that largely acted as lawyers for cops and largely acted as a cover-up organization for police misconduct.”

So far, judges have tossed out 7 of those cases at preliminary hearings, citing a lack of evidence. Two detectives have also filed lawsuits over the DA’s investigations of police, alleging that prosecutors manipulated their reports.

Other big policy changes have rolled out with little friction — like declining charges for prostitution and downgrading low-level retail thefts to summary offenses.

Aisha Mohammed, director of community organizing and policy development at Project Safe, said it’s an important step, though she would like to see even fewer arrests. (Those picked up on a 3rd or 4th offense for prostitution may still be charged.) Each arrest, she said, can disrupt steps toward finding housing or getting enrolled in drug treatment.

But Vega, in a televised debate, argued that not arresting has consequences, too. “Businesses are leaving,” he said. “It is ludicrous that for someone to be charged with a crime, you have to steal $500 worth of product.”

That type of push-and-pull has been evident in some policy decisions that have drawn fire from both sides.

Krasner, impatient to stop the use of money bail, which disproportionately impacts poor Black and Latino defendants, last year unilaterally instituted a plan to either support pretrial release or seek $999,999 bail. That drew outrage from reform advocates. It also failed to produce the desired results, as bail magistrates often rejected the high bail requests, enabling many facing gun charges to be bailed out.

Youth advocates also lament that about as many minors still come through the adult system as in the previous administration. On the other hand, they note, Krasner took office just as hundreds of former juvenile lifers were being resentenced pursuant to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling — and offered many imprisoned for decades without any misconduct the chance for immediate parole.

Jondhi Harrell, who heads the North Philadelphia-based Center for Returning Citizens, said Krasner’s greatest achievement may be restoring trust in the office.

“That set a new tone for policing,” he said. “Also, I believe that he’s sent a signal to the nonwhite and poor communities that a DA’s Office, although the primary job is to prosecute wrongdoing, it’s also to reform the criminal justice system, to redress past abuses and to make sure that they do not continue into the future.”

Harrell’s main criticism — one that has dogged Krasner throughout his tenure — was insufficient communication with crime victims. “Community relations and the perception of the office is important,” he said.

Detractors raise what they say are systemic issues: that amid the push for reform, the everyday machinery of the office has faltered. They cite, as one cause, an exodus of longtime prosecutors who have been replaced by less experienced lawyers. Krasner fired 33 lawyers when he took office, including Vega, who sued alleging age discrimination.

In City Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez’s view, Krasner’s policies are sound — and the problem is politics.

Reforms to the juvenile system, for example, were huge for “any parent who has a kid get in trouble,” she said. “But those are things that you can’t say in a soundbite. You can’t say in a commercial, because they’re very personal. ... Unless you were directly impacted through an incident, it’s hard to tell.”

She said Krasner needs to do more to secure buy-in from all stakeholders. Instead, he finished his 1st term as an incumbent without the endorsement of either Mayor Jim Kenney or the Democratic City Committee, a rare snub for an incumbent Democrat.

“You run to be a disrupter, but then you also have to learn to govern from there, and you don’t govern on an island,” said Quiñones-Sánchez, who is supporting Krasner’s reelection.

Krasner said he’s learned the political part of being DA on the job — and pointed to a long list of other endorsements by wards, lawmakers, labor groups, and clergy to show how far he’s come. He takes credit, too, for growing support for investing in gun-violence prevention, rather than only punishment.

“The ideas we are putting forward are ideas that are embraced by the people, but aren’t immediately being embraced by institutions,” he said, “but we are seeing a shift toward consensus.”

(source: The Philadelphia Inquirer)

NORTH CAROLINA:

I represented an innocent man on death row: Here’s why NC must end the death penalty

State Representative Vernetta Alston of Durham is the lead sponsor HB 724, which would repeal the North Carolina death penalty. Here, she explains why she believes North Carolina must end the death penalty:

In September 2014, I was sitting with Henry McCollum at the moment a judge ordered his release from death row for a crime he did not commit. Many folks in the courtroom clapped in celebration. Others embraced out of relief. It had been 30 years since Henry and his brother Leon Brown – two innocent and intellectually disabled children – had been convicted and sentenced to death in Robeson County, North Carolina. A case that had captured the country’s attention had come to an end for the 2 men, who had unflinchingly claimed their innocence for all those years.

The press, lawyers, and advocates rushed to announce the court’s decision. The courthouse buzzed as they explained the 30-years of injustice – undisclosed evidence, new DNA results, the rush to judgment that failed to give closure to the family of the victim, the wrongful incarceration – endured by Henry and his little brother, Leon.

But Henry, the innocent man at the center of it all, remained solemn. After the judge ordered his release, he was led, still shackled, to a small, dim holding area of the same courthouse that took his freedom to begin with. I knelt near him for a few minutes. He was silent and didn’t make eye contact. He was overwhelmed.

Considering all Henry had been through – the manipulation by law enforcement that led to his false confession, being labeled the “worst of the worst” by United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the severe depression he experienced in prison, suicide attempts that resulted from the unimaginable toll of watching friends be executed, and the 30 years of innocence claims that were effectively ignored until that day – he had every right to be overwhelmed.

Henry and Leon’s case is reason enough to repeal the death penalty in North Carolina.

We have a death penalty system that let the false, unrecorded, and coerced confession of a disabled teenager serve as the basis of a death sentence. Henry’s case also showed us the lengths prosecutors will go to in pursuit of the death penalty, like withholding evidence including the recantation of the witness who originally led police to Henry, and neglecting to do fingerprint testing that would have revealed the identity of the real perpetrator.

Thirty years of strong legal claims and personal protests were not enough to get Henry off death row. He was exonerated by DNA evidence. Few criminal cases have DNA evidence at all. Henry was lucky and luck cannot be a safety valve to protect innocent people from an ineffective system.

But it isn’t just the innocent who suffer under a broken death penalty system. There are countless people on North Carolina’s death row who live under the weight of their actions and the sorrowful reality that their poverty, substance abuse disorders, mental illnesses, personal trauma histories, or race made them easy targets for death penalty prosecution in a system that, until recently, lacked important checks on investigative tactics, state discretion, or the defendant’s right to due process.

More than 90% of our death row was convicted in the 1990s, before confessions were required to be recorded. In about 80% of cases, defendant’s did not have the right to see their files before trial. Nationwide, at least 20% of death row inmates are mentally ill and many suffered from substance use disorders.

In light of this and the reality that Henry’s is not the only death penalty case in North Carolina with faulty evidence, police coercion, or prosecutorial misconduct, we should stop subjecting people to the ultimate punishment.

Whether guilty or innocent, killing people does not bring any more justice into the world – only more sorrow and violence.

In the fall of 2014 at the Robeson County Courthouse, I stared at a free man consumed by three decades of despair, injustice, and oppression caused by the death penalty and its actors. It was a historic day and one of the saddest days of my life. We must repeal the death penalty.

(source: Vernetta Alston was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives in 2020. She worked as a capital defense attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation for five years. She previously served on the Durham City Council----NC Policy Watch)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

How will South Carolina be known? For its beaches and businesses, or its executions?

South Carolinians love to read reports about how we have some of the best beaches in the world. We also take pride in the Lowcountry when it gets worldwide publicity each April for the RBC Heritage golf classic. Businesses and the Chamber of Commerce tout our communities, like Hilton Head, for the lifestyle we all enjoy — a wonderful and affordable way of life, especially for our senior citizens. All of these are good for our state, its economy and its standing in the nation and world.

Now we have another example of notoriety that affects our state’s reputation. South Carolina is among a few states whose legislature has voted to legalize firing squads for inmates who receive the death penalty. Further, we have reinstated death by electrocution because we supposedly cannot get the legal cocktail of drugs to kill death row inmates by injection.

On one hand our legislature can quickly give the governor what he wants in killing inmates, but when it comes to protecting all citizens of South Carolina, the state Senate still can’t pass the hate crimes bill.

Advocates claim that firing squads will give families closure as they mourn loved ones, and one can respect the indescribable agony these families endure from witnessing and coping with a violent death. Yet, this isn’t just about soothing their suffering. It’s bigger than that. Is bringing back firing squads and electric chairs moral and good public policy? Forget whether they’re legal. This is about the morality of capital punishment and the methods used to kill death row inmates.

What does the Bible say?

The Bible has many examples of crimes for which Biblical law proscribed the death penalty. In addition the Bible gives various methods for execution, including stoning, hanging, and strangling and burning the corpses. In the Talmud, however, rabbis rarely instituted the killing of a convicted criminal. From about the second to the the seventh century of the Common Era, rabbis established that executions should resemble the taking of life by God. That meant that in judicial executions, the body was not to be destroyed or mutilated. In addition, based upon Leviticus 19:17, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” loving the accused meant giving them the most humane death possible. Still, throughout Jewish history, actual executions were rare.

Reasonable people can legitimately disagree about capital punishment, but method of execution is an entirely different discussion. I have never had a loved one be the victim of a violent crime. Nor have I witnessed an execution. I have known people who have murdered their loved ones, and I have sat with families who suffered through the shock, anger and outrage of such crimes.

Is death by firing squad a humane way of ending a person’s life no matter what the crime was? Those who murder violate the sanctity of human life, but should government impose an execution that is not that much different from the crime committed?

The United States has plenty of cases in which the electric chair and lethal injection malfunctioned. Firing squads will likely be effective, but at what cost to the integrity of our society and to the values we lay claim to as a Judaeo-Christian nation?

What image do we want South Carolina to be known for? The state that celebrates its economic vitality with the best beaches in the world, great universities and corporations, and a world-renowned golf tournament? Or the state that deploys firing squads to kill people on death row?

South Carolina’s legislators claim that they want to ease the suffering of families whose loved ones were victims of murder. Then how about passing a hate crimes bill to ease the suffering of those who continue to be victims of violent crimes?

Our elected representatives need to think about their priorities — and their humanity — as they pick and choose whose suffering deserves equal protection under the law.

(source: Brad Bloom, islandpacket.com)

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Civil rights activists protest firing squad death penalty on SC State House steps

Members of a civil rights group gathered at the State House Thursday, demanding that Governor Henry McMaster not sign a plan into law that would allow firing squads in South Carolina.

The local chapter of the National Action Network called the firing squad barbaric, primitive and an inhumane method of execution.

“The governor said he is pro-life, yet this session is ending with the general assembly refusing to adopt the hate crimes bill which was the best pro-life measure to be considered by them,” said Reverend Nelson B. Rivers, who serves as the Vice President of Religious Affairs and External relations for South Carolina’s NAN Network.

As the group protested at the State House, they called lawmakers hypocritical for passing the pro-life heartbeat bill which essentially ban abortions in the state, but then passing a plan to allow death row inmates to be executed by firing squad.

“They want to take the life of a human being in my name. That’s offensive and I object,” Rivers added. “But, yet, they would not the hate crimes bill, in my name, that says hate that manifests action should be actionable under the court of law.”

Rivers said he believes all of South Carolina’s death row inmates should be given life sentences instead.

(source: WACH news)

LOUISIANA:

Will the 1st Lafourche death sentence in decades get carried out? Louisiana Supreme Court weighs arguments

Attorneys presented arguments to the Louisiana Supreme Court this week in the case of a Houma man sentenced to death in the slayings of a Lockport woman and her 2 children.

On Nov. 4, 2012, David Brown, 41, of Houma, stabbed 29-year-old Jacqueline Nieves, and her daughters, Gabriela, 7, and Izabela, 1,raped Jacquelin and Gabriella and set the family’s apartment on fire.

After unanimously convicting Brown on three counts of 1st-degree murder Oct. 30, 2016, a Lafourche Parish jury decided two days later he should receive the death penalty.

District Judge John LeBlanc of Thibodaux formally sentenced Brown to death June 22, 2018, which marked the first death sentence handed down in Lafourche in over 40 years.

David Brown is led into the Lafourche Parish Courthouse in Thibodaux in 2014.

Appearing before the high court Tuesday in New Orleans, attorney Cecelia Trenticosta Kappel argued her client’s sentence violated his constitutional rights because he didn’t have an attorney present when the jury decided he should die.

Brown's decision to waive attorney at issue

“This case is like no other in the history of the death penalty in Louisiana,” Kappel said. “In no other case has the defendant been allowed to waive counsel at the penalty phase of trial. Mr. Brown was forced to make a choice between his right to counsel and his right to make a personal defense. This is a limitation. It is a prohibition on counsel for the defendant.”

Retired Justice Jeannette Knoll, appointed to sit in for Chief Justice John Weimer of Thibodaux, who recused himself in the case, said Brown made the choice to waive his right to have an attorney present.

“The trial judge even told him it was a foolish decision that he was doing,” Knoll said. “He clearly warned him.”

Kappel said her client wanted to limit his defense because he wanted to “protect his mother from the shame and trauma of recalling the horrific abuse that rampaged their family for generations.”

“I think there’s a big difference between wanting to limit the defense that is presented and actually wanting to represent yourself as a lawyer,” Kappel said. “Here, Mr. Brown wanted to limit the defense his attorneys were putting on. He was told the only way to do that was to waive counsel entirely.”

Judges asked to weigh defendant's mental fitness

Kappel said Brown was also not mentally sound enough to represent himself during the penalty phase.

“You can’t tell competency just by looking at someone in court,” she said. “There has to be an evaluation and there was none here. There are unanswered questions as to Mr. Brown’s competency. He was in no shape to represent himself. Nobody told Mr. Brown he had the right to testify on his behalf or that waiving counsel might have an effect on that. Nobody even suggested standby counsel. This is a Sixth Amendment problem. The lack of counsel during this very critical period throws into question whether the entire waiver was valid. This was a sham proceeding. He didn’t have anyone speaking on his behalf.”

Assistant District Attorney Joe Soignet, who represented the Lafourche District Attorney’s Office, told the court that Brown’s decision to waive counsel initially sent shockwaves through the prosecution.

“I can certainly tell you we were not giddy,” Soignet said. “We had just finished years of hard work by securing a conviction in a case concerning the most heinous set of factual circumstances. We were prepared to move on to the next phase when this issue fell on us like a bomb out of the sky. It threatened to derail all the work we had done up to that point.”

The right to waive counsel is ultimately a personal choice, and Brown clearly decided he did not want to have an attorney during the penalty phase, Soignet said.

“The defendant -- not his lawyer or the state -- will bear the personal consequences of the conviction,” Soignet said. “It is therefore the defendant who decides. He clearly states (in the record) and reiterates he wants to represent himself. He doesn’t have to like the position he’s in or will end up in. At the end of the day, if that is the paramount factor in determining whether or not a defendant has a right to his constitutional right to represent himself, I think this was David Brown’s personal decision.”

There are 67 death row inmates in Louisiana, but only one has been executed in the last 11 years. Gerald Bordelon, convicted in 2002 for killing his 12-year-old stepdaughter in Livingston Parish, was executed in 2010 after waiving his appeals.

The court will make a ruling on the matter at a later date.

(source: Houma Today)

OHIO----female to face death penalty

Mother who allegedly killed her 4-year-old faces the death penalty if convicted, Ohio prosecutor says

A 25-year-old woman in Ohio who has been charged with murder in the death of her 4-year-old daughter will face the death penalty if convicted, prosecutors said.

Tianna Robinson allegedly beat and strangled her daughter, Nahla Miller, until her heart stopped, according to a statement on Monday from Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph T. Deters.

Robinson was arrested on April 13 and is being held in a Hamilton County jail on a $2 million bond, according to jail records. CNN has reached out to Robinson’s attorney for comment but has not yet heard back.

“Nahla was transported to [the] Children’s Hospital where she remained until she was removed from life support on April 21,” Deters’ statement said.

“Investigators believe Nahla had been abused for months,” the prosecutor’s statement said. “The Coroner’s Office has ruled Nahla’s death a homicide. The cause of death was determined to be strangulation and blunt force trauma, resulting in significant internal injuries.”

Nahla had “a broken left arm, bruising to the lower lungs, adrenal glands, diaphragm, liver, stomach, colon, pancreas and mouth,” as well as several other significant injuries, Deters said at a Monday news conference.

“This year has been especially difficult — with what seems like case after case of horrific acts perpetrated against children. But rest assured we will not stop until justice has been served for Nahla Miller and her family,” Deters said in the statement.

Robinson has been charged with one count of “aggravated murder with death penalty specification,” two counts of murder, one count of felonious assault, and one count of endangering children, said the statement.

Robinson pleaded not guilty to the charges on Wednesday, according to CNN affiliate WKRC.

If Robinson is convicted and sentenced to death, it is not clear how the state will administer the punishment. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine halted executions in 2019 after a judge compared the state’s method of lethal injection to “waterboarding, suffocation and chemical fire,” according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Ohio has not executed a death row inmate since 2018.

(source: WLS Radio News)

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Prosecutor seeks death penalty against suspect in Melinda Davis slaying----Mansfield suspect previously had been charged with kidnapping

John Mack Jr. could face the death penalty if convicted on aggravated murder charges in the death of his ex-girlfriend, Melinda Kay Davis.

Mack was indicted on 17 counts Wednesday including aggravated murder, kidnapping, and tampering with evidence.

Davis, 33, of Shelby, was reported missing Feb. 25 and her body was found in the trunk of her car March 14 in an apartment parking lot on the western edge of Columbus.

A Richland County grand jury met in a special session this month and found that Davis' death occurred "while the offender was committing, attempting to commit, or fleeing immediately after committing or attempting to commit kidnapping and either the offender was the principal offender in the commission of the aggravated murder or, if not the principal offender, committed the aggravated murder with prior calculation and design."

Mack is charged with 2 counts of aggravated murder including one that meets death penalty criteria; 2 additional counts of murder; 2 counts of kidnapping; 6 counts of tampering with evidence; abduction; grand theft of a motor vehicle; gross abuse of a corpse; domestic violence, and obstructing official business, according to the indictment filed Wednesday with the Richland County Clerk of Courts.

Richland County Prosecutor Gary Bishop could not be reached for comment.

Mack Jr. was previously charged with kidnapping and receiving stolen property.

Richland County Sheriff J. Steve Sheldon said on March 15, that Davis' body was found in the trunk of her car the night before at an apartment complex on the western edge of Columbus, near Galloway.

Law-enforcement officials did not offer much more information at a news conference March 15. Bishop said Davis' body had been taken to Montgomery County for an autopsy. He said it was too early to elaborate on cause of death, motive, or most details in the case, such as how long the car had been in Columbus.

Tiffany Kyser, who lives in Lehnert Green apartments where Davis' car and body were found, said on March 15 she had noticed the black 2013 Jetta in the parking lot, and the car was in the background of a video she took on Feb. 27.

She said the apartments are about half a mile from J.B. Hunt Transport Services, where Davis' ex-boyfriend, John Henry Mack Jr., worked as a truck driver.

On the day she disappeared, Davis was believed to have been headed to Mansfield to meet Mack Jr., 43, of Cliffside Drive, to collect some items that belonged to her late brother, according to an initial news release from Shelby police Chief Lance Coombs.

Mack Jr. and Davis had split up about a year ago, according to Davis' sister, Lisa Davis.

On her way to see Mack Jr., Davis called a friend and said, “If you don’t hear from me, call the police,” according to court documents.

Thursday, upon hearing of the indictment, Lisa Davis told the News Journal, "I am so hurt, and upset with what has happened to Melinda, my beloved sister. I'm hurt that John has also caused so much pain for her children. I just want justice served.

"I want the death penalty for him. That is the closest to justice as we can get," Lisa Davis said.

Blood found in search of Mack's residence

The Richland County Sheriff’s Office’s Major Crimes Unit obtained a search warrant for Mack Jr.’s residence and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation was called to process the scene on Friday, Feb. 26.

Investigators found blood, believed to be Davis’, at Mack Jr.’s residence, according to court documents.

A warrant for Mack Jr.’s arrest on a charge of kidnapping was issued Feb. 26 in connection with Davis’ disappearance.

Police and volunteers conducted an extensive search on the night of Feb. 26 in Mansfield in the area of Glessner and Marion avenues, going door-to-door and using K-9s to try to find Davis or information related to the case.

The U.S. Marshal’s Service on March 2 offered a reward of up to $5,000 for information directly leading to Mack Jr.’s arrest.

An anonymous donor added $5,000 to the reward fund, boosting the total reward to $10,000 for information leading to Davis or her vehicle.

Arrested without incident

Mack Jr. was arrested without incident at 6:02 p.m. Thursday, March 4, near East First and South Adams streets after law enforcement received a tip that he was in Mansfield.

Also arrested were Mack Jr.’s son, Jabyn Mack, 18, of Mansfield, and Jabyn’s wife, Alexandria Mack, 18, of Bellville. They are both charged with obstructing official business. They had picked up Mack Jr. in Columbus and driven him to Mansfield knowing he was wanted, according to court documents.

Mack Jr. was arraigned on Friday morning, March 5, with bond set at $1 million. He reportedly told a corrections officer at the Richland County Jail that they were not going to find any DNA evidence because he had just bought new clothing from Walmart the day before, according to a sheriff’s report.

Jabyn Mack called the Shelby Police Department on March 4 wanting to turn his father in for the $5,000 reward money, according to court records.

Jabyn Mack and Alexandria Mack were released on cash bond of $5,000 each on March 5, according to jail records.

The sheriff's office conducted a search of Mack Jr.'s home on Cliffside Drive and found numerous boxes of merchandise, ranging from computer monitors, an iPad, 3 sewage pumps, 36 tubs, a hatchet, and a robotic vacuum, according to Richland County Sheriff's report obtained by the News Journal.

Mack Jr. was subsequently charged with receiving stolen property valued at $7,660.99 and his employer, J.B. Hunt Transportation, was listed as a victim, according to the report. Also listed as a victim was the State of Ohio.

(source: Mansfield News Journal)

TENNESSEE:

Pervis Payne Petitions to Vacate His Death Sentence Under New Tennessee Intellectual Disability Law

One day after Governor Bill Lee signed a bill curing a defect in Tennessee law that had prevented death-row prisoners from challenging their death sentences on the basis of intellectual disability, Pervis Payne’s lawyers asked a Memphis trial court to vacate his death sentence.

On May 12, 2021, federal defenders representing Payne filed a Petition to Determine Ineligibility to be Executed in the Shelby County Criminal Court seeking that the court “declare that Mr. Payne is ineligible to be executed because he is intellectually disabled.” Prior to the bill’s May 11 signing, Tennessee lacked a mechanism for prisoners to litigate their ineligibility for the death penalty if their death sentences had already been upheld on appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia declaring the death penalty unconstitutional for individuals with intellectual disability.

Pervis Payne was one of a dozen Tennessee death-row prisoners who had been denied access to judicial review of their intellectual disability and faced possible execution despite the unconstitutionality of their death sentences.

“Pervis Payne is indisputably intellectually disabled,” his petition states. “Mr. Payne meets all three Atkins requirements, as well as those of the Tennessee statute. He has significantly subaverage intellectual functioning, significant adaptive deficits in each domain, and his disability manifested prior to age 18.” The petition supports Payne’s claim with IQ scores from standardized tests of intellectual functioning that place Payne within the intellectually disabled range; findings from two mental health experts who examined Payne and concluded he is intellectually disabled; and declarations from family members, friends, teachers, and employers describing Payne’s impairments in numerous aspects of day-to-day functioning and attesting to the fact that these impairments were already present early in his childhood.

Legislative and faith leaders issued statements in support of Payne’s petition, asking Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich not to contest Payne’s filing. Rep. G.A. Hardaway, chairman of the Tennessee Legislative Black Caucus and co-sponsor of the bill to modernize the state’s intellectual disability law, said “The motto on the Shelby County District Attorney’s website is ‘Do the right thing every day for the right reason.’ Well, now is the time to do the right thing. D.A. Weirich should join with the Memphis community – her constituents – and agree that Pervis Payne is a person with intellectual disability. As such, his execution would be unconstitutional.”

“We invite the District Attorney’s office to join the army of moral arc benders, intent on bending the moral arc of the universe towards justice,” Hardaway said.

Bishop David Allen Hall, Sr., Pastor of the Temple Church Of God In Christ in Memphis, said Payne “has been sitting on death row, wrongfully, for 33 years” and during that period “[n]ever once did the State challenge the fact that he is a person with intellectual disability. D.A. Weirich should not start now. Litigating this undisputed fact would be a stunning waste of time and taxpayer money,” he said.

A December 2020 Death Penalty Information Center analysis of more than 130 cases in which courts have overturned death sentences because of a death-row prisoner’s intellectual disability found that intellectually disabled defendants of color — and particularly African Americans — were disproportionately likely to be sentenced to death. More than 80% of death-row prisoners who were subsequently found to be ineligible for the death penalty because of intellectual disability are from communities of color. Two-thirds are Black. A DPIC analysis of death-row exonerations, released in February 2021, also found that African-American defendants were disproportionately wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death and disproportionately the targets of police and prosecutorial misconduct.

Payne has consistently maintained his innocence in the murder of Charisse Christopher and her two-year-old daughter. He was convicted in a racially charged trial in which Shelby County prosecutors asserted, without evidence, that he was a young Black man on drugs who stabbed Christopher to death after she spurned his sexual advances. DNA testing of evidence that had been withheld from the defense found the presence of an unidentified male’s DNA on the handle of the murder weapon. Despite a bloody crime in which the victims collectively were stabbed more than 80 times, Payne’s DNA was not present on the handle of the weapon.

Payne’s clemency efforts have garnered widespread support, including more than 600,000 signatures on a petition created by The Innocence Project. Numerous religious, legal, and civil rights organizations have joined those efforts, including the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators, the ACLU of Tennessee, Bend the Arc, the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Tennessee Catholic Bishops, Tennessee Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, the Tennessee Disability Coalition, and the Ben F. Jones chapter of the National Bar Association.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

ARKANSAS:

Jury trial for Jory Worthen rescheduled to November 1

Jory Worthen, man accused of the 2019 murder of Alyssa Cannon and her child Braydon Ponder, has had his next court date postponed until November.

Worthen is facing the death penalty if convicted of the double homicide.

According to court document, the jury trial was set for June 7th but the defense team asked for “additional time to perform the ethical obligations of defense counsel in a death penalty matter.”

The trial has now been set for November 1.

(source: KARD news)

OKLAHOMA:

Oklahoma's Cold Case Files: Who killed Katherine Wilhoit?

In June 1985, Kathy Wilhoit had 2 little girls; then, someone killed her inside her apartment.

A suspected killer went to prison until an expert witness cleared him. Now, her daughters are looking for answers.

“I call them mom and dad.”

Kristin Zarn is talking about the adoptive parents who raised her and her little sister.

As she got older, she started asking about her birth parents.

“They told us when we were very little that we called him Daddy Greg and that he was away working,” said Zarn.

She believed her dad would return one day but knew she would never see her mother.

“When we were really little, they just told us that she got beat up very badly and went to heaven,” said Zarn.

Someone brutally murdered her mother, Kathy Wilhoit, on June 1st, 1985. Kristin, then 14-months, and her 4-month-old sister were in their cribs.

“We were found the next day. Neighbors heard us crying and called the police,” said Zarn.

After 17 months of investigating, police believed they had their suspect.

“At that time, we were told she was beaten up and went to heaven, and people thought Daddy Greg did it,” said Zarn.

Greg Wilhoit was convicted of killing his wife, and investigators closed the case. Greg spent the next 5 years on Oklahoma’s death row until experts proved the bite mark used to convict him was not his.

Kristin was 7 then.

“I remember walking through the house and getting to the den. And I saw him sitting there. And at first, I was confused. And it took me a second, then I recognized him. And I ran to him screaming and hugging him,” she said.

Reunited with the father she hadn’t seen since she was a toddler, Kristin built a relationship with her dad.

“I was always happy to spend time with him. We shared a love for movies, so we went to the movies all the time,” she said.

Greg used his conviction and prison experience to inspire others.

“Witness to Innocence, it’s an anti-death penalty group. And he was very involved in that. And he went all around the nation giving speeches at colleges,” she said.

Greg Wilhoit died in 2014. Kristin said now the focus should be on the mother she never really got to know.

“People kind of forgot about her and wanting to get justice for her and find out what happened,” she said.

Investigators told 2 News they haven’t forgotten, but the Tulsa police cold case unit has a big problem.

“They had gotten rid of the evidence. State law requires them to maintain it for a certain period of time. And of course, him being exonerated on it, they went ahead and destroyed the evidence or got rid of the evidence,” said Eddie Majors, Tulsa Police investigator.

Investigators said finding the real killer, in this case, hinges on someone coming forward.

“Not only tell us but be very correct in telling us what happened. Like they knew this guy, or whoever it was who did it, this is the reason they did it,” said Majors.

Until then, Kristin wonders what could have been, “What was she like? Would we have gotten along? Would she have liked me and who I’ve become?”

Anyone with information about Katherine Wilhoit’s murder, contact the Tulsa police at 918-798-TIPS.

(source: KJRH news)

SOUTH DAKOTA:

Rapid City man charged with murder after woman dies from rape injuries, police say

Rapid City man is now charged with murder after he was accused of raping a woman and an autopsy found that injuries sustained during the sexual assault played a role in her death, according to law enforcement and police reports.

Marlon Little Bald Eagle, 58, was indicted Wednesday on charges of 1st-degree felony murder and alternative counts of 2nd- and 3rd-degree rape in the April 23 death of Robyn Runs Above.

Runs Above, a 42-year-old from Manderson, was found near the railroad tracks on the 400 block of Maple Avenue with blood around her mouth and a large puddle of blood near her feet, according to a probable cause affidavit for arrest. She had a bruise to her face but no external injuries that could explain the bleeding and death.

An April 26 autopsy found “significant” internal injuries to her private parts but the medical examiner was unclear if a body part or object caused them and needed more information to identify the cause of death, the affidavit says.

Runs Above’s death was not initially shared with the media but the Journal received a tip about it on April 27.

The death was being treated as "an unattended death that remains under investigation," police spokesman Brendyn Medina wrote in an email that day. There was “nothing immediately visible that would have directly impacted death. Like a stab wound or a gunshot wound."

An autopsy was conducted but the cause of death was still being investigated, Medina said in the April 27 email. He did not mention the signs of assault or a suspicious death from the crime scene and autopsy.

“No injuries consistent with death were immediately apparent. An autopsy was performed and revealed evidence of a recent sexual assault,” Medina said in a Thursday news release announcing the indictment.

Police zeroed in on Little Bald Eagle after a woman called 911 on April 28 to say Little Bald Eagle had called her and said he was responsible for the death of the woman mentioned in the media, the affidavit says.

“We have unattended deaths all the time in Rapid City. It’s just the more public ones or ones we anticipate getting questions on,” that we share, Medina said Thursday before the Journal obtained the affidavit. “This one, it didn't appear suspicious at first and as we did our due diligence and continued our investigation into it, it started looking more suspicious.”

Medina later said he hadn’t read the affidavit and declined to comment on it, saying the case was now in the hands of the state’s attorney office.

An unattended death is when someone dies outside the care of a medical professional. This includes scenarios where people are found outside but also if they die a natural death in their home.

Felony murder is when a victim dies while someone is committing a rape, robbery or other serious felony. A defendant can be convicted of felony murder even if they didn't mean to kill or cause anyone's death.

That's the theory in this case, that Little Bald Eagle didn’t mean to kill Runs Above, according to Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo.

The punishment is still the same as other 1st-degree murder cases: The death penalty or life in prison without the chance of parole.

The alternative rape counts mean that Little Bald Eagle could be convicted of one or neither, but not both, of the charges.

2nd-degree rape, which involves force, coercion or threat, is punished by up to 50 years in prison. 3rd-degree rape is punished by up to 25 years in prison and involves raping someone who is unable to give consent due to being intoxicated or mentally or physically incapacitated.

Crime scene, exams

What follows is from the affidavit written by Detective Barry Young:

A man reported finding a deceased woman, later identified as Runs Above, near the railroad tracks on April 23.

Officers and Young arrived where they found Runs Above lying on her back under blankets and railroad machinery. There was blood around her mouth, a large puddle of blood near her feet and blood droplets on a toolbox attached to the railroad machinery.

“The soil around her feet appeared to be disturbed and it appeared she may have been struggling to move her feet to gain traction,” Young wrote.

Runs Above had a fresh bruise to her face but no obvious external injuries that could explain the “significant” amount of blood.

The woman was brought to the hospital for a more thorough exam attended by Young and conducted by a deputy coroner with the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office.

Some of Runs Above’s clothes “appeared to have been forced up toward her waist” while her jeans were unzipped and not up to her waist. They again found no external wounds explaining the blood.

An autopsy was conducted three days later by Dr. Donald Habbe, a medical examiner. Habbe found “significant” injuries to her private parts that “would likely have caused significant bleeding.”

However, Habbe said it was unclear if a body part or object caused the injuries and that he would need to review more medical records and conduct tissue tests before identifying the cause of death.

Investigation

During his investigation, Young reviewed body camera footage of an interaction Runs Above had with an officer the morning of April 22. She told the officer that her ex-boyfriend had assaulted her and left a “large indentation” on her head. Video footage shows that the injury had not yet turned into a bruise, Young and the officer said.

He also reviewed surveillance footage from a business that was recorded around 8 p.m. on April 22 and showed a couple walking in the area where Runs Above was found. The pair walked along Maple Avenue before going behind a building and fence. The video records movement from that rea but did not capture specific details of what’s happening.

Young noted in the affidavit that “general information about the investigation” was released to the media on April 27.

The day after the Journal article, on April 28, a woman called 911 to say Little Bald Eagle called her an hour ago claiming to be responsible for the death of the woman mentioned in the media.

The woman said Little Bald Eagle wasn’t sure if he should turn himself in or wait to be caught and that he was afraid of retaliation. She said he didn’t provide any details about the incident other than it happened about a week ago.

An officer found Little Bald Eagle later that day, noticed what appeared to be dry blood on his jeans and brought him to the Care Campus since he was intoxicated.

Young and a sheriff's office investigator interviewed Little Bald Eagle the next day and he initially said he saw another man use an object to rape Runs Above.

Little Bald Eagle eventually said he was the one who hurt Runs Above. He said they were both intoxicated and having consensual sex.

He said Runs Above eventually started to make a “gurgling” noise and he noticed a large amount of blood on his hand before she became unresponsive.

He said Runs Above has seizures, but he wasn’t sure if that’s what was happening to her. He said she had also mentioned the bruise from her ex-boyfriend or ex-husband that she told the officer about.

Little Bald Eagle said he moved Runs Above to blankets, covered her up and told her he would be back. He then left to wash his hands and throw his bloodied jeans into Rapid Creek near the fairgrounds. It’s unclear if he ever returned.

Little Bald Eagle told the detective that he knew what he did was wrong and should have called for help, but he was scared of the blood and didn’t realize how significant Runs Above’s injuries were.

Young arrested Little Bald Eagle for 2nd-degree rape after the interview and prosecutors formally charged him on May 3.

The murder indictment came after “further examination of the autopsy results in the investigation substantiate that injuries sustained during the sexual assault played a role in Runs Above’s death,” Medina said in the Thursday news release.

Little Bald Eagle, who is detained in jail on a $500,000 cash-only bond, is not scheduled for any upcoming court date.

Runs Above's death is the 4th criminal homicide of the year, according to Journal reports. The other victims are Andrew Bear Robe and Jesus Vance.

(source: Rapid City Journal)

COLORADO:

Double jeopardy? Not in this murder case, court says

Trying a defendant for the same crime for a 2nd time, known as double jeopardy, doesn’t apply if that 1st trial was held in a foreign county, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

In a 1st-of-its-kind ruling in an old Mesa County murder case, a 3-judge panel of the court unanimously ruled that just because then Palisade resident Rafael “Shorty” Garcia had been acquitted of murder in Mexico in the 1989 killing of Charles Porter, it doesn’t mean he couldn’t be charged, convicted and sentenced for the same crime in Colorado years later.

“Both the federal and state constitutions contain provisions protecting individuals from being ‘twice put in jeopardy’ for the same offense,” Judge Dennis Graham wrote in the ruling, which was joined by Judges John Daniel Dailey and Ted Tow.

“Like tribal nations, foreign nations are not expressly included in (the law)” Graham added. “However, unlike the tribal nations whose separate sovereignty from the United States for double jeopardy purposes was confirmed after the enactment of (Colorado law), the same cannot be said of foreign nations. As pertinent here, Mexico became a sovereign nation long before the Colorado General Assembly enacted (the law).”

It all started on July 4, 1989. That’s when Garcia, in a fit of jealous rage, beat, stabbed and shot the then 38-year-old Porter at the home of his ex-wife, Josephine. The 2 were watching a movie when Garcia came to the Palisade home.

Garcia eluded arrest by fleeing to Mexico, where he remained for several years as prosecutors tried to extradite him back to Colorado.

At the time, Colorado had the death penalty, and as is common in such extradition attempts, Mexico declined to transport him here because of its objections to use of the death penalty. Colorado repealed its death penalty law last year.

To deal with such cases, the state has entered into an agreement with Mexico to get it to prosecute certain cases in that country for crimes committed in Colorado under a provision of Mexico’s Federal Penal Code, known as Article IV.

Local prosecutors failing several attempts to extradite Garcia decided to use that provision in 2012, which resulted in an acquittal of Garcia, something Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein still doesn’t understand.

“The evidence against him was very solid, and we will never know why the Mexican prosecution was unsuccessful,” Rubinstein said. “But our faith in the American criminal justice system is not misplaced. Justice will finally be served in this case.”

Garcia’s attorneys in the Colorado Public Defender’s Office tried to argue that Colorado prosecutors participated in that Mexico trial, and therefore had their bite at the apple in charging Garcia.

The appeals court, however, disagreed, saying prosecutors in the case sent Mexican prosecutors a “casebook” detailing the murder and providing evidence to it as required under Article IV in an attempt to initiate a trial, which is something akin to a victim filing a criminal complaint.

“True, the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office decided to participate in a foreign prosecution in Mexico under Article IV after multiple unsuccessful attempts to extradite Garcia,” Graham wrote. “However, after presentation of the casebook, no Colorado officials were actively involved in the case in Mexico.”

When Garcia tried to return to the United States in 2016, he was arrested at Denver International Airport. He later was convicted of first-degree murder in Mesa County, and sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

Garcia, now 71, currently is serving his prison sentence at the Buena Vista Correctional Complex. His first parole hearing date is in 2056, when he would be 106 years old, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections.

(source: The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel)

UTAH:

Utahn charged in double-murder case alleges prosecutor misconduct; state says it followed the rules

Defense attorneys seeking to take the death penalty off the table for their client accused of killing a young couple in 2018 are alleging misconduct on the part of Utah County prosecutors, who deny any wrongdoing.

The lawyers for Jerrod William Baum, 44, say a prior plea deal for a star witness has created an incentive for the state to rely on an "agreed-upon" story, rather than the truth.

Baum's defense team also alleges prosecutors know about evidence that could be favorable to their client but haven't collected it, among other examples they say amount to misconduct.

"The incentives in this case do not lie on the side of justice," they wrote in court filings.

Prosecutors in the Utah County Attorney's Office say that's not the case and they've turned over the evidence they have. Even if they had engaged in misconduct, the penalties Baum's defense team is seeking don't fit the alleged conduct, the state responded in court documents.

"Defendant's claims fail because there was no wrongdoing by the state," deputy county attorney Ryan McBride wrote in a recent court filing.

It's the latest turn in a case that has stretched on for more than three years as family members seek justice in the deaths of Riley Powell, 18, and Brelynne "Breezy" Otteson, 17.

Baum is accused of bringing the couple to Utah's vast west desert at night, slitting their throats and dumping their bodies into an abandoned mineshaft in front of his ex-girlfriend Morgan Henderson, the star witness in the state's case.

Baum's lawyers are asking a judge to either toss the double-murder case altogether or strike the state's notice to seek the death penalty, move it to a new county and have outside prosecutors handle it.

They are seeking to keep a jury from hearing testimony from Henderson, who took the stand to describe in vivid detail how Baum killed the couple.

They noted one person recalled Henderson saying she'd been the one to kill Powell, and that her sister described how she'd once made a comment about "wanting to kill someone (not otherwise connected to this case) and throw the body in a mineshaft."

But those are issues to be ferreted out in court when both sides present evidence and cross-examine witnesses, the state said. They contend Baum threatened to kill Henderson and her son if she didn't cooperate with him.

Henderson struck a deal to testify truthfully, the state said, and her testimony has been corroborated after it revealed the location of the bodies, the sorts of injuries to the victims and other factors.

A judge hasn't yet ruled on the motions or scheduled a hearing.

Baum has pleaded not guilty to two counts of aggravated murder, a 1st-degree felony.

His defense attorneys are reiterating their belief that Utah County Attorney David Leavitt violated a gag order by maintaining a video of a press conference about the case on his Facebook page. They asked Pullan last year to take the death penalty off the table as punishment.

Leavitt said it was an oversight, and the judge declined to find him in contempt over the video, ruling Leavitt didn't intentionally violate the order.

(source: KSL news)

IDAHO----impending execution

Execution of terminally ill prisoner on Idaho’s death row serves vengeance, not justice

Despite the horrific nature of his crimes, Gerald Ross Pizzuto Jr. should be allowed to die a natural death rather than be executed by the state of Idaho. Pizzuto, 65, has terminal bladder cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and is in a wheelchair, according to The Associated Press. He’s been on hospice care since 2019, when doctors said he likely wouldn’t survive for another year.

Pizzuto’s attorneys filed a clemency petition on his behalf to the Idaho Pardons & Parole Commission.

The commission should grant that request, and members should do it quickly. Pizzuto is scheduled for execution on June 2.

We recognize and acknowledge the atrocity of Pizzuto’s crimes. He was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1985 killings of Berta Herndon, 58, and her nephew Del Herndon, 37, at a remote Idaho County cabin.

Armed with a .22 caliber rifle, Pizzuto tied the victims’ wrists behind their backs and bound their legs to steal their money. He bludgeoned them both, and Del Herndon was also shot.

The details of his case would certainly test the bounds of leniency for even the most ardent death penalty opponent.

However, at this point, Pizzuto’s natural death is imminent.

In this case, we question whether execution by lethal injection truly serves the purpose of justice or whether it fulfills a sense of vengeance.

Pizzuto has spent 34 years in an isolated cell on death row; executing him now seems pointless.

This is not an anti-death penalty argument, and that debate can be saved for another day.

Even though Pizzuto’s own circumstances — being tortured, raped and beaten by his stepfather and sometimes his stepfather’s friends, according to his defense attorneys — are being used as grounds for clemency, we are not swayed to call for clemency based on some sort of justification for his crimes.

Regardless of your feelings about capital punishment, in general, we just see little need for a lethal injection execution in this case.

As it is, Idaho’s history with lethal injections has been an embarrassment.

The Idaho Department of Correction has sought to keep secret the drugs it uses in lethal injections.

Idaho’s last execution was of Richard Albert Leavitt in 2012. A complaint filed in federal court alleges that Idaho Department of Correction authorities in that execution purchased Leavitt’s lethal injection drugs from a drug broker in India and procured the shipment of drugs with a suitcase of $10,000 in cash in a Walmart parking lot in Tacoma, Washington. A judge ruled the state violated state public records laws when IDOC officials kept those drugs secret. This all comes at a time when problems with lethal injection drugs have led to botched executions, sometimes with gruesome outcomes.

Pizzuto already faces a death sentence.

The state of Idaho should avoid the time and expense of a lethal injection execution. The Idaho Pardons & Parole Commission should grant clemency and allow Pizzuto to die of natural causes.

(source: Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, editor Chadd Cripe and newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser and community members J.J. Saldaña and Christy Perry----The Idaho Statesman)

NEVADA:

Sisolak, Democrats spike efforts to repeal the death penalty in Nevada

Nevada leaders are scrapping a bill that would have banned capital punishment in the state, dashing the hopes of advocates who had celebrated that the measure had made more progress than ever before in the Legislature.

In a statement on Thursday, Gov. Steve Sisolak said there is “no path forward” for efforts by Democratic lawmakers to abolish capital punishment, striking a blow to the hopes of criminal justice reform advocates that the Democratic trifecta in the Legislature and governor’s office would finally take steps to end the death penalty.

“I’ve been clear on my position that capital punishment should be sought and used less often, but I believe there are severe situations that warrant it,” the governor said in a statement. “I understand there are those who will be disappointed by this outcome, however the process of determining which crimes are severe enough to warrant this punishment deserves thoughtful consideration.”

The bill, AB395, passed out of the Assembly in April on a 26-16 vote with all Republicans in opposition. But key decision makers in the Senate — including two top leaders whose day jobs are working for Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, who is a prominent opponent of abolition — did not schedule the measure for a hearing ahead of a key Friday deadline for bills to pass from their second house committee.

Asked about criticism that the Legislature is not living up to its commitments to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system — racial disparity is a major concern raised in the death penalty debate — Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) defended the body’s work and pointed to action taken on other issues including bail reform and police use of force.

“People who live in our communities want to have a fair system. They want to know that if they find themselves or their family members in there that is fair. They want to know that when they're victims of crime, that people are going to be treated fairly and their voices are going to be heard,” she told reporters in a brief interview after Sisolak made his announcement. “We’ve done a lot of work here in the state of Nevada and I would encourage anyone who thinks we're not doing enough to take a look at other states and ask whether or not we are, because I know when I talk to colleagues from other states, they are amazed that, that we are able to make such progress.”

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said in a statement that advocates had worked on potential amendments to restrict but not fully abolish the death penalty, but acknowledgd that it had been a “difficult task with all of the many considerations that go into these cases.”

“While we are disappointed that we could not get across the finish line this session on AB395, we have to accept that there is a process and many of our priorities don't ultimately come to fruition,” he said in the statement. “We will continue working on policies we believe are sound and continue working with our colleagues on meaningful reform to the inequities that exist in our criminal justice system.”

Advocates had turned up the pressure on lawmakers, holding a press conference early this week to argue that capital punishment disproportionately affects people of color.

“This past summer, there were promises made about reforms around racial justice issues,” Yvette Williams, chair of the Clark County Black Caucus, said at the press conference. “We're looking very closely and paying attention to not only what's voted on the floor, but what bills come before each committee ... who's deciding what's going to be heard."

In spite of polls, advertising and other lobbying activities, Sisolak maintained he was uncomfortable with repealing the death penalty in extreme cases such as mass shootings.

The demise of the bill comes as the Clark County district attorney’s office is pushing for the execution for Zane Floyd, who was convicted of killing four people inside a Las Vegas grocery store two decades ago. Prosecutors want to schedule an execution in late July after the state prison director testified that the system needs at least four months to prepare for a lethal injection.

The execution would be Nevada's first enactment of capital punishment in 15 years. The state came close to executing Scott Dozier in 2018, but a protracted legal fight about the drugs in the lethal injection delayed the execution, and Dozier died by suicide in 2019.

(source: The Nevada Independent)

USA:

New US bill raises criminal penalties for harming federal public safety personnel----The bill would carry a minimum mandatory sentence of 30 years for killing federally funded law enforcement members, firefighters and EMS providers

Congressmen from Nebraska and Ohio have introduced a bill that aims to increase protections for certain public safety personnel and U.S. judges.

The Back the Blue Act – sponsored by Reps. Don Bacon (Neb.), Bill Johnson (Ohio) and Steve Stivers (Ohio) – raises the criminal penalties for harming federally funded law enforcement members, firefighters, chaplains, rescue teams, ambulance crews or U.S. judges. The bill would carry a minimum mandatory sentence of 30 years for killing a member of one of those groups and 10 years for attempted murder, Bacon’s office announced Tuesday.

The bill would create a new federal crime with escalating penalties for assaulting a federal law enforcement officer, based on the severity of the injury and what kind of weapon was used.

The bill would also create an aggravating factor for federal death penalty prosecutions, expand self-defense and Second Amendment rights for law enforcement officers, and opens grant funding for community policing programs.

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) is introducing similar legislation in the U.S. Senate, according to the release.

“Those who protect our communities – whether it’s on the beat, from the bench, behind a hose, or performing CPR – deserve extra protection from violence directed at them, including assault, intent to kill or conspiracy to kill,” said Bacon in a statement. “I am looking forward to working with Sen. Cornyn and Reps. Johnson and Stivers to get this long-overdue legislation passed into law.”

(source: Associated Press)

ZAMBIA:

SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS DEATH SENTENCE ON LUWINGU MAN

The Supreme Court of Zambia has upheld a death sentence slapped on a man of Mporokoso who was convicted of robbing a family of money, the Daily Mail reported on 13 May 2021.

The robbery took place on 1 October 2011 in Chiko village in Northern Province after a couple received their payment from the Food Reserve Agency for the maize they sold.

On the night of the robbery, Chishimba Chonya, together with 2 others unknown, staged a robbery and forcibly collected money from a terrified woman.

(source: Daily Mail)

MAY 13, 2021:

TEXAS----death sentence vacated High court vacates Petetan's death sentence in Waco capital murder case

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday vacated the death sentence of Carnell Petetan in the 2012 death of his estranged wife, ruling a McLennan County jury was wrong to decide Petetan is not intellectually disabled.

Petetan, 45, now will be returned to McLennan County for a new sentencing hearing. The state's highest criminal court did not set aside his capital murder conviction, although Petetan also has writs pending challenging his guilt.

Nelson Barnes, McLennan County first assistant district attorney, said the court's ruling does not preclude the state from seeking the death penalty against Petetan again. However, Barnes said his office is still "trying to digest" the ruling and has not determined if it will seek the death penalty again.

If it does not and Petetan's capital murder conviction stands, he will be sentenced to life without parole, the only other option in capital murder cases, officials said.

Petetan was represented at his 2014 trial in 19th State District Court by attorneys Michelle Tuegel, Russ Hunt and Walter M. Reaves Jr. They offered evidence of Petetan's IQ and neurological issues that their expert witnesses said made Petetan intellectually disabled and, therefore, ineligible for the death penalty.

Prosecutors Michael Jarrett and Greg Davis also offered evidence to dispute Petetan's intellectual disability claim. However, the Court of Criminal Appeals found "the jury’s rejection of Petetan's affirmative defense of intellectual disability was against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence" and the court set aside his death sentence.

"Our courts have been clear. We do not execute people with disabilities," Tuegel said. "Our trial team worked for years developing and gathering the evidence cited in this court opinion that ultimately showed our client was intellectually disabled and under U.S. and Texas law should not have been given a death sentence.

"That is the great problem with the death penalty, and one of a number of reasons I am against it. We have an imperfect system. The original verdict is evidence of the unfairness and problem with the death penalty in this country. I am so grateful this one was corrected before it was too late. Sadly, we know that has not always been the case."

Reaves said the Court of Criminal Appeals ruling was "predictable." He said that is why he asked that Petetan's trial be delayed until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in an appeal of the state’s definition of “mental retardation” in the 1980 conviction of Bobby James Moore, who murdered a store clerk in Houston in 1980.

The Supreme Court ruled Moore’s guilt is apparent, but his death sentence is considered cruel and unusual punishment since he suffers from an intellectual disability.

Petetan, a Port Arthur native, was convicted of breaking into his estranged wife’s Lake Shore Drive apartment and shooting her in front of her daughter and 2 men who rode from South Texas with him in September 2012.

(source: Waco Tribune)

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Death Watch: How Much Remorse, Repentance Is Enough?----Family of victim – and killer – wants sentence commuted

Quintin Jones is one of many on Texas' death row who grew up in brutal conditions and committed awful crimes while still young. He's one of a smaller group who have changed their lives, who admit their guilt, and feel remorse. And he's one of a very small group who have prominent supporters working to get their sentences commuted.

One of those in Jones' life is Suleika Jaouad, a 32-year-old writer who began corresponding with Jones 10 years ago after being diagnosed with leukemia and given a 30% chance to live. "At the time, we were both in isolation – me in my hospital room bubble, and him in solitary confinement," Jaouad told the Chronicle. "We also shared a heightened awareness of our mortality. 'I know that our situations are different,' he wrote, 'but the threat of death lurks in both our shadows.'"

Jaouad shared letters with Jones during her three years of cancer treatment and continues to do so. After being declared cancer­-free, she traveled to Livingston – the home of death row at the Texas Depart­ment of Criminal Jus­tice's Polunsky Unit – to meet Jones face to face. That visit is chronicled in Between Two Kingdoms, the bestselling memoir she released in February. This week, Jaouad published an essay about Jones in The New York Times, trying to save his life.

Jaouad said that Jones has always been honest in his letters about his childhood and his crime. Jones was born into poverty, surrounded by drugs, gangs, and violence. His mother was the first to point a gun at him. He was forced by older siblings to have sex with his stepsister at the age of 7. He twice shot himself, once through the hand to prove his toughness to gang members and another time in the chest, wanting to die. He was addicted to drugs by his early teens and, when he was 20, he bludgeoned to death one of the few people who had shown him kindness – his great-aunt, Berthena Bryant – after she denied him money for cocaine.

As Jones awaited trial, he confessed the crime and apologized to Bryant's family members, who were, after all, his family members, too. At the trial, they described his struggles with mental illness and addiction, and his profound remorse. This did not stop jurors from deciding he was irredeemable and sending him to death row in 2001, where he has now spent half his life.

Bryant's sister and closest friend, Mattie Long, has developed a strong relationship with Jones. "Because I was so close to Bert, her death hurt me a lot," Long recently wrote to Gov. Greg Abbott. "[But] Quintin can't bring her back. I can't bring her back. I'm writing this to ask you to please spare his life."

Jones is requesting that a spiritual adviser be allowed in the death chamber for his May 19 execution. Until 2019, TDCJ only allowed its own employee chaplains to accompany prisoners into the chamber. Several U.S. Supreme Court rulings then led the agency first to stop allowing advisers altogether, and now (as of April 22) allowing personal advisers who've passed background checks. Jones' is the 1st execution scheduled under the new rule.

Jones' attorney, Michael Mowla, had challenged the TDCJ policy as a violation of federal law protecting prisoners' religious freedom. He's also filed a new habeas corpus motion in state court, arguing that Jones' rights were violated by unscientific testimony from prosecutors at his original trial. Meanwhile, Jaouad and others are asking the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Jones' sentence to life in prison without parole, and have set up a website at clemencyforquin.com laying out the many facets of his case. As of this writing, the website has collected over 80,000 signatures supporting clemency. If his execution isn't stopped, he'll be the 1st person executed in Texas since Billy Joe Wardlow last summer.

(source: Austin Chronicle)

NORTH CAROLINA:

Wake County sought the death penalty for a man with severe mental illness; only a pandemic stopped it

A bipartisan group of North Carolina legislators introduced a bill this week to prohibit the death penalty for people with severe mental illness.

Wake County prosecutors knew that Kendrick Gregory had severe mental illness when they decided to try him capitally. In the 8 months before the crime, he’d been hospitalized at least 20 times for mental illness. He checked himself into emergency rooms over and over, reporting symptoms of psychosis. On some occasions, he said he heard voices telling him to hurt himself.

In the 5 years that they sought to try him for the death penalty, his mental illness became only more apparent. In jail, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and twice found incompetent to stand trial. He was often unkempt and was unable to help his attorneys prepare his defense.

Instead of accepting that Mr. Gregory was simply too mentally ill to be tried capitally, Wake County prosecutors asked the judge to forcibly medicate him — an attempt to “restore” him to competency so they could ask a jury to kill him.

This kind of case is exactly the reason that Ohio recently made history by becoming the first state to ban the death penalty for people with severe mental illness, a law that will protect vulnerable people and save millions a year on costly capital trials. The Constitution says the death penalty is to be reserved for the most culpable defendants and the most calculated murders, but too often it’s used instead against vulnerable and marginalized people like Mr. Gregory, who are poor, Black, and suffering from diminished mental capacity.

It is both immoral and unconstitutional to execute people who cannot understand or regulate their actions. For exactly those reasons, federal and state laws bar the death penalty for people with intellectual disabilities and children. There is no rational reason for executing people who committed crimes while in the grips of psychosis or whose mental illness prevents them from understanding the consequences of their actions.

Yet, in North Carolina, this remains an accepted practice. Guy LeGrande, who has been on death row since 1996, was allowed to represent himself at his murder trial while so delusional that he believed he was God and that Oprah and other celebrities were sending him messages through the television. His illness was on full display as he told the jury “you will worship me and proclaim me lord and master.” They promptly sentenced him to death, and he remains on death row today.

If not for a global pandemic, Mr. Gregory might have joined Mr. LeGrande on death row. The pandemic delayed Mr. Gregory’s trial set for April of 2020. And on May 4, 2021, facing courtroom backlogs and a mountain of evidence of Mr. Gregory’s mental illness, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman finally agreed not to seek the death penalty in his case. However, Wake prosecutors are still arguing to try him for a maximum penalty of life without parole, despite clear evidence that he is too mentally ill to stand trial and should be hospitalized.

Winning this small victory took his attorneys more than 5 years of relentless advocacy.

Records showed that the last time Mr. Gregory went to the emergency room, he said he had a gun at home and planned to kill himself. Doctors asked a court to involuntarily commit him. But when they failed to find an open spot in a psychiatric hospital, they changed their diagnosis and allowed him to go home. A few weeks later, he was arrested for the murder of a Raleigh pawn shop owner, along with a series of other crimes on the same day.

North Carolina should end the death penalty altogether. But at the very least, we should pass laws ensuring that people with severe mental illness will not be sentenced to death.

(source: Kristin Collins is the Associate Director of Public Information at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. This post appeared originally on the blog of the NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty----ncpolicywatch.com)

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

NC criminal justice reform bill gets unanimous OK in Senate

North Carolina state senators voted unanimously on Wednesday for a broad criminal justice measure that attempts to weed out misbehaving officers, provide mental health aid to law enforcement and help families view police body camera footage quickly.

The measure was largely written by Republicans but reflected input from Democrats and an array of outside groups and law enforcement lobbying groups after a year of national focus on racial inequity and police shootings of Black residents. The bill now goes to the House, where legislators have approved their own police reforms, some of which also are contained in the omnibus Senate measure.

The Senate bill creates publicly accessible portals to find out whether an officer’s certification has been suspended or revoked. The commissions also would create a database accessible by law enforcement that contains “critical incident information” about when an officer has been involved in a case resulting in death or serious injury. Police officers would have a duty to report a colleague's excessive force to superiors, and trainees or new hires would receive psychological screenings if the bill became law.

In response to last month's shooting death of Andrew Brown Jr. by Pasquotank County sheriff's deputies, senators amended the measure this week to alter the state's 2016 police bodycam law as it relates to family members who wish to view the video. The bill tells a law enforcement agency it must let the family or a victim view the unredacted recordings within 5 business days. The agency still could ask a judge to let it edit or withhold footage. Brown's family was shown about 18 minutes of bodycam videos on Tuesday under a judge's order.

The bill was amended Wednesday to scale back the situations in which a suspect could be convicted of a felony for resisting an otherwise lawful arrest and an officer is injured. Provisions still raise penalties for rioting when significant monetary damage or bodily injury occurs.

The measure contains some recommendations from a task force commissioned last year by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on racial equity and criminal justice. But many panel proposals, like those reforming bail and the death penalty and decriminalizing marijuana, were left out.

(source: Associated Press)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

Firing squad bill headed to South Carolina governor's desk

Legislation adding a firing squad to South Carolina's execution methods amid a lack of lethal-injection drugs is headed to the desk of Gov. Henry McMaster.

On a routine vote Wednesday, the state Senate concurred with a version of the legislation, approved last week by House lawmakers. McMaster has not yet said when he will sign the bill into law, although his office said it would happen as soon as the bill was ratified, which could happen in a matter of days.

The measure, intended to jump-start executions in a state that once had one of the busiest death chambers in the nation, will require condemned inmates to choose either being shot or electrocuted if lethal injection drugs aren’t available. The state is 1 of only 9 to still use the electric chair and will become only the fourth to allow a firing squad.

South Carolina last executed a death row inmate 10 years ago.

The Senate already had approved the bill in March, by a vote of 32-11. The House made technical changes to that version; had the Senate not accepted them, both versions could have gone to a conference committee.

Before Wednesday's vote, Sen. Gerald Malloy offered several amendments, including one that would prohibit a number of other execution methods from being added to the state's options in the future, such as drowning, dismemberment or keelhauling, a centuries-old form of punishment in which a sailor is thrown overboard and dragged under a ship.

“It lets us know where we have been, and where we should not go,” the Hartsville Democrat said, before the amendment was tabled.

The bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Greg Hembree, said he had witnessed a handful of executions during his time as a prosecutor, adding that he appreciated the gravity of the debate.

“It's heavy, it's hard, and it's gruesome,” the Horry County Republican said, also acknowledging he felt the law was sure to be litigated.

There are several South Carolina prisoners in line to be executed, but lawsuits against the new death penalty rules are likely. Corrections officials have said that 3 of the state's 37 death row inmates are out of appeals.

South Carolina first began using the electric chair in 1912 after taking over the death penalty from individual counties, which usually hanged prisoners. The other 3 states that allow a firing squad are Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

3 inmates, all in Utah, have been killed by firing squad since the U.S. reinstated the death penalty in 1977. Nineteen inmates have died in the electric chair this century, including a South Carolina inmate in 2008.

South Carolina can’t put anyone to death now because its supply of lethal-injection drugs expired, and it has not been able to buy any more. Currently, inmates can choose between the electric chair and lethal injection; since the drugs are not available, they choose injection, therefore avoiding execution.

The bill retains lethal injection as the primary method of execution if the state has the drugs, but requires prison officials to use the electric chair or firing squad if it doesn’t.

Some prosecutors have been willing to accept life sentences in recent cases because of the state’s inability to carry out executions by lethal injection. Prosecutor Barry Barnette said in 2017 he told the families of the 7 people murdered by serial killer Todd Kohlhepp that he couldn’t guarantee Kohlhepp could be executed if he were convicted because South Carolina “doesn’t have a functioning death penalty.” Kohlhepp instead received seven life sentences without parole.

The lack of drugs, and decisions by prosecutors to seek guilty pleas with guaranteed life sentences over death penalty trials, have cut the state’s death row population nearly in 1/2 — from 60 to 37 inmates — since the last execution was carried out in 2011. From 2000 to 2010, the state averaged just under 2 executions a year.

The reduction also has come from natural deaths, and prisoners winning appeals and being resentenced to life without parole. Prosecutors have sent just 3 new inmates to death row in the past decade.

(source: Associated Press)

GEORGIA:

‘Ultimately be judged by...God:’ Spa shooting survivor reacts to D.A. seeking death penalty

The only person to survive being shot during the horrific metro Atlanta spa shootings that left 8 people dead is speaking out after learning the Fulton County District Attorney attends to seek the death penalty.

Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz says it’s a miracle he is alive after he was shot in the face at a Cherokee County spa where four people were killed. The suspect, 21-year-old Robert Long, is then accused of driving south into Atlanta, where police say he walked into 2 more Asian spas and opened fire. 4 more people were killed there.

Tuesday Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis filed notice that she intends to seek hate crime charges and the death penalty against Long.

Channel 2's Chris Jose asked Hernandez-Ortiz his thoughts on whether or not the death penalty should be pursued. He said it is not up to him.

“I don’t want the world to hear me saying that he should or shouldn’t die,” Hernandez-Ortiz said through his attorney Doug Rohan, who translated the conversation.

“People don’t typically get shot in the face and survive, without there being a miracle. So I want him to also understand the miracle of God, and ultimately be judged by that God,” Hernandez-Ortiz told Jose.

A spokesperson for the Cherokee County District Attorney says D.A. Shannon Wallace will make a decision whether or not to pursue the death penalty before Long’s arraignment.

“Cherokee has traditionally been very conservative, and the death penalty is viewed as a conservative issue, so I have every expectation that Cherokee will likely announce they are going down the same path,” said Rohan.

Dana Toole’s sister Delaina Yaun was one of the eight people killed. She shared her thoughts on the death penalty with Jose.

“It won’t bring her back, I just put it in God’s hands, because it’s not my choice to take another life,” said Toole. “What is justice in this case? Making sure he stays where he’s at. If the death penalty is proceeded forward, then so be it.”

The Cherokee County indictment revealed that 6 other people were inside Young’s Asian Massage at the time of the shooting, but were not hurt.

(source: WSB Radio news)

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Albany man responsible for double homicide could receive death penalty

The Dougherty County District Attorney says they are weighing out whether or not to carry out the death penalty for a double murder.

Back in February, John McMillian was arrested for the shooting death of both Daniel Bonham and his wife Gwendolyn McMillian.

A grand jury heard all of the evidence of this case back on May 5 and an indictment was returned.

District Attorney Greg Edwards says they haven't made the final decision on seeking the death penalty.

Edwards could not reveal any detailed information with the case still pending, but says the way McMillan killed one of the victims is why its being considered.

"There were facts and acts that were carried out during the course of this killing of Mr. Bonham that suggest that there was some of the legal aggravating circumstances that are needed before we proceed on to seeking the death penalty," Edwards said. "And so we are looking at that, we haven't made a final decision to go ahead and seek it against Mr. McMillian. But the evidence is there that supports that we should consider it."

McMillan is also accused of threating a third person with aggravated assault.

(source: WFXL news)

FLORIDA:

Sun Sentinel wins national award for death penalty editorials

The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board has taken first place in the National Headliner Awards for its series of editorials advocating for the end of the death penalty in Florida.

Judges for the awards wrote, “These Sun Sentinel editorials mince no words. They are direct and passionate, but at the same time well reasoned. They confront the entrenched forces favoring, as the editorial writers document it, an unfair, poorly administered death penalty. The Sun Sentinel editorial writers force death penalty proponents to confront their own logical failings.”

The National Headliner Awards were founded in 1934 by the Press Club of Atlantic City and are now one of the oldest and largest annual contests recognizing journalism.

Sun Sentinel editorials are written by a member of the editorial board or a designee. In the case of the death penalty series, the editorials were written by frequent contributor Martin Dyckman, a journalist and author with decades of experience at Florida newspapers whose books include “Reubin O’D. Askew and the Golden Age of Florida Politics” and “A Most Disorderly Court: Scandal and Reform in the Florida Judiciary.” The 6-part series of editorials include:

‘If you say no innocent person has been executed, you are burying your head in the sand’

Why has it been so easy to send innocent people to Florida’s death row? 2 men, similar crime. One sentenced to die, the other gets life in prison

The death penalty is not a deterrent

The historic ‘fail safe’ of executive clemency is a failure in Florida

A high likelihood that Florida will execute innocent people

(source: South Florida Sun Sentinel)

OHIO:

Mother who allegedly killed her 4-year-old faces the death penalty if convicted, Ohio prosecutor says----In Ohio, the Hamilton County Prosecutor announced the death penalty indictment against a 25-year-old Tianna Robinson for the murder of her 4-year-old daughter, according to the indictment.

A 25-year-old woman in Ohio who has been charged with murder in the death of her 4-year-old daughter will face the death penalty if convicted, prosecutors said.

Tianna Robinson allegedly beat and strangled her daughter, Nahla Miller, until her heart stopped, according to a statement on Monday from Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph T. Deters.

Robinson was arrested on April 13 and is being held in a Hamilton County jail on a $2 million bond, according to jail records. CNN has reached out to Robinson's attorney for comment but has not yet heard back.

"Nahla was transported to [the] Children's Hospital where she remained until she was removed from life support on April 21," Deters' statement said.

"Investigators believe Nahla had been abused for months," the prosecutor's statement said. "The Coroner's Office has ruled Nahla's death a homicide. The cause of death was determined to be strangulation and blunt force trauma, resulting in significant internal injuries."

Nahla had "a broken left arm, bruising to the lower lungs, adrenal glands, diaphragm, liver, stomach, colon, pancreas and mouth," as well as several other significant injuries, Deters said at a Monday news conference.

"This year has been especially difficult -- with what seems like case after case of horrific acts perpetrated against children. But rest assured we will not stop until justice has been served for Nahla Miller and her family," Deters said in the statement.

Robinson has been charged with 1 count of "aggravated murder with death penalty specification," 2 counts of murder, 1 count of felonious assault, and 1 count of endangering children, said the statement.

Robinson pleaded not guilty to the charges on Wednesday, according to CNN affiliate WKRC.

If Robinson is convicted and sentenced to death, it is not clear how the state will administer the punishment. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine halted executions in 2019 after a judge compared the state's method of lethal injection to "waterboarding, suffocation and chemical fire," according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Ohio has not executed a death row inmate since 2018.

(source: WFSB news)

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Man appeals Warren County murder conviction, death sentence to U.S. Supreme Court

A man is appealing his 2017 aggravated murder and kidnapping conviction and death sentence from Warren County to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Terry Lee Froman, 47, formerly of Illinois, is on Ohio’s Death Row at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution and has recently submitted a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Ohio Supreme Court. Froman was convicted of fatally shooting his ex-girlfriend, Kimberly Thomas, 34, in the back of his SUV on Interstate 75 near Middletown on Sept. 12, 2014.

Froman later was convicted in Kentucky of Thomas’ son’s death and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Froman was involved with Thomas for four years until she ended the relationship in August 2014, according to court documents.

According to court records, Froman is also accused of fatally shooting Michael Eli Mahoney, her 17-year-old son, earlier that day in Mayfield, Kentucky. Police received a 911 call that a woman had been abducted at a gas station in Paducah, Ky., and security camera video caught Froman’s SUV and his Illinois license plates at the gas pumps.

The security camera video also caught Froman in the gas station store and a naked woman, later identified as Thomas, exit the vehicle and start running away. Froman rushed out of the store, grabbed Thomas by the hair, and pushed her into the back seat of the vehicle. Froman then drove away, according to court documents.

Froman’s vehicle was spotted on I-75 and was stopped by Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers just south of Middletown. The troopers heard two gunshots and called for assistance. Two tactical teams arrived and found Froman in the front seat with a gun in his hand and a wound to his left upper chest near his shoulder. The troopers also found Thomas dead in the back seat with four bullet wounds.

Because portions of the crime occurred in both Ohio and Kentucky, Froman faced charges, including aggravated murder and kidnapping, in both states.

According to court documents, Froman’s attorneys said the writ should be granted because capital defendants are entitled to be tried before a fair and impartial jury. Froman’s attorneys claim at least 4 seated jurors expressed racially biased views on their juror questionnaires.

In addition, the court documents claim trial counsel failed to conduct a meaningful questioning of potential jurors, which resulted in racially biased jurors sitting on the panel. It also said the trial court failed in its responsibilities to assure that a fair and impartial jury, free from racial bias, was seated in judgment of Froman.

The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed Froman’s conviction and death sentence in September 2020. A motion for reconsideration was denied in November 2020, according to court records.

(sourcfe: Hamilton Journal-News)

INDIANA:

Life Without Parole — Murder/Denial of Request to Self-Represent

Zachariah Brian Wright v. State of Indiana

20S-LW-260

A murder defendant convicted and sentenced to life without parole failed to convince a majority of the Indiana Supreme Court that the trial court improperly denied his request to proceed pro se. The majority provided an analysis for considering pro se requests in capital and LWOP sentences, but minority justices raised concerns about the majority “till(ing) new constitutional soil.”

Justice Christopher Goff wrote for the court in Zachariah Brian Wright v. State of Indiana, 20S-LW-260. Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Justice Steven David fully concurred, while Justice Mark Massa concurred in result. Justice Geoffrey Slaughter dissented.

The case began in June 2017, when Zachariah Wright embarked on a “crime spree,” stealing a bike from a Boone County home before breaking into another home and stealing another bike and other items. Later, Sonja Foster woke to find Wright standing in her bedroom doorway.

Wright entered the room quickly and began stabbing Foster’s husband, Max, while she struck Wright with a baseball bat. Wright slashed Sonja across the face and she fled, but Wright later caught her and attempted to set her clothes on fire.

Wright eventually fled and disposed of his boots in a pond. Sonja called for help, but her husband died after being stabbed more than 30 times.

Wright was caught and charged with murder, Level 3 felony criminal confinement, Level 6 felony theft, Level 5 felony burglary and Level 2 felony attempted burglary. The state sought the death penalty, and Wright was appointed counsel.

When the Boone Superior Court denied Wright’s requests for new counsel, he asked to represent himself, claiming his lawyers were refusing to request a speedy trial. The court warned Wright of the risks of proceeding pro se and Wright said he understood. But the trial court denied his petition, finding that although Wright knowingly requested to proceed pro se, his request was “based upon a misapprehended understanding of the law, not an intelligent one.”

The state later withdrew its death penalty request in favor of life without parole. Wright waived his right to a jury, and the trial court found him guilty as charged and sentenced him to life plus 18 years.

Wright then sought direct appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing that the trial court erred by denying his request to proceed pro se, and that his sentence was inappropriate. But the majority justices affirmed in full.

“In short, without meaningful adversarial testing by professionally trained counsel, there are few, if any, safeguards to protect the state’s heightened-reliability interest when a pro se defendant proves unwilling or unable to present the necessary mitigating evidence at trial,” Goff wrote for the majority. “And for this reason, a trial court exercising jurisdiction over LWOP and death-penalty cases must tailor its self-representation inquiry to reflect ‘the state’s interest in preserving the orderly processes of criminal justice.’”

The scope of that inquiry will be case-specific, the majority held, but in a death penalty or LWOP case should include:

• “whether and to what extent the defendant has prior experience with the legal system;

• the scope of the defendant’s knowledge of criminal law, legal procedures, rules of evidence, and sentencing; and

• whether and to what extent the defendant can articulate and present any possible defenses, including lesser-included offenses and mitigating evidence.”

“In considering these factors, a court should ‘indulge in every reasonable presumption against waiver’ of the right to counsel,” Goff wrote, citing Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387, 404 (1977). “If, however, after carefully assessing the factors outlined above, a court permits a pro se defense, we strongly urge that court to appoint stand-by counsel to assist the defendant in reaching his ‘clearly indicated goals.’ … And when a pro se defendant fails to present mitigating evidence, a trial court may appoint amicus counsel to compile and argue that evidence.”

That process does not conflict with Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975), the seminal case on the right to self-representation, as long as stand-by counsel doesn’t interfere with a defendant’s personal defense, Goff wrote.

Applying that analysis to Wright’s case, the majority found Wright’s request to proceed pro se was knowing and voluntary but not unequivocal or intelligent.

“His shift in preference for counsel between his initial hearing and the appointment of capital-qualified attorneys five months later reveals his early wavering on the issue,” Goff wrote, noting Wright initially asked for new counsel before asking to represent himself. “… This clear request for representation directly conflicts with any autonomy interest Wright may have held before trial.”

Further, while he had prior experience with the legal system and had undertaken independent legal studies while incarcerated, “the scope of Wright’s knowledge of the criminal law, legal procedures, rules of evidence, and sentencing appears limited at best.

“While insisting that his ‘attorneys ha[d]n’t even challenged the death penalty,’ he conceded, when prompted by the trial court, that it was ‘premature’ to conclude ‘whether the death penalty could be challenged or not in this case.’ … What’s more, at the conclusion of the colloquy, Wright informed the court of ‘five motions’ he wanted to file, and then proceeded to ask the court how to go about filing them, demonstrating a lack of knowledge on the most basic procedural rules,” Goff wrote.

“… And while these factors may not have led us to the same conclusion in a case with less at stake, the state has a much stronger interest in ensuring a fair trial in this capital-turned-LWOP case,” the majority concluded.

In also affirming Wright’s LWOP sentence, the majority noted Wright committed multiple crimes against multiple victims and could have walked away from the Fosters’ home rather than entering the bedroom and killing Max. His character also did not warrant sentence revision, the justices held.

In a footnote, the court remanded the case for a minor correction to the sentencing order.

But in an 11-page dissent, Slaughter wrote that he would have ordered a new trial for Wright.

Specifically, Slaughter wrote, “the trial court’s lengthy colloquy detailing the risks of proceeding pro se ‘opened’ Wright’s eyes and made his waiver intelligent.” What’s more, he said, Wright’s “repeated requests” to proceed pro se made his request unequivocal.

Also, the dissent continued, the majority “adds the need to ‘tailor’ an application of Faretta’s factors based on the State’s interest in ensuring a fair and reliable criminal process in a capital case. … But Supreme Court precedent does not support such ‘tailoring’ of competing interests when the defendant timely asserts the right to proceed pro se.

“… To be sure, a defendant’s waiver may be ill-advised. But, as the Supreme Court observes, ‘[p]ersonal liberties are not rooted in the law of averages’, but in the law’s ‘respect for the individual’. Faretta, 422 U.S. at 834 (cleaned up),” Slaughter concluded. “A right premised on respect for individual freedom must include the freedom to make mistakes — even those with dire consequences. It is when the stakes for the criminal defendant are most grave that the law’s ‘respect for the individual’ should be at its highest.”

In a concurrence with the majority, Justice Massa said it was “hard to quarrel” with much of Slaughter’s dissent, as the majority “tills new constitutional soil in suggesting the standard for waiving the right to counsel varies depending on the seriousness of the case. … I thus cannot join much of the Court’s opinion for reasons sufficiently explained by the dissent.

“However,” Massa continued, “I am convinced that the trial court sifted through all of Wright’s various assertions — both written and oral — on more than one occasion, and concluded that what he ultimately wanted was to hire his own private counsel, or at least have his old counsel back. His waiver, therefore, was not unequivocal, and the trial court should be affirmed.”

The majority addressed one portion of the dissent in a footnote: Slaughter’s holding that “whether a waiver of counsel is ‘intelligent’’’ turns simply on the question of “whether ‘the defendant knows what he is doing and his choice is made with eyes open.’”

“We acknowledge that the U.S. Supreme Court has been less than clear in distinguishing ‘intelligent’ from ‘knowing,’” Goff wrote. “… But even if those two terms — intelligent and knowing — go hand in hand, it’s clear to us that the courts have required something more than just asking whether a defendant ‘knew the dangers and disadvantages’ of self-representation.”

(source: The Indiana Lawyer)

TENNESSEE:

Pervis Payne: Petition argues ineligibility for death penalty due to intellectual disability

Shortly after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed into law a new measure creating a legislative mechanism to allow death row inmates to appeal their sentences on grounds of intellectual disability, Pervis Payne's attorneys have filed a new petition in his case.

The petition, filed Wednesday in Shelby County Criminal Court, argues that Payne is ineligible for the death penalty due to his intellectual disability.

Supporters of Payne are also calling on Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich to agree that Payne is a person with intellectual disability.

Payne, who is being held on death row in Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, is convicted of the 1987 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 in the brutal attack that took place in Christopher’s apartment.

Attorneys for Payne have requested clemency from Lee, arguing that Payne is intellectually disabled, that the case against Payne was flawed and tainted by racism and that "there is simply too much doubt in this case to permit an execution."

Payne has maintained his innocence. In his 1988 trial, Payne said that he discovered the gruesome crime scene after hearing calls for help through the open door of the apartment.

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

Both the U.S. and Tennessee supreme courts have ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute someone with an intellectual disability, but until April Tennessee didn't have a legislative mechanism to allow death row inmates like Payne to appeal their sentences on intellectual disability grounds.

The bipartisan measure cleared the Tennessee legislature April 26 and was later signed by Gov. Bill Lee.

Tennessee Code now defines intellectual disability as "significantly sub-average intellectual functioning"; "deficits in adaptive behavior"; and "the intellectual disability must have been manifested during the developmental period, or by 18 years of age." According to the petition, Payne meets all those requirements. In the most recent testing, Payne received a reported full-scale IQ score of 72, according to the petition. However, adjusting for outdated norms means his corrected score is 68.4, the petition states, and the standard error of measurement places his IQ as low as 63.4.

Dr. Daniel Martell, the clinical psychologist who performed the testing, stated that Payne "has significantly sub-average intellectual functioning," according to the petition, and that his "intellectual and adaptive deficits originated in the developmental period."

Another expert, Dr. Daniel Reschly, tested Payne in 2010 and found his full-scale reported IQ score to be 74, which corrected to 73 or corrected to as low as 67, according to the petition. That expert also agreed that Payne was intellectually disabled, the petition said.

Testimony from family and educators is also included in the petition to describe Payne's history of intellectual disability.

In a news release, supporters of Payne called Wednesday upon Weirich to not contest the petition.

"We invite the District Attorney's office to join the army of moral arc benders, intent on bending the moral arc of the universe towards justice," said State Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, a co-sponsor of the legislation that allowed for the petition to be filed.

“Mr. Payne has been sitting on death row, wrongfully, for 33 years. Never once did the State challenge the fact that he is a person with intellectual disability. D.A. Weirich should not start now. Litigating this undisputed fact would be a stunning waste of time and taxpayer money,” said Bishop David Allen Hall Sr., pastor of the Temple Church Of God In Christ in Memphis.

Weirich, who has in the past disagreed with the assessment of Payne's intellectual disability, responded Tuesday to the new filing.

“Like all criminal defendants, Payne could have filed a claim of intellectual disability during the period set by the legislature for filing such claims. Payne’s attorneys chose not to do so. It was only after it was too late that Payne’s attorneys decided to file. The new law signed by Governor Lee allows Payne to file the petition today, which he has done. It will now be up to the courts to decide, based upon the evidence presented and the law.”

(source: Katherine Burgess covers county government and religion----The Commercial Appeal)

ARKANSAS:

State seeking death penalty in Worthen case

A new date for the jury trial of Jory Worthen has been set after the defense asked for a postponement of the original trial date.

Worthen is charged with 2 counts of capital murder for his alleged involvement in the deaths of 25-year-old Alyssa Cannon and her 4-year-old son Braydon Ponder.

Court documents state that while Worthen’s trial was scheduled to start at the end of April 2021, his defense team has asked for “additional time to perform the ethical obligations of defense counsel in a death penalty matter.”

Additional documents filed show the court granted the motion of continuance and the trial will be held on November 1, 2021.

The State of Arkansas is seeking the death penalty for Worthen, according to documents filed with the circuit court of Ouachita County.

The documents allege that Worthen “committed each of the capital murders in an especially cruel or depraved manner.”

That, and Ponder’s age, led prosecutors to seek the penalty in the case, according to court records.

At the time of the murders, Cannon had a restraining order against Worthen, but he was still living with her, according to police records.

Worthen allegedly fled the state in Cannon’s vehicle after the murders; it was later found abandoned in a parking lot in Seattle, Washington. The Western Arkansas United States Marshals Task Force was brought into the investigation to assist with apprehension since Worthen had crossed state lines and was believed to be armed and dangerous.

The investigative efforts by all agencies involved led them to a hotel in Burbank, California, on Oct. 5, 2020. After being identified, according to a press release from the U.S. Marshals, Worthen ran from law enforcement, but was found and taken into custody after a short foot pursuit.

Later that month, Worthen arrived back in Camden in the custody of the Camden Police Department, which earlier had sent officers to obtain him from California. Worthen appeared before a judge and was denied bond. He is currently housed in Ouachita County Detention Center.

(source: El Dorado News-Times)

ILLINOIS:

He helped free 15 innocent people in Illinois from prison. Now he's focused on family

Larry Golden said getting John Hanlon to come over to the Illinois Innocence Project in 2011 was "incredibly fortuitous."

The project, based at the University of Illinois Springfield, was able to entice Hanlon after landing a major federal grant, said Golden, the project's founding member.

Hanlon had been the assistant deputy defender for the Office of the Illinois Appellate Defender's Capital Litigation Unit since 2000. But in 2011, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn abolished the death penalty after a decadelong moratorium, meaning Hanlon would have to move to another OSAD office or find another job.

"It was time to do something else very challenging and here's a fledgling innocence project — no lawyers, no money at that time and a lot of uncertainty in how to pull it all together — so it was a challenge big time," Hanlon said. "It was also a chance to work with Larry Golden. Larry has done such incredible work in the Springfield community and Sangamon County for so long. To work with him, the chance to learn from him has been irreplaceable."

Hanlon, 63, is retiring as the executive director of the IIP, 1 of 3 innocence organizations in the state.

Hanlon leaves on June 30. He recently moved to Champaign to be closer to his daughter, Aly, and son, Will, and grandchildren. Another daughter, Jessica, lives in the Chicagoland area.

Golden said Hanlon, a criminal defense attorney who worked mostly on the appellate defense of death penalty cases, including one of the most celebrated cases in the country, elevated the project to national status.

"The fact of the matter is that under his leadership the project has become one of the most important innocence organizations in the country," said Golden.

Hanlon has been quintessential in reform — another prong of the IIP's mission, Golden added.

In 2018, Hanlon helped promulgate what was considered the nation's leading jailhouse informant legislation. Illinois became the first state to require judges to hold pre-trial reliability hearings before jailhouse informant witness testimony is used.

A bill pending in the Illinois House that another IIP attorney, Lauren Kaeseberg helped craft would bar the use of deceptive techniques in the interrogation of juveniles.

"This legislation essentially is to say quit trying to trick and coerce juveniles," Hanlon said.

Hanlon's first job as an attorney was working on direct appeals in non-death penalty cases in OSAD's Fourth District office in Springfield in 1983. Deputy Defender Dan Yuhas approached Hanlon about working a death penalty case with another attorney in the office, Tim Gabrielsen.

"I naively said, 'Sure, I'm in,'" Hanlon recalled. "It was an amazing opportunity."

The case was Rolando Cruz, who had been convicted of the abduction, rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico in DuPage County. Cruz's conviction was struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court in 1988.

Cruz would be convicted a 2nd time and ultimately get a 3rd trial before being acquitted.

"(It proved) in big picture, high profile cases these terrible mistakes are made," said Hanlon, who reunited with Cruz and Gabrielsen in DeKalb earlier this month.

Hanlon worked on several other death penalty cases where people were proven to be innocent, including Joe Burrows, Ronald Kitchen and Randy Steidl.

"If innocent people were going to death row (in Illinois), then innocent people were being convicted in other circumstances besides capital cases," Hanlon said. "It was a great opportunity to work on what I consider to the biggest problem, one of them, of the criminal justice system."

Under Hanlon, IIP’s work has led to the release of 15 innocent individuals, and the posthumous exoneration of another, who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned in Illinois.

One of Hanlon's most memorable exonerations at IIP was also his 1st.

John Grayson was exonerated in 2012 after 2 Aurora police officers developed information that Grayson had been innocent of the crime that had put him in prison for 12 years.

7 months after Hanlon taking up the case, Grayson walked from the Kane County courthouse a free man.

"That case impressed me because (the prosecution and law enforcement) were starting to get it," Hanlon said. "Every case has its own I-can't-believe-that-happened-factor. Every single one. It's not just about false confessions and bad eyewitness testimony. There's just some incredible human factors that go into them and existential factors that go into every single case."

Earlier this year, the IIP won Norman Propst, formerly of Chicago, a pardon from Gov. JB Pritzker.

Propst, who was wrongfully convicted twice in Illinois, was working as a community organizer in Georgia, helping to co-found an Atlanta chapter of Black Lives Matter. Propst's convictions made it difficult for him to return to college to try to earn a social work degree, Hanlon said.

"This guy absolutely stole my heart," Hanlon said. "He's been out of prison for a long time and his case doesn't meet our criteria, but his message is so inspiring that it's a great story for the IIP to tell."

"The passion John has for people who have suffered these kinds of injustices is incredible," Golden added.

Hanlon worked 3 different stints with the State Appellate Defender, including the Supreme Court unit, where he worked with capital cases under deputy defender Charles Schiedel.

"Working with and for Chuck Schiedel was a life-enhancing experience," Hanlon said. "He's one of the most brilliant, caring people that I could ever have that good fortune with. OSAD was a one-in-a-million agency with great people, great missions."

Hanlon said he still marvels at the advancement of science and evidence in the field since he started.

"In 1983, as a young lawyer, if I was told a case involved a confession, I thought he's guilty," Hanlon said. "Case over. If it involves an eyewitness, oh he's guilty. Case over. Blood match? He's guilty. Case over.

"When I started as a lawyer, there was no such thing as an innocence project or innocence organization and there was no such thing as even the forensic application of DNA to criminal cases. My job, my profession, my organization, none of that even existed. So that's a reminder to me of how far we've come."

Hanlon said he was grateful to the IIP staff, UIS and the project's supporters and donors.

"I am extremely honored to have been involved in this work."

(source: The State Journal-Register)

NEBRASKA:

In ‘Netherworld’ Between Law and Reality, Nebraska Prosecutors Continue Pursuit of Death Penalty

The legislature doesn’t want capital punishment, the executive branch can’t obtain execution drugs, and Nebraska prosecutors have moved forward this year with the pandemic-delayed capital sentencing trials of 2 defendants separately convicted of a murder out of a voyeuristic true-crime novel. The state, writes Associated Press reporter Grant Schulte in a May 9, 2021 analysis, is “still wedded to the idea of executing prisoners, just not the practical part of doing it” and appears “caught in a law vs. reality netherworld.”

3 defendants have been sentenced to death in Nebraska since Governor Pete Rickets bankrolled a 2016 voter referendum that prevented the legislature’s repeal of the state’s death penalty the year before from going into effect. 2 more — Aubrey Trail and Bailey Boswell —face imminent sentencing decisions by 3-judge panels in the murder and dismemberment of Sydney Loofe in what Trail has claimed was her accidental death during a group sexual fantasy involving asphyxiation.

Trail had a 1-day penalty phase trial in March. The parties have submitted written closing arguments to the court and are awaiting the sentencing verdict. Boswell’s penalty phase is expected to begin before a separate 3-judge panel in late June. But, Schulte writes, “the lawyers, judges and prison officials who oversee Nebraska’s system of capital punishment largely ignore the fact that the state has no lethal injection drugs and very likely won’t get any for years, if ever.”

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine, who has obtained 4 of the 5 death sentences imposed in the state over the past 15 years, downplayed the contribution of prosecutors to the state’s current dilemma. “Once we get done with the trial and sentencing, it’s kind of off our shoulders,” Kleine told Associated Press. “Certainly, it seems to be the case right now that the state doesn’t have the wherewithal to carry it out.”

Nebraska’s Execution Standstill

The state is at a standstill over the execution process. In 2018, Nebraska executed Carey Dean Moore, who gave up his appeal rights, using drugs secretly obtained in violation of pharmaceutical manufacturers’ distributio n policies. 2 months before Moore’s execution, in response to open records lawsuits filed by the Omaha World-Herald, the Lincoln Journal Star, and the Nebraska chapter of the ACLU, a Nebraska trial court ordered the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services to disclose records related to its drug purchase. However, the state appealed the decision, stalling release of the documents until May 2020, when the Nebraska Supreme Court unanimously ordered NDCS to disclose the records.

Shortly before Moore’s execution, drug manufacturer Fresenius Kabi sued Nebraska in federal court alleging that the state had obtained the company’s drugs “through improper or illegal means.” After learning that their drugs also were being used in the execution, Hikma Pharmaceuticals USA and Pfizer Inc. demanded that NDCS return their drugs. The state refused. Community Pharmacy Services, a local pharmacy that sold the drugs to the corrections department under an invoice labeled “[m]iscellaneous expense,” said when the records from the sale were released that “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.”

Nebraska corrections director Scott Frakes has urged the legislature to pass legislation permitting the state to conceal the identity of its drug suppliers from the public, asserting that without secrecy NDCS would not be able to obtain execution drugs. The legislature has refused, instead passing a bill in August 2020 calling for more transparency in the execution process. Governor Ricketts vetoed that bill.

Why Drugs are Not Available for Lethal Injection

The continuing unavailability of pharmaceuticals for use in execution has frustrated death penalty proponents, who have repeatedly advanced, without evidence, the conspiracy theory that anti-death penalty activists have intimidated and harassed drug companies into refusing to sell their drugs. Most famously, during oral argument in Glossip v. Gross Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito accused anti-death penalty activists of mounting “what amounts to a guerilla war against the death penalty.” A recent article by University of Nebraska College of Law Professor Eric Berger (pictured, right) in the William & Mary Law Review debunks that narrative as “woefully incomplete” and paints a much more nuanced picture of the opposition to lethal injection.

In Courts, Culture, and the Lethal Injection Stalemate, Berger notes that states are continuing to have difficulty carrying out lethal-injection executions despite a trilogy of U.S. Supreme Court cases denying legal challenges to the practice. “It turns out that courts saying ‘yes’ to executions does not much matter when so many other [key actors] say ‘no,’” Berger writes.

A number of unrelated interests with “a great variety of … motives and goals” have converged to impede state efforts to execute prisoners by lethal injection, Berger says. However, he writes, “[c]ontrary to the Court’s assertions, anti-death penalty ‘activists’ are hardly the only or even primary culprit behind states’ lethal injection difficulties. Nor are European governments. To the contrary, many different institutions and people contribute to states’ problems.”

Those whose opposition to lethal injection have played a part in the execution stalemate include “[p]harmaceutical corporations, institutional investors, doctors, nurses, medical associations, capital lawyers, foreign governments, federal drug regulators, reporters, academics, and others,” Berger says, “including, yes, abolitionist activists.” While “some of these actors share a general aversion to the death penalty,” he writes, “few of them are conspiring with the purpose of halting executions. To the contrary, each group has its own distinct motivations and goals, and they rarely coordinate with each other.”

The human rights policies of European governments morally oppose the death penalty, and the European Union has adopted export controls that prohibit the sale of products, including medicines, for use in torture or executions. In 2017, the EU joined with other nations including Argentina and Mongolia to create the Alliance for Torture-Free Trade in an effort “to make it significantly more difficult to obtain products intended for carrying out the death penalty.”

Europe is home to many pharmaceutical companies whose subsidiaries produce and distribute drugs in the United States and that follow the European human rights ethic against capital punishment. But U.S. pharmaceutical companies, Berger explains, also universally oppose selling their medicines for use in executions based on their own corporate values. The companies, he writes, “are committed to saving lives through their medicine” and “recognize that providing death penalty drugs is in sharp tension with their healing mission.” Their marketing wings also fear the damage to the profitability of the products themselves if they become known as drugs used for killing rather than healing. The companies also are reluctant to subject themselves to “the bad public relations that would come with selling drugs for use in executions,” Berger says. For similar reasons, institutional investors have objected that “[a] company in the business of healing people … put[s] its reputation at risk when it supplies drugs for executions” and further risks associating itself with botched executions.

Berger notes that many of the alternative suppliers of execution drugs in the United States — compounding pharmacies — also “share major pharmaceutical corporations’ opposition to the use of their products in executions.” Major professional associations including the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacies and the American Pharmacists Association have adopted policies discouraging pharmacy involvement “in the preparation, dispensing, or distribution of compounded medications for use in legally authorized executions.” Likewise, numerous medical professionals, bound by the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, refuse to participate in executions.

Berger also points to the responsibility of federal agencies — such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Agency — to regulate the quality of drugs distributed throughout the United States and to protect the integrity of the medical supply chain as affecting state diversion of therapeutic medicines for use in lethal injection. Thus, while advocacy work by death-penalty abolition groups, such as the London-based human rights organization Reprieve, has played an important role in persuading companies and governments to withdraw healing medicines from the execution marketplace, the attempt to medicalize the execution process faces numerous other substantial roadblocks.

Another factor contributing to the decline in lethal-injection executions is the tepid and declining support for the death penalty at the state level. Conservative death-penalty opponent Matt Maly told Associated Press that many Nebraskans who still support capital punishment are not deeply invested in the issue. Given the softness of public support, he and Berger suggest, politicians in death-penalty states simply cite the shortage of execution drugs as a reason not to carry out a policy about which they have little enthusiasm.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

COLORADO:

Boebert sits down with right-wing activist who supported death penalty for gay people

Rep. Lauren Boebert appeared on a livestream with conservative activist Andrew Wommack, who once claimed that Christians who 'serve the Lord' would be immune from COVID-19.

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) on Monday appeared on a broadcast with conservative activist Andrew Wommack to rail against several Democratic proposals and promote her 2022 reelection campaign.

Notably, Boebert came out against Democrats' proposed Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. She falsely claimed the legislation "fundamentally ends girls' sports in America."

Boebert said the passage of the bill would lead to "women getting in an MMA ring and having their skulls crushed by a man," among other things, without providing any evidence.

Boebert's anti-LGBTQ rhetoric dovetails well with Wommack's history of bigoted comments throughout his career as a conservative Christian figurehead.

Wommack, the founder and president of the Truth & Liberty Coalition, an organization that purports to "educate, unify and mobilize believers in Jesus Christ to affect the reformation of nations," has come out strongly against LGBTQ rights, even going so far as to call gay people "not normal" and support a Ugandan law that would allow the death penalty for what it called "aggravated homosexuality." Wommack has also said transgender equality is "demonic," a term he also used to describe opposition to Donald Trump.

On a YouTube stream in March, Wommack said people who support transgender rights are following "a doctrine of the devil."

Wommack also attacked bans on so-called conversion therapy, or programs intended to stop people from being gay, and described legislation to protect children from the dangerous practice as "demonic inspired."

Wommack is also the founder of Andrew Wommack Ministries and the Charis Bible College, and in that capacity, he voiced support for a 2014 law proposed in Uganda that would have allowed the death penalty as punishment for gay sex.

Wommack decried the international backlash generated by the proposed law.

"The Ugandans are taking a stand for righteousness and they should have the support of American Christians, not their condemnation," he wrote. After its passage, the law was eventually annulled by Ugandan courts.

After the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage with the Obergefell v. Hodges decision in 2015, Wommack lashed out.

"The homosexual community are the ones who hate Christianity and any moral standards. They are the ones who are truly intolerant," he wrote that year.

Wommack also said that "homosexuality is hazardous to one's health" and "homosexuality and homosexual marriage are not normal."

Wommack is a supporter of Donald Trump and called political opposition to his presidency "demonic" and "one of the signs of the End Times."

In April 2020, as COVID-19 infections began to rise, Wommack said that if people "serve the Lord your God," they would not be infected by the virus. He claimed that in response to strong Christian faith, God would "turn off" receptors in cells to prevent the virus from taking hold.

The freshman congresswoman, who first gained attention for her staunch support of Donald Trump and her alignment with the QAnon conspiracy theory, also used the interview to generate donations and support for her 2022 reelection campaign.

Boebert was prompted to promote her campaign website several times, and Wommack encouraged viewers to make donations.

"A lot of our viewers are really excited to hear from you and to hear that there's somebody there that God's using," Wommack said.

He instructed his staff to put the address of Boebert's campaign website on the screen and added, "Please go there and find out what's happening and contribute."

(source: The American Independent)

WYOMING:

Cody Adults Plea “Not Guilty” of Murder After Toddler’s Death

Both Cody residents charged with 1st-degree murder in the death of Paisleigh Williams pleaded “not guilty” in a case where the verdict is life or death.

30-year-old Moshe Williams and 28-year-old Carolyn Aune each pleaded not guilty to counts of 1st-degree murder during a May 5 hearing in Park County District Court. It begins a long legal process for the two Cody residents accused of killing 2-year-old Paisleigh Williams.

The Park County Attorney’s Office filed 1st-degree murder charges against Moshe Williams and Carolyn Aune on Monday, April 12. Both adults remain incarcerated with bail set at $1 million each.

Williams and Aune were arrested on March 31, initially charged with felony aggravated child abuse of Paisleigh Williams. The charges were upgraded to murder when the child passed away in a Denver-area hospital on April 4.

Official reports say Paisleigh was given a forceful “gut punch” sometime between the night of March 25 and the afternoon of March 27 – the day Williams took her to the Cody Regional Health emergency room.

The blow was severe enough to separate her intestines, which was her eventual cause of death. Medical professionals also reportedly found evidence that Paisleigh endured broken bones and other injuries in the weeks and months before her death.

During the same hearing when the defendants entered their pleas, the trial was moved to the Fifth Judicial District Court and the jurisdiction of Judge Bobbi Overfield of Thermopolis.

The Wyoming Fifth District Court is 1 of 9 district courts in Wyoming. It serves Big Horn, Hot Springs, Park, and Washakie counties.

According to the Powell Tribune, Park County District Court Judge William Simpson cannot hear the case. He previously presided over a case where Williams was the defendant.

Public opinion may have ruled this an open and shut case, but the Park County Prosecutors will have to show – beyond a reasonable doubt – that this was murder with premeditation.

Wyoming Statutes Title 6. Crimes and Offenses on first-degree murder states, “Whoever purposely and with premeditated malice, or in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, any sexual assault, sexual abuse of a minor, arson, robbery, burglary, escape, resisting arrest, kidnapping or abuse of a child under the age of sixteen (16) years, kills any human being is guilty of murder in the 1st degree.”

Uncertainty surrounds the circumstances leading to Paisleigh’s death. While the judge deemed there was probable cause to charge both adults with murder, it’s unknown who caused the injuries.

Moshe Williams and Carolyn Aune are innocent until proven guilty. 12 jurors outside Cody will need to unanimously decide they are guilty of murder.

If convicted, both adults face life in prison or the death penalty.

A trial for Williams and Aune will be scheduled within the next 180 days. Judge Overfield may also hold a hearing to consider lowering the defendants’ bonds, but that has yet to be confirmed.

(source: mybighornbasin.com)

USA:

No business leader can ignore America's cruel, racist death penalty. People expect the private sector to take a stand----Ex-Unilever CEO Paul Polman calls on business leaders to publicly condemn the death penalty.

"The private sector can no longer be a silent bystander in the society it inhabits."

Corporate activism can embolden lawmakers to act, he argues in this op-ed.

We are at a crucial moment in the fight to end America's long and troubled history of using capital punishment.

President Biden is the 1st candidate to have been elected on an abolitionist platform, having vowed to end his predecessor's revival of federal executions.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley's Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act is gaining unprecedented support across both sides of of the aisle. Last week, Michigan Representative Peter Meijer became the first Republican to co-sponsor the bill – legislation now backed by more than 20% of Congress.

In March, Virginia's lawmakers voted to end the death penalty, becoming the first Southern state to abolish it.

Support for the death penalty among Americans is at its lowest for 50 years. Arguments that the death penalty doesn't deter crime, kills the innocent and costs American taxpayers millions have at last cut through.

Globally, the picture has also improved. In recent months, Kazakhstan and Malawi joined the more than 140 nations that have ended the death penalty in law or practice.

Amnesty International reports that last year, as the world struggled to save lives from COVID-19, executions fell by a quarter, including an 85% drop in Saudi Arabia.

The death penalty has to go. Business has a vital part to play. Traditionalists will sneer at me for saying this.

The job of CEOs, they say, is to run successful companies which create jobs and spread wealth, not to intervene in society's moral dilemmas. But polling and events of the last year show otherwise.

What people expect from responsible business has changed. Joining this fight is a way to make good on so many commitments to be ethical.

The pandemic, mass anti-racism protests, attacks on democracy, growing inequality and the continuing destruction of our planet have recast the role of responsible business. Business leaders have spoken out on issues from de-forestation to voting laws to LGBTQ rights.

A recent survey showed that 72% of people believe that to truly lead with purpose, CEOs and companies had to be willing to take risks to address social justice issues.

A total of 49% of Americans say they assume companies that remain quiet on social justice issues just don't care.

Bluntly, the private sector can no longer be a silent bystander in the society it inhabits. Not if it wants to promote the stability and inclusiveness on which a strong economy and successful business depend.

Despite progress, the death penalty is far from abolished. China keeps secret the number of people it executes each year, though it is believed to be in the thousands.

Even during the pandemic, a number of governments have remained determined to carry out executions, most notably Egypt, where cases have tripled.

In America, 27 states can still legally authorize executions and last year 5 carried them out.

This should be intolerable in a country still reeling from the brutal murder of George Floyd. The death penalty is blatantly racist.

A University of Washington study found jurors in Washington were three times more likely to recommend a death sentence for a black defendant than for a white one in a similar case. Killers of white victims are executed at a rate 17 times greater than those whose victims are black.

Backing an end to capital punishment is a means of honoring the many commitments by companies and brands that have publicly decried cruelty, discrimination and injustice.

The aim here is not simply to produce well-meaning statements. Corporate activism, when it aligns with calls for reform from civil society, can and does embolden lawmakers to braver action.

This is why I have joined a rapidly-growing global movement of CEOs and executives calling for an end to capital punishment.

The list includes Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, my successor as CEO of Unilever, Alan Jope, and Bayer CEO Werner Baumann.

As we look to recover from a pandemic-driven recession , business leaders are pushing for cost-effective justice solutions that work – not a cruel, racist, wasteful and shockingly error-prone form of punishment that fails to deliver justice by every conceivable measure.

Given the historic momentum on Capitol Hill, the question now lands at every CEO's door: will you stand on the sidelines, or stand together with your courageous peers for a more just and humane world?

Sign the declaration. Use business as a force for good.

(source: Op-ed ; Paul Polman is co-founder of Imagine and former CEO of Unilever----businessinsider.com)

CANADA:

Canadians split on idea of bringing back death penalty: poll----50% of Canadians would support reinstating capital punishment for murder

In the year 2020, the justice systems of at least 18 countries around the world allowed a human being to be executed for a crime.

Most of these individual instances where capital punishment was applied took place in China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Canadians do not hold these three nations in particularly high regard. When we last asked in December, positive opinions at the Canada-wide level reached 15% for Iran, 19% for China and 23% for Saudi Arabia.

There is no serious discussion going on in any legislature across Canada to bring back the death penalty. However, since its elimination in July 1976, there have been moments when heinous crimes have been met with pleas for its re-introduction – even more so now with the unbridled power of communications that social media affords.

Research Co. and Glacier Media ask Canadians every year about their views on capital punishment. The results in 2021 show there is still some appetite for the death penalty in specific areas of the country, and views vary dramatically according to a person’s political allegiance.

For almost 3 in 10 Canadians (29%), the conversation about changes to existing guidelines ends rather quickly: they consider that the death penalty is never appropriate. This represents a 2-point increase since 2020, in a group that finds a larger representation among women (32%), Quebecers (31%), Atlantic Canadians (30%) and Canadians aged 18 to 34 (29%).

For 10% of Canadians (down 3 points), capital punishment is always appropriate. This leaves a majority of the country’s residents (51%, up one point) who think the death penalty is sometimes appropriate.

This year, 50% of Canadians (down 1 point since 2020) would support reinstating the death penalty for murder in the country, while 36% (also down 1 point) are opposed. There is practically no movement on this specific question, and some of the consistencies observed last year are still prevalent.

Canadians who voted for the Conservative Party in the 2019 federal election are significantly more likely to be in favour of the return of capital punishment (66%) than those who supported the Liberal Party (50%) or the New Democratic Party (NDP) (43%) in that democratic contest.

The regional analysis serves to confirm the ideological slant. Residents of Saskatchewan and Manitoba (61%) and Alberta (56%) hold the highest level of support for the reinstatement of the death penalty, followed by Quebec (52%), Atlantic Canada (48%), Ontario (48%) and British Columbia (46%). There is a significant gender gap as well, with 57% of men in Canada backing the return of capital punishment, compared to 45% of women.

The reasons cited by supporters of the death penalty vary, but majorities believe it would serve as a deterrent for potential murderers (53%), be a fitting penalty for the crime of taking a life (52%) and save taxpayers money and the costs associated with having murderers in prison (also 52%). Fewer supporters expect capital punishment to provide closure to the families of murder victims (47%) or suggest that murderers cannot be rehabilitated (32%).

Opponents of the death penalty are primarily concerned with failures in the justice system, with 67% saying a person may be wrongly convicted and then executed. Fewer also think that it is wrong to take a convicted murderer’s own life as punishment (50%), that the death penalty would not serve as a deterrent for potential murderers (47%), and that murderers should do their time in prison, as indicated by a judge. Still, only 20% of opponents believe a person convicted of murder can be rehabilitated.

There is some movement when we ask about the best punishment approach for convicted murderers in Canada. Support for life imprisonment without the possibility of parole increased by 3 points to 51%, while the proportion of Canadians who back the death penalty fell 3 points to 34%.

The visceral reaction that we observe on the initial question about the idea of capital punishment disappears when the only other option is life behind bars. Significant pluralities across all regions – with the glaring exception of Alberta – are in favour of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Yet while only 23% of New Democrats and 32% of Liberals are in favour of the death penalty in this head-to-head scenario, the proportion climbs to 49% among Conservatives.

There have been some high-profile crimes in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland recently, which may lead centre-right politicians to call for added punitive measures. The survey outlines the death penalty as a notion that, while appealing in some areas and circumstances, is ultimately rejected by a significant proportion of Canadians, as long as the proper mechanisms are in place to ensure justice.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from May 7 to May 9, 2021, among 1,000 Canadian adults. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 % points, 19 times out of 20.

(source: The Battlefords News-Optimist)

ZAMBIA:

CHIPATA HIGH COURT SENTENCES 3 TO DEATH

The Chipata High Court has sentenced three people to death by hanging, in two different cases, the Mast reported on 12 May 2021.

A 32-year-old man of Sinda district was sentenced to death for killing his mother and a 56-year-old woman and her 28-year-old daughter have been slapped with the same sentence for murdering their daughter in-law.

Lusaka High Court judge Sharon Newa, sitting in the Chipata High Court, jailed John Daka who murdered his mother Faidess Phiri on 21 June 2019 at her garden near the Zambia/Mozambique border.

The court heard that Daka hit his mother on the forehead and mouth with a pounding stick after obtaining charms from Malawi in the hope of becoming rich. Daka’s grandmother, Violet Phiri, told the court that her daughter was killed at her garden in Sokosi village in chieftainess Nyanje’s area on the Zambia- Mozambique border.

Judge Newa sentenced Daka to death by hanging until pronounced dead after convicting him of the offence.

She also sentenced Joyce Nyasulu and Mainess Manda of Lundazi to death by hanging for murdering their in-law whom they accused of being a prostitute.

Particulars of the offence were that Nyasulu and Manda on 8 October 2019 in Lundazi, murdered Felida Zimba, who was married to Gilbert Manda, the son to Joyce Nyasulu.

The duo murdered Zimba after suspecting her of being a prostitute and that she was found prostituting at a certain guest house in Lundazi.

Judge Newa said the duo committed a very gruesome murder.

She sentenced Nyasulu and Manda to death by hanging until pronounced dead.

(source: The Mast)

SIERRA LEONE:

Sierra Leone government moves to abolish death penalty

Sierra Leone's government will move to abolish the death penalty in the West African state, deputy justice minister Umaru Napoleon Koroma said on Wednesday.

No execution has taken place in the country since 1998, and death penalties are often commuted.

Sierra Leone, which is still recovering after decades of civil war, has frequently come under fire from rights groups for keeping capital punishment on the books.

"Once the legislation goes to parliament and gets approved, that ends the story of the death penalty," Koroma told AFP.

He added that the cabinet of President Julius Maada Bio had decided to push to abolish capital punishment in order to "uphold the fundamental human rights of Sierra Leoneans".

The date of the cabinet's decision is unclear.

But the government announced the move on Wednesday during a review of Sierra Leone's human rights record at the United Nations, Koroma said.

The European Union's ambassador to Sierra Leone, Tom Vens, congratulated Bio on the move.

"We will continue to partner with you in promoting a progressive human rights agenda," he tweeted.

- Falling executions -

Sierra Leone's 1991 constitution allows the use of the death penalty for aggravated robbery, murder, treason and mutiny.

However, the last executions in the country were carried out in 1998, when 24 military officers were put to death after a coup attempt the year before.

The former British colony was ravaged by a 1991-2002 civil war that claimed 120,000 lives.

A truth and reconciliation commission set up in 2005 to investigate the brutal conflict recommended abolishing the death penalty, calling it "an affront to civilised society".

But the authorities resisted immediately abolishing capital punishment, and courts condemned 84 people to death between 2016 and 2020, according to the UN.

Koroma told AFP that the government would seek to amend the punishments for crimes that currently carry the death penalty, suggesting "life in prison" as an alternative.

If parliament passes the ban, Sierra Leone will become the latest African country to abolish the death penalty since Chad outlawed it in May.

According to Amnesty International, 108 countries had completely abolished the death penalty by the end of 2020, while 144 had abolished it in law or in practice.

Both executions and death penalties also fell across sub-Saharan Africa last year, the rights group said.

Recorded death sentences fell by six percent, from 325 in 2019 to 305 last year, while executions were down 36 percent, falling from 25 in 2019 to 16 in 2020.

(source: Agence France-Presse)

EGYPT----mass executions

Rights groups raise alarm as Egypt executes 17

Egypt executed 17 prisoners April 26 and 28. They had been convicted of committing 2013 attack in the town of Kerdasa in Giza governorate, where gunmen stormed a police station and killed 11 policemen.

The executions prompted a number of local and international human rights organizations to issue condemnation and calls for an end to the death penalty in Egypt.

In August 2013, after police dispersed a sit-in held by Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, a number of gunmen stormed the Kerdasa police station. The department chief was among the 11 officers killed. Shortly after, security forces arrested dozens of residents of the area, accusing them of being behind the attack.

After the execution of the first 9 defendants on April 26, Amnesty International stated April 26, “Today’s execution of 9 people is a chilling demonstration of the Egyptian authorities’ disregard for the right to life and their obligations under international law.”

“By carrying out these executions during the holy month of Ramadan the Egyptian authorities have displayed a ruthless determination to persist with their escalating use of the death penalty,” the statement went on. “The Egyptian authorities must immediately put a stop to this alarming surge in executions. We call on states worldwide to take a clear stance by publicly condemning Egypt’s use of the death penalty and urging the government to immediately establish an official moratorium on executions, as a 1st step towards abolishing the death penalty.”

Haytham Abu Khalil, a well-connected political activist who resides in Turkey who was in contact with the executed defendants and was the first to publish their names, told Al-Monitor, “The Egyptian security authorities are themselves committing a crime against detainees, and we must resist the Egyptian regime’s increasing use of the death penalty.”

“One of the executed defendants was an 82-year-old man, and rather than being pardoned considering his age, he was executed without bidding his family farewell,” Abu Khalil added.

A lawyer working at a human rights center who followed the investigation into the Kerdasa attack told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “A retrial should have been ordered, not an execution, especially considering that defendants said they were subjected to torture and severe beatings to confess that they had committed the crimes. The judicial authorities refused to investigate these allegations of torture.”

The lawyer added, “The defendants repeatedly called for investigations into their torture in places of detention but their calls fell on deaf ears. Their death sentence took us off guard — we did not think this number of defendants would be executed and we thought President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi would never approve the sentence.”

Article 470 of Egypt's Criminal Procedure Code states that an execution needs approval by the president, who may pardon the convict or to abstain from ratifying the sentence.

In a joint statement issued on April 30, seven Egyptian human rights organizations and campaigns condemned the executions, pointing out that they bring Egypt the dubious distinction of 2021's top executioner. The country ranked third after China and Iran in 2020.

The groups called on the Egyptian government to “put death sentences on hold until extensive public discussions are held about them and systematic studies carried out on such sentences' deterrence effect. There must also be a review of the crimes punishable by death.”

A member of the family of Omar el-Sayed Mohamed, one of the defendants, told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the family was “surprised when they learned their son was executed, and just like everybody else they received the news from media outlets.”

“We did not receive any calls from the prison administration informing us of the date of the execution and granting us the right to one last visit. He was unexpectedly executed, and we were denied the right to see each other,” he concluded.

(source: al-monitor.com)

IRAN:

Kurdish prisoner in Sanandaj prison in danger of getting executed after the end of “ Ramadan “ month.

A young man from a village in Sanandaj who had previously been sentenced to death is in danger of getting executed after the end of “Ramadan” month. According to a report received by Hengaw Human Rights Organization, in recent days the Sanandaj Judgment Enforcement Unit has informed the family of "Sivan Hosseini", a Kurdish prisoner sentenced to death, that their son's death sentence will be carried out in the city's central prison after the end of “Ramadan” month.

According to a relative of Hosseini's family, Sivan Hosseini was arrested three years ago on charges of murdering his wife and was later sentenced to death by the judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran and has been held in Sanandaj Central Prison ever since.

"In recent days, the family of Sivan Hosseini's wife has paid an amount of money equal to 1/2 of the ransom and insists on serving the death sentence, and therefore his execution after the end of Ramadan is imminent."

A source, who did not want to be named, told Hengaw.

Sivan Hosseini, father of 2 children, is from the village of “Shiyan”in the East Zhavorood region of Sanandaj.

(source: Hengaw Organizatino for Human Rights)

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

German-Iranian Detainee Faces Threat of Execution in Tehran Jail

Jamshid Sharmahd, a German-Iranian detainee, has been held for 267 days in a jail in Tehran. He was kidnapped in July 2020 and has almost spent a year in prison without receiving proper medial care or being accorded a court hearing.

Jamshid comes from a family of dissidents that has been living in California for 20 years. They all were victim of a failed assassination attempt by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in 2009.

His daughter, Gazelle, recounted to Asharq Al-Awsat how her father was kidnapped last year. Gazelle works in the health sector in Los Angeles and has been living with her family since the abduction.

The family’s ordeal began after Jamshid completed a trip to Europe in March 2020. He then headed to India, where he remained for three months after being stranded due to the coronavirus lockdown. He left the country as soon as lockdown was lifted, recalled Gazelle.

At one point he had a layover in the Gulf region and soon after his family lost contact with him. His mobile phone was dead and there was no way to communicate with him. Iranian Guards media said that he had been arrested in Tajikistan.

He last spoke to his family around a month ago from his prison in Tehran.

Gazelle said that even though the call was brief, she could hear the pain in his voice.

“I am well. What are you up to?” he would always ask during the 6 telephone calls he has made to them in the past 10 months. When his loved ones ask him if he is being fed and if he is being given his medication, he responds with a cough: “I must end the call now, good bye.”

Other than this, Gazelle knows little about his condition.

Like the rest of the Iranian diaspora in California, Jamshid is known as a fierce critic of the Iranian regime.

Gazelle said her father has been unofficially charged without any legal proceedings. He has been denied his right to an attorney and was appointed one chosen by Iranian authorities. He was also forced to make a confession under duress.

“This is inhumane. This is madness. We still don’t know where he is being held. We know nothing. All we are getting are parts of information and not the whole truth,” she said.

During the last telephone call, Jamshid informed them that he now weighs 60 kilograms, meaning he has lost over 40 kgs, she revealed. She also recalled that he was suffering from a very bad cough, hoping that he was not infected by the coronavirus.

“He also suffers from Parkinson’s disease and has heart problems. We don’t know if he is receiving medical care,” she stated.

Asked about what the United States has done to resolve the case, Gazelle revealed that the government has not contacted them and has not demanded that Iran release her father. She said that she has written to the government from several platforms to address her father’s case and has not yet received any response.

Perhaps they are afraid from the regime or its retaliation, she wondered bitterly. Perhaps it has become normal for people not to care anymore and for people to be kidnapped and taken to another country where they are deprived of all of their rights.

Asharq Al-Awsat has contacted the State Department and other concerned sides for the past three months to comment on Jamshid’s case, but it has not received a single response.

Special Envoy for Iran, Robert Malley recently told NPR that the detainees and human rights files are not on the table at the ongoing Vienna nuclear negotiations with Iran. “They're not part of this negotiation, but they're part, in fact, of our thinking,” Malley said. “And we're determined to see them released regardless of what happens on the nuclear track.”

On August 1, 2020, Iran announced the arrest of an “Iranian-American leader” of little-known opposition group based in California. It alleged that he plotted an attack against an IRGC shrine in Shiraz city in 2008 that left 14 people dead and 200 wounded. He may face the death penalty if convicted.

The Iranian Intelligence Ministry alleges that Jamshid is a member of the Kingdom Assembly of Iran that is loyal to the former Shah regime. It said that he plotted other attacks against Iran amid the mounting tensions between Tehran and Washington. It accused him of running the group’s Tondar militant wing.

The Ministry said he was arrested in a “sophisticated” operation, without providing details, but it did release a photo a blind-folded man it said is Jamshid.

Responding to inquiries from Asharq Al-Awsat, the German Foreign Ministry said the German government has repeatedly demanded from Tehran that its consulate be allowed to contact Jamshid.

The Iranian authorities have repeatedly rejected these requests, it said, stressing that it had also demanded that he be granted a fair trial.

The Foreign Ministry did not confirm whether it was aware of the charges that Jamshid may face.

Several media reports had said that he may be charged with attempting to overthrow the regime or conspiring against it.

Cameron Khansarinia, policy director at the Washington—based National Union for Democracy in Iran, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Jamshid’s case is a shameful example of the brutal dictatorship ruling Iran.

He said that Iran has a long history of hostage-taking and cracking down on dissidents, stressing that human and detainee rights must be a priority for any American administration.

He added that the regime in Iran only responds to pressure, so the Biden administration must constantly raise the issue of Jamshid’s arrest.

It must not back down until he is released, he urged. The administration has repeatedly spoken of the value it places on human rights and now, its policy towards Iran is an opportunity to prove itself.

If the criminals in Iran realize that the American government will not openly defend its citizens and residents on its territories, then the Americans will be in danger, he warned.

(source: english.aawsat.com)

MAY 12, 2021:

NORTH CAROLINA:

Details still getting worked on NC criminal justice reform

An array of groups and elected officials from both major parties put their weight behind criminal justice reforms in North Carolina on Tuesday at a Legislative Building news conference. But some details aren’t yet finalized.

Speakers emphasized 4 bills — 3 that passed the House last week and 1 omnibus measure that’s expected to clear the Senate as soon as Wednesday. One question will be whether House members will accept additional items contained in the Senate bill or insist on narrower changes. This year’s legislative session likely won’t wrap up work until early summer.

But for Tuesday, legislators, sheriffs, local prosecutors and law enforcement groups focused on praising the efforts to advance changes they say will target bad officers while providing mental health support to all of sworn law enforcement. The effort comes during a time of national focus on racial inequity and police shootings of Black residents, including the choking death of George Floyd in May 2020 in Minneapolis.

“The vast majority of law enforcement officers in this nation are outstanding individuals. They work hard. They protect us. They do what is right,” said Ernie Lee, the district attorney for four eastern counties, but ”we also have to improve accountability.”

One House bill approved unanimously would mandate a duty for law enforcement officers to intervene when they believe a colleague is using excessive force, and report what they saw to a superior within 72 hours. Another would require an officer to tell standards commissions when the officer receives a letter from a prosecutor telling the officer they have been untruthful or have committed misconduct and shouldn’t testify in criminal cases.

And a third bill would require officer trainees to receive psychological screening examinations. Continuing education also will include an emphasis on mental health.

“These provisions will not only improve the lives of our law enforcement officers, but I believe that they will improve the communities that these officers daily patrol and protect and preserve,” said Rep. Kristin Baker, a Cabarrus County Republican and chief sponsor of the mental health bill.

The Senate measure contains House provisions and many more changes, including increased penalties for rioting and the creation of new databases to discourage misbehaving law enforcement officers from remaining on the job.

New amendments to the Senate measure on Monday address access by family members to police body camera footage of people who die while interacting with police and raise penalties for suspects whose resistance during an arrest leads to an officer’s injuries.

A wide array of groups across the political spectrum has backed the Senate measure. But a representative of the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union told Senate committee members earlier Tuesday the proposed felonies for resisting arrest goes too far and could splinter the coalition that backed the broader measure.

The resisting arrest change is “a poison pill that doesn’t line up with the rest of the bill,” Daniel Bowes, the state chapter’s director of policy and advocacy, told the Senate Rules Committee. Sen. Paul Newton, a Cabarrus County Republican and amendment sponsor, said the tougher penalties are designed to protect law enforcement from serious injury and deter suspects from fleeing what is otherwise a lawful arrest.

The body camera changes — made in light of last month’s shooting death of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City — would allow family members of a person killed by law enforcement to watch unedited officer body camera footage within five business days of their request.

Sen. Danny Britt, a Robeson County Republican shepherding the Senate measure, said the amendment was an agreement reached between members of the Legislative Black Caucus and groups representing district attorneys and sheriffs. On Tuesday, Britt and GOP Rep. John Szoka of Cumberland County didn’t make any commitments about the future of the bodycam language.

The bill also contains some recommendations from a task force commissioned last year by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on racial equity and criminal justice. But the more dramatic changes — including reforms to bail and the death penalty and a greater emphasis on addressing any racial bias in the ranks — were left out.

(source: Associated Press)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

Advocate: S. Carolina approval of firing squad, electric chair ‘chilling’

The passage of a bill by South Carolina lawmakers in early May to restart executions after 10 years and to add death by firing squad or electric chair as options if lethal injection drugs are not available is a “setback for South Carolina” and “stands in stark contrast to powerful efforts elsewhere to abolish the death penalty,” said a Catholic death penalty opponent.

“The decade without executions in South Carolina should be seen as a mark of progress toward a culture of life, not a reason to backslide into immoral and gruesome means of killing,” said Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network.

She also said the electric chair and firing squad “should have no place on the state’s list of means to address harm or bring about so-called justice. In fact, there is no reason why the state should be executing people at all,” she told Catholic News Service in a May 10 email.

The measure is likely to be approved soon by the state’s governor.

Lawmakers said the shortage of drugs needed to carry out lethal injections is the main reason why the state has not had any executions in 10 years. Those who favored adding other means of execution also stressed that this would be more humane since lethal injections have sometimes botched executions if an inmate’s death became prolonged.

Most states use a drug combination for executions, but a handful of states use one drug, pentobarbital, which the federal government also used when it executed inmates this past year.

“It is chilling to think that offering a person the choice between electrocution and firing squad is somehow humane,” Vaillancourt Murphy said.

South Carolina currently has 37 men on death row. If the measure becomes law, it will be the 4th state — joining Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah — to use the firing squad in executions. The state has also used electrocution, or the electric chair, but not as its primary means of execution. Returning to this practice, it would join Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee that also use this method.

The state’s lawmakers were debating about how to carry out the death penalty at a time when overall approval for capital punishment is waning.

South Carolina is one of 24 states where the death penalty remains law. In the past 16 years, 11 states have rescinded capital punishment and state governors in California, Oregon and Pennsylvania have imposed death penalty moratoriums.

Vaillancourt Murphy said that “despite the regrettable passage of this bill,” she and other anti-death penalty advocates were grateful to “the many South Carolina Catholics who spoke out against the expansion of execution methods in the state.”

“On the whole, the momentum is in the direction of death penalty abolition. I pray that South Carolina will quickly redirect and follow suit,” she said.

(source: The Catholic Sun)

GEORGIA:

Prosecutor plans to seek death penalty in spa shootings

A man accused of killing 8 people, 6 of them women of Asian descent, in shootings at 3 Atlanta-area massage businesses was indicted Tuesday on murder charges, and a prosecutor filed notice that she’ll also seek hate crime charges and the death penalty.

A Fulton County grand jury indicted Robert Aaron Long, 22, in the March 16 slayings of Suncha Kim, 69; Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; and Yong Ae Yue, 63. The indictment only covers those 4 killings that happened at 2 spas in Atlanta, and not the attack in Cherokee County in which Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Delaina Yaun, 33; and Paul Michels, 54, were killed.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis also filed notice that she intends to seek hate crime charges and the death penalty against Long, who is white. The hate crime charges are based on actual or perceived race, national origin, sex and gender, according to online records. Georgia's new hate crimes law does not provide for a stand-alone hate crime. After a person is convicted of an underlying crime, a jury must determine whether it's a hate crime, which carries an additional penalty.

The indictment charges Long with 4 counts of murder, 4 counts of felony murder, 5 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, 4 counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and 1 count of domestic terrorism, according to online records.

It will be up to a separate grand jury in Cherokee County to decide on charges in the shooting at a spa near suburban Woodstock in which four were killed and one person was wounded.

Willis' decision to seek the death penalty is a departure from her stance during her campaign to be district attorney last year.

During a candidate forum last year, Willis answered yes when asked: “Will you commit to refuse to seek the death penalty?”

Police have said Long shot and killed 4 people, 3 of them women and 2 of Asian descent, at Youngs Asian Massage near Woodstock just before 5 p.m. on March 16. He also shot and wounded a 5th person, investigators said.

He then drove about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south to Atlanta, where he shot and killed 3 women at Gold Spa before going across the the street to Aromatherapy Spa and fatally shooting another woman, police have said. All of the Atlanta victims were women of Asian descent.

After the shootings at the 2 Atlanta spas, Long got back into his car and headed south on the interstate, police said.

Long’s parents called authorities to help after recognizing their son in still images from security video that the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office posted on social media. They provided cellphone information that allowed authorities to track their son to rural Crisp County, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) south of Atlanta.

State troopers and sheriff’s deputies spotted his SUV on Interstate 75, and one of them forced Long to spin to a stop by bumping his vehicle. Long then surrendered to authorities.

In an initial interview with investigators, Long claimed to have a "sex addiction," and authorities said he apparently lashed out at businesses he viewed as a temptation. But those statements spurred outrage and widespread skepticism given the locations and that 6 of the 8 victims were women of Asian descent.

(source: Associated Press)

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

Ex-investigator cleared of giving contraband to death-penalty defendant

Charges have been dismissed against a former state investigator who was accused of passing illegal contraband to a death-penalty defendant accused of killing 2 prison guards.

“I’m obviously very happy I don’t have those charges over my head anymore,” said Lily Engleman, who once worked for the state capital defender’s office. “The idea I had brought in contraband was so absurd.”

Engleman, a mitigation specialist, was arrested in November 2019 and charged with giving defendant Ricky Dubose 2 small, unspecified items during a visit. Investigators later said Dubose hid the items in his sock. At the time, he was being held at the special management unit at the state prison in Jackson.

Both Dubose and co-defendant Donnie Russell Rowe are accused of killing 2 corrections officers in June 2017 during an escape from a prison bus. State prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against both men.

After her initial arrest, Engleman was suspended with pay from the Georgia Public Defender Council and later reinstated. But when Butts County prosecutors obtained a felony indictment against her in October, the defender council terminated her.

Defense attorney Don Samuel, who represented Engleman free of charge, said prison officials largely relied on a security video of Engleman’s visit with Dubose. An investigator said it showed Engleman passing something to Dubose, Samuel said.

“You look at the video and you see that’s just a lie,” the defense attorney said. “She’s looking under the table, staring at Dubose’s feet. You don’t see her passing him anything.”

Engleman said she was merely looking at some of Dubose’s many tattoos, Samuel said. He added, “The district attorney did the right thing, but I think it took too long.”

On May 6, a Butts County judge approved a motion prepared by Assistant District Attorney Mark Daniel in which the state agreed to no longer prosecute Engleman. The motion noted that Samuel had met with prosecutors and given them an explanation as to what could be seen on the video. Because of that, the state foresees it would be unable to convict Engleman of any crime, Daniel wrote.

On Monday, Engleman filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the two Department of Corrections investigators who arrested her and the warden of the prison where Dubose is being held.

The lawsuit noted that investigators waited until this past November, a year after Engleman’s arrest, to turn over the prison video to Engleman and Samuel so they could finally see for themselves if it showed Engleman committing a felony.

“Of course, it showed no such thing,” said the lawsuit, filed by Decatur attorney Mark Begnaud.

The suit also noted that after Engleman’s Sept. 6, 2019, meeting with Dubose, Dubose was strip-searched by guards, who found no contraband on him.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages against the investigators for allegedly making false statements in their affidavit, arresting Engleman without probable cause, and malicious prosecution. It also seeks damages against the investigators and the warden on grounds they illegally recorded the privileged and confidential meeting between Engleman and Dubose.

The state Department of Corrections has no comment, said spokeswoman Joan Heath, noting the agency does not discuss ongoing litigation.

Engleman, 32, got her criminal justice degree from Georgia College and her master’s in social work at Georgia State University. She said she was drawn to helping those inside the prison system and decided to apply for a job at the capital defender’s office when she learned social workers can be mitigation specialists.

A key component of her job was getting to know defendants being represented by her office and to learn everything she could about their backgrounds. This meant interviewing family members and delving into their backgrounds.

“I learn everything about their lives, and often many have suffered from a traumatic past,” she said. “So I need to build trust, build a rapport with them, have a natural, easygoing back and forth with them.”

Since being fired by the defender council, Engleman lost her social worker’s license and has been unable to find a job similar to what she was doing for the state. “It’s been so frustrating,” she said, noting that she currently works at a hot wings restaurant.

“I absolutely loved my job,” Engleman said. “I can’t overstate how much I loved it there. It was very much a central part of my identity. This whole experience has been awful.”

(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

OHIO:

Hamilton County woman could get death penalty if convicted of killing 4-year-old daughter

Tianna Robinson, a Springfield Township mother accused of abusing and killing her 4-year-old daughter, could receive the death penalty if convicted.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters announced Monday that Robinson had been indicted on charges of aggravated murder, murder, felonious assault and endangering children in connection to her daughter’s death on April 21, 2021. She could be sentenced to death if a jury finds her guilty of aggravated murder.

“This child was enduring, really enduring, tremendous torture at the hands of her mother,” Deters said.

It was April 13 when Springfield Township police arrived at a residence where Robinson was with her boyfriend, Rensley Washington III, and her daughter. She called 911 to report the child passed out.

“This is like her 3rd time doing it now,” Robinson told the dispatcher. “So, I’m not sure. She came back every time, but this time she’s not.”

Court documents said Robinson later admitted to punching and strangling the girl until she could no longer breathe, and doctors at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital observed signs of “prolonged physical abuse” when Nahla was admitted.

Deters said he believes the couple left the toddler alone at the home while they went to the grocery store. When they returned, she had a bathroom accident.

“She was not toilet trained, had urinated,” said Deters. “The mother snaps, attacks Nahla, hits her, strangles her.”

Deters said doctors documented a broken arm, internal bleeding and bruising as well as a burn on her hand from that incident. He said doctors noted months of prior abuse and malnutrition.

She died April 21. Deters said she weighed 23 pounds, 1/2 of what a healthy 4-year-old weighs.

The Hamilton County Coroner’s Office ruled her death a homicide caused by strangulation and blunt force trauma.

Robinson was initially charged with attempted murder, felonious assault and child endangering. Monday’s indictment drops the attempted murder charge and adds 3 for murder.

Tianna Robinson’s daughter, Nahla Miller, was hospitalized on April 13 and died April 21. Investigators were initially told that she had been injured while riding a scooter.

“I have never understood how anyone could hurt a little kid so badly, especially the child’s own mother,” Deters said. “Violence like this goes against every instinct we are born with as humans and as parents.”

The boyfriend, Washington, faces charges of obstruction and child endangerment. Deters said he could face more.

Nahla’s father, Nathaniel, has set up a GoFundMe to assist with funeral and other expenses.

(source: Dayton Daily News)

ARKANSAS:

Executing Justice

What if I killed a man, everyone knew it, but no one cared?

We all did. And we can’t even be bothered to confront it.

Last week, DNA evidence tested FOUR years after the execution of a Black man in Arkansas suggests the state killed an innocent man. And that news hardly ripples in the headlines.

In April 2017, Arkansas, on behalf of its citizens and in the name of justice, killed Ledell Lee for the 1993 murder of Debra Reese. Recent testing of DNA found on the club used to kill Reese showed it belonged to an unknown male (meaning it did not belong to Lee).

And it gets worse.

One of Lee’s lawyers showed up in court intoxicated. The judge presiding over the case was having a secret affair with the assistant prosecutor trying the case, and the state refused requests by the defense to test the DNA evidence before the execution. Fingerprints from the scene that don’t match Lee still haven’t been run by Arkansas into its database.

Throughout his trial, incarceration, and right up until his execution, Lee maintained his innocence.

Amid a flurry of last-minute appeals over the legality of the drugs Arkansas planned to use on Lee for the state’s 1st execution in over a decade, the U.S. Supreme Court gave its stamp of approval on a 5-4 vote. The 5th vote to kill Lee was the very 1st vote by new Justice Neil Gorsuch — appointed to the high court as a supposedly “pro-life” judge after Senate Republicans refused to even consider a nominee by President Barack Obama.

A likely-innocent Black man not given a fair trial? We have a word for such a system of “justice.” Lynching.

That shouldn’t surprise us since the capital punishment system in the U.S. has been compared in studies to lynchings. Not only do we see racial biases in executions today, but the maps of where lynchings occurred and where the modern death penalty is practiced overlap quite closely. Our system of capital punishment is a successor to the decades of racial terror.

And like so many lynchings that occurred decades ago in our communities, we seem to want to pretend that the 2017 one in Arkansas didn’t happen.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Southern Baptist, shrugged at the revelation from the DNA test as he attempted to defend himself. In his telling, he had no choice but to “carry out the decision of the jury” made “based upon the information that they had.”

Just following orders. (That excuse misses the fact he could’ve prevented the execution like he did for another condemned man.)

Of course, Hutchinson sounded a different note 4 years ago, as his spokesman said after the killing of Lee: “The governor knows the right thing was done tonight. Justice was carried out.”

But Hutchinson can’t claim he didn’t know better. He was warned.

Back in 2017, the governor planned a killing spree with executions of 8 men in 11 days (they only got around to 4, with 1 of the executions prevented due to DNA evidence). On Good Friday that year, the New Millennium Church in Little Rock held a vigil outside the Governor’s Mansion. During the ceremony, Pastor Wendell Griffen was strapped to a cot to reenact the crucifixion as if Jesus was killed by state-ordered lethal injection.

The move quickly sparked political controversy since Griffen, as a circuit court judge, had earlier that day issued an injunction to block Arkansas from using its drugs for the executions. His ruling was overturned, the state’s Supreme Court barred him from hearing capital penalty cases, and state lawmakers unsuccessfully sought to remove him from the bench. Griffen insisted he made that decision as a judge based on the law, and complained that politicians and judges were discriminating against him because of his religious beliefs practiced as a Baptist minister outside the courtroom.

“Our congregation had planned for some time to have a prayer vigil for Good Friday in front of the Governor’s Mansion because Jesus was crucified, or was condemned to death, by the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate,” Griffen told me at the time. “And we thought it would be solidarity with Jesus to have our prayer vigil in front of the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion.”

And while he explained that his religious beliefs didn’t impact the ruling that was based on Arkansas property law, he explained in that 2017 interview why he as a pastor found the death penalty morally problematic.

“It makes no moral sense to condemn the cold-blooded killing of another person and to say that it is somehow morally justified to demonstrate that condemnation by cold-bloodedly killing the cold-blooded killer,” Griffen explained. “This is the only situation in our law where we basically legitimate bloodlust and designate state agents to act in the name of bloodlust and call that justice.”

“We have another name for it in morality; it’s called vengeance. And according to scripture, vengeance does not belong to any of us. Only God has the right to enact vengeance,” he added. “And I think as followers of Jesus, we do ourselves and the religion of Jesus an extreme disservice when we gloss over these very serious theological problems.”

I’m thinking of that moment. That Good Friday just before the state killing spree in Arkansas.

Did the governor look out his window and see a fellow Baptist warning against calling murder an act of “justice”? Did the White governor see that Black preacher strapped to a cot and think of Jesus hanging on the cross? Did the governor notice his own reflection in the window and see the face of Pilate?

Apparently not. He marched ahead with the executions, starting with Lee. And rather than allowing the new DNA evidence to convict his conscience, he now shrugs at truth like that Roman governor from 2,000 years ago.

And we the people join the mob of the ages in caring not about the lynching of yet another innocent man.

(source: COmmentary; Brian Kaylor is president & editor-in-chief of Word&Way)

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

Forensic Testing Casts New Doubt on Guilt of Ledell Lee, Executed in Arkansas in 2017

Posthumous forensic testing of evidence in the case of Ledell Lee (pictured), who was executed in Arkansas in 2017, has found DNA from an unidentified male on a bloody club used to kill Debra Reese 29 years ago and on a blood-soaked shirt that was wrapped around the weapon. The DNA results, released by the Innocence Project and the ACLU on April 30, 2021, raise additional troubling questions about Lee’s conviction.

Lee, who consistently maintained his innocence of the crime, was executed on April 20, 2017. He was 1 of 4 men put to death in a span of 8 days as Arkansas rushed to conduct executions before its lethal-injection drugs expired. The state scheduled 8 executions over an 11-day period, jamming the courts with execution-related litigation and impairing judicial review of the cases.

At the time of Lee’s 1995 trial, DNA testing techniques were unable to determine whether evidence from the scene implicated him. As technology improved, Lee sought new testing, including in a filing immediately before his execution. Another Arkansas man, Stacey Johnson, who was scheduled for execution the same night as Lee, was granted a stay on a nearly identical request for DNA testing.

After Lee was executed, his family, with the help of the ACLU and the Innocence Project, filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking DNA testing of evidence from the case. Though prosecutors had opposed the request before Lee’s death, the City of Jacksonville, Arkansas now had custody of the evidence, and the city council unanimously granted the request. Jacksonville Mayor Bob Johnson said, “I look at it this way. If a gentleman was put to death and shouldn’t have been, that means there’s a murderer loose somewhere in Jacksonville or Arkansas or [the U.S.] and they need to be brought to justice.” He called the council’s decision “the right move.”

The tests found that the DNA on the murder weapon and bloody shirt did not belong to Lee, but it did not produce any matches in nationwide DNA databases. None of the fingerprints from the crime scene match Lee, but they also did not turn up any matches in a national database. Hairs from the scene were also tested. 5 could not have come from Lee, and the 6th contained a mitochondrial DNA profile that did not exclude Lee, but according to the Innocence Project, “may be shared by thousands of individuals in a given population.” Results from trace amounts of DNA from one of Lee’s shoes were inconclusive, but did not exclude the victim, Debra Reese, as a potential contributor to the mixture. However, the tested area was negative for blood. Because the murderer was in close contact with the victim, a pathologist has attested that it would have been impossible for the killer to have little to no blood on the clothing and shoes he wore. All tests of Lee’s clothing to date have been negative for blood from the victim.

“While the results obtained 29 years after the evidence was collected proved to be incomplete and partial, it is notable that there are now new DNA profiles that were not available during the trial and post-conviction proceedings in Mr. Lee’s case,” Nina Morrison, Innocence Project senior litigation counsel, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that one or more of these forensic law enforcement databases will generate additional information in the future.” Lee’s sister, Patricia Young, said, “We are glad there is new evidence in the national DNA database and remain hopeful that there will be further information uncovered in the future.”

Numerous death-row prisoners have been denied potentially exculpatory DNA testing. Tennessee executed Sedley Alley in 2006 after refusing him access to evidence for DNA tests. His daughter is now seeking posthumous DNA testing and the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals heard argument on her request in February 2021. As of 2018, Florida courts had refused 70 requests for DNA testing from death-row prisoners. Georgia denied testing to 3 prisoners scheduled for execution in 2019 and 2020. 2 were executed, while the 3rd was granted clemency on separate grounds.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

OKLAHOMA:

Alleged serial killer faces death penalty trial in Oklahoma

Jury selection continued Tuesday in the death penalty trial of an alleged serial killer accused of kidnapping and killing an Oklahoma woman more than 20 years ago.

William Lewis Reece, 61, faces charges of 1st-degree murder and kidnapping in the 1997 killing of 19-year-old Tiffany Johnston, who was abducted from a car wash in Bethany, Oklahoma. Her body was found the next day in Canadian County.

The Oklahoman newspaper reported that District Judge Susan Stallings had potential jurors questioned one at a time, and away from others, about their opinions on the death penalty. Jury selection began Monday.

A Texas Ranger testified during a preliminary hearing in 2017 that Reece acknowledged killing "the Oklahoma girl" during an interview in March 2016. He's also suspected of killing a woman and 2 girls in Texas in 1997.

Johnston, 20-year-old Kelli Cox, 17-year-old Jessica Cain and 12-year-old Laura Smither all disappeared over a 4-month period in 1997, after Reece had been released from an Oklahoma prison for previous rape and kidnapping convictions.

(source: Associated Press)

IDAHO----impending execution

Idaho death row inmate asks state for clemency----Suffering from terminal cancer, Pizzuto asks state to let him die naturally

An Idaho death row inmate with terminal cancer and heart disease is asking the state to let him die naturally rather than kill him by lethal injection next month.

Gerald Ross Pizzuto Jr. is scheduled for execution June 2 for the 1985 beating deaths of Berta Herndon, 58, and her nephew, Del Herndon, 37, at a remote Idaho County cabin. His attorneys announced Tuesday that they filed a clemency petition on his behalf to the Idaho Pardons & Parole Commission.

Pizzuto has terminal bladder cancer, diabetes and heart disease and is confined to a wheelchair. He’s been on hospice care since 2019, when doctors said he likely wouldn’t survive for another year.

Throughout his childhood, Pizzuto was tortured, raped and severely beaten by his stepfather and sometimes by his stepfather’s friends, according to his clemency petition. His stepfather beat Pizzuto with a whip, cattle prod, horse crop and even a 2 by 4 piece of lumber, and sometimes Pizzuto and his siblings would be forced to sleep in a dog house and eat dog food. He sustained repeated brain injuries and had trouble communicating, keeping himself clean and relating to other kids, his attorneys said.

“Mr. Pizzuto never had a chance in life. He was tortured in unimaginable ways throughout his childhood,” his attorneys in the capital habeas unit of the Federal Defender Services of Idaho wrote in the clemency petition. “Merciless beatings and savage rapes battered and scarred that little boy.”

The 65-year-old has spent 34 years in an isolated cell on death row, his attorneys noted.

“The ravages of terminal cancer and heart disease punish him more every day, binding him to a wheelchair, a prisoner of his own failing body,” the attorneys wrote. “While it is too late to save that little boy, it is not too late to show Jerry Pizzuto mercy.”

Pizzuto is 1 of 8 people on Idaho’s death row.

Prosecutors said Pizzuto, armed with a .22 caliber rifle, tied the victims’ wrists behind their backs and bound their legs to steal their money. He bludgeoned them both and shot Del Herndon.

Idaho has executed 3 people since capital punishment was resumed nationwide in 1976.

Keith Eugene Wells was executed in 1994, Paul Ezra Rhodes was executed in 2011 and Richard Albert Leavitt was executed in 2012.

(source: The Lewiston Tribune)

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

Federal Defender of Idaho files clemency petition for death row inmate Gerald Pizzuto

The Capital Habeas Unit at the Federal Defender Office of Idaho announced in a press release on Tuesday it has filed a clemency petition on behalf of Gerald Pizzuto.

The State recently signed a death warrant for Pizzuto, 1 of 8 people on Idaho's death row.

He was sent there in 1986 after being convicted of killing 58-year-old Berta Herndon and her nephew Del Herndon, 37, at a remote Idaho County cabin where they were prospecting.

"We are asking the Idaho Pardons & Parole Commissioners to give close review to Mr. Pizzuto’s petition, and to grant a hearing as soon as possible to give him a chance to present all the evidence that shows why it makes more sense to commute his sentence and allow him to leave this world naturally," the release explains.

Commissioners will meet in an executive session on May 18 to review the petition. Pizzuto is scheduled to be executed on June 2.

"He is not expected to live much longer and could die any day now," the release explains. "He has been in hospice care for more than a year battling a broad range of diseases, including late-stage bladder cancer and chronic heart disease that has caused repeated heart attacks and coronary blockages."

The state of Idaho hasn't executed an inmate since 2012.

The release continues:

"Granting clemency to Mr. Pizzuto, age 65, would be a show of mercy for a dying old man."

"Mercy for a boy whose life was stolen from him by a sadistic stepfather who bound, raped and sodomized him, and beat him until he was black and blue if he dared cry from the pain. Mercy for a prisoner who has spent the past 35 years, more than half his life, isolated in a tiny cell on death row."

"Mr. Pizzuto was born into a terrifying world of child abuse not of his making. He is now a prisoner of his own broken-down, disease-riddled body. He poses no threat to anyone. Executing him would be a needless race against his imminent death from terminal illness, as well as a waste of time, resources, and taxpayer money."

(source: CBS News)

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

Scheduled Executions

Gerald Ross Pizzuto, Jr., is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, at the Idaho Maximum Security Prison in Kuna, Idaho. 65-year-old Gerald is convicted of beating to death 58-year-old Berta Herndon and her nephew, 37-year-old Del Dean Herndon, at a mountain cabin near McCall, Idaho. Gerald has been on death row for the last 35 years.

Gerald had a sad childhood, as he was frequently beaten, allegedly leaving him brain damaged. Gerald also allegedly had a violent personality, according to his ex-wife. During their marriage, he was physically and verbally abusive, including pushing her down the stairs while she was pregnant and killing their pets. Gerald was also addicted to drugs and had health issues relating to his prolonged and excessive drug use.

On July 25, 1985, Gerald Pizzuto was camping with friends at a campsite in Ruby Meadows, near McCall, Idaho. Pizzuto approached Berta Herndon, and her nephew Del Dean Herdon with a rifle and forced them into their cabin, where Pizzuto tied them up. Pizzuto robbed them and left, returning later to beat them both over the head with a hammer. He eventually shot Del because Del did not die quickly from the hammer blows. Pizzuto later joked and bragged about the murders to those with whom he was camping. The group helped Pizzuto bury the bodies and took some of the stolen money.

Nearly 1 year later, in May 1986, Pizzuto was convicted and sentenced to death for the double murder and robbery. Those who helped bury the bodies were given prison terms.

Pizzuto is currently in poor health and battling various health problems, including a variety of heart and lung diseases.

Please pray for peace for the families of Berta adn Del Dean Herdon. Pray for strength for the family of Gerald Pizzuto. Please pray that if Gerald is innocent, lacks the competency to be executed, or should not be executed for any other reason, that evidence will be presented prior to his execution. Pray that Gerald may come to find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, if he has not already.

(source: theforgivenessfoundation.org)

NEVADA:

Democratic leaders mum on bill to ban death penalty as deadline looms at the Legislature----State senators have three days to act on the measure ahead of Friday cutoff for sending bills to the floor

After weeks of delays and finger-pointing, proponents are starting to get very nervous about long-awaited legislation to abolish the death penalty in Nevada.

Backers of Assembly Bill 395, which would convert all existing death sentences into life sentences without parole, last month celebrated a rare legislative victory that put them closer than they’ve ever been to repealing the Silver State’s capital punishment law.

But AB 395 is yet to be considered in the Senate, where its fate will depend on a pair of legislators employed by one of the state’s most prominent death penalty proponents.

State Sens. Nicole Cannizzaro and Melanie Scheible, both Democrats from Las Vegas, work as criminal prosecutors under Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson — who not only supports capital punishment, but is actively seeking an execution date for a man convicted of walking into a Las Vegas supermarket and killing 4 people in 1999.

Neither Cannizzaro, the state Senate Majority Leader, nor Scheible, who chairs the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, have committed to giving the bill a hearing.

Both have hinted the measure would have a better chance of meeting Friday’s crucial bill passage deadline if it were amended to address concerns raised by Gov. Steve Sisolak.

Sisolak, a practicing Catholic, has expressed reservations about doing away with the death penalty, and Democratic allies in the statehouse don’t appear in any hurry to make him put his signature where his mouth is.

The 1st-term governor said at an April press conference that he opposes the death penalty in most circumstances, but added that some "incredibly severe" situations may warrant capital punishment.

Referencing the October 1, 2017 mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Music festival in Las Vegas, Sisolak said he "has a hard time with the idea of a complete abolishment of the death penalty."

State Senator Melanie Scheible on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021.

Scheible, a once outspoken opponent of the death penalty, declined to give specifics on ongoing talks to amend the measure.

“We’re still working on it,” she added in a brief Tuesday interview with the Reno Gazette Journal. “We’re reviewing the bill, talking with the sponsor. … We are trying to find a path forward.”

Cannizzaro had similarly little to say on the subject.

“We’re having ongoing conversations,” she told a reporter. “We’ll see where they go.”

Cannizzaro and her colleagues have three days to make up their mind about the death penalty ahead of a Friday deadline to move bills out of both chambers of the Legislature. Democrats currently enjoy a 3-seat majority in the state Senate.

AB 395 passed the Assembly last month on a strict party-line vote, with all 16 Republicans opposed.

Advocates have made at least 4 failed attempts to repeal capital punishment. The most recent effort, carried by ex-Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo in 2019, died without receiving a hearing.

Nevada has imposed 189 death sentences since the penalty was reinstated in 1976. More than half of those were reversed on appeal. Only 12 executions were actually carried out.

Legislators are scheduled to wrap up the state’s hectic, 120-day lawmaking session on May 31.

(source: James DeHaven is the politics reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal)

CALIFORNIA:

Caitlyn Jenner wants to bring the death penalty back to California

Caitlyn Jenner has revealed that she is “in favour” of reintroducing the death penalty in California.

The death penalty is a legal punishment in the state of California, but executions have been halted since 2006 under a federal court order. Governor Gavin Newsom imposed an official moratorium on executions in 2019.

Caitlyn Jenner is currently battling to become the next governor of California in the state’s upcoming recall election, and she weighed in on a host of issues in an interview with CNN.

Speaking to Dana Bash on Monday (10 May), the reality television star and former Olympian said: “I am in favour of the death penalty.”

Jenner also revealed that she didn’t bother to vote in the November 2020 presidential election, choosing to play a round of golf instead.

“Out here in California, it’s like, why vote for a Republican president? It’s just not going to work,” Jenner said.

Jenner said she “couldn’t get excited” about the presidential election because she knew the state wouldn’t elect Trump.

Caitlyn Jenner thinks people should vote for her because she’s ‘cute and adorable’

When asked why people should be excited to vote for her in the recall election, Caitlyn Jenner said: “Cause I’m cute and adorable”.

Elsewhere in the interview, Jenner said she thinks she would be a good governor because she has “a great ability to listen” and she “loves ideas”.

“I’ve been on the Republican side just because of conservative economic principles, lower taxes, less regulations, the list goes on. But also on the other side, I’ve been much more like the Democrats,” Jenner said.

“I realise that there are social issues that are out there, that people need help, and government can play a role in that.

“But you can’t have one without the other, you can’t have social programmes… if you don’t have an economy. So I feel like the first thing you gotta do is we gotta stop the exit of California,” she said, claiming that people are leaving the state because of high taxes.

Caitlyn Jenner said she has been meeting with “budget people” to discuss financial policies she would implement if elected, but she declined to name who those people are as she doesn’t “want to expose anybody”.

The reality television star also dodged questions about Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud in the 2020 election, which led to the Capitol riots in January.

Bash said she was asking Jenner about Trump’s claims because “you are a Republican.”

“I’m kind of on the Republican side,” Jenner said. “We label everybody. I don’t like labels. I’m me, OK? Just because I have conservative economic philosophy – that’s the only thing that the Republicans are kind of on that I’m on… I don’t know. Maybe you call me a libertarian. Maybe you call me in the middle. I really don’t know because when it comes to social issues, I’m much more progressive, much more liberal. So I’m kind of a middle of the road.”

(source: pinknews.co.uk)

USA:

When it comes to executions, U.S. is no moral compass----Peering inside the grisly world of executions: DiManno, May 7

Thank you, Rosie DiManno, for reminding us that the United States of America is the only country in the western world that continues to sanction executions alongside such upstanding models as China, North Korea and Saudi Arabia to name a few.

More importantly, your article points out the incredible disparity between the races that are “murdered” through this practice.

According to the numbers you presented, it seems many more whites face the death penalty, but a closer look tells us that Black people are executed at double the rate of whites.

It intrigues me that the United States has the audacity to continue to see itself as the moral compass for democracy in the world when it engages in this barbaric practice with such an obvious racist basis.

Matthew Marosszeky, Aurora, Ont.

(source: Letter to the Editor, The Toronto Star)

SINGAPORE:

Singapore clarifies on Pofma, death penalty at UN review of its human rights record

The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) and death penalty were among the key issues raised during the review of Singapore's human rights record on Wednesday (May 12).

At the 38th session of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group Meeting in Geneva, 141 United Nations members signed up for Singapore's packed segment leaving each member with only 45 seconds to speak.

Most of them made live video statements, while a few also submitted written questions and recommendations in advance.

Responding to questions on Pofma from Belgium, Canada, Sweden, the United States and other members, deputy director at the Law Ministry's international legal division Seraphina Fong said freedom of expression and assembly are fundamental liberties guaranteed under the Singapore Constitution, in line with international standards.

"Societies have to find the right balance between individual freedom and liberty on the one hand, and the interests of society on the other," she said, pointing out that falsehoods can misinform citizens and polarise society, which is especially detrimental to a compact and highly diverse society like Singapore.

Ms Fong made 3 clarifications on Pofma.

First, it relies primarily on correction directions, which allow the authorities to attach "health warnings" to falsehoods that draw the readers' attention to the facts.

"The directions do not require removal of the statement, and are not sanctions. The public may compare both accounts and make up their own minds," she said. "In this way, the democratic process is aided, because the antidote to falsehoods is more speech, more information."

She added that this approach should also be compared with how Twitter affixes labels to tweets with misinformation.

Alerting readers and giving links to other information may also help readers come to their own conclusions.

Second, Pofma applies only to false statements of fact that affect public interest. It does not apply to opinions, and cannot be used just because the Government disagrees with a statement, she said.

Third, the Act provides for checks and balances, as a Pofma direction may be challenged in court.

Ms Fong said: "The courts will be the final arbiter of whether there is a false statement of fact."

Responding to questions from Albania, Austria, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile and others on the death penalty, senior director at Ministry of Home Affairs' policy development division Lin Qinghui said Singapore's approach towards law and order is underpinned by adherence to the rule of law, a robust criminal justice system with tough laws and enforcement, and effective rehabilitation of former offenders.

The death penalty is an important component of Singapore's criminal justice system, he said. "It is applied only after due process of law and with judicial safeguards. In our experience, it has been an effective deterrent against the most serious crimes such as murder and drug trafficking."

This deterrent effect has also been observed in other serious offences, he added.

Firearm offences, for example, declined immediately by 39 % when the death penalty took effect in 1974.

Kidnapping fell sharply from an average of 29 cases per year between 1958 and 1960, to just 1 case in 1961 when the death penalty was introduced for this offence.

"Both offences are now rare in Singapore," said Mr Lin.

(source: The Straits Times)

NORTH KOREA:

KIM JONG UN HAD CONDUCTOR EXECUTED BY FIRING SQUAD FOLLOWING CELEBRATION, SOUTH KOREAN PAPER SAYS

A recent report from a South Korean newspaper said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered the execution of a choir conductor, who was allegedly shot 90 times in front of members of the public. The report also said members of the choir were forced to march past the dead body.

The stunning account comes from journalist Joo Seong-ha, who writes for the Dong-A Ilbo daily paper. The story was originally published on 29 April but has been shared online more widely since then. There is currently no independent corroboration of the story.

Joo wrote that the story began on 16 February, which is Kim's birthday. North Korea celebrates that date as the Day of the Shining Star, and Kim and his wife appeared at the Mansudae Arts Theater in Pyongyang for a night of performances to mark the holiday.

Joo wrote that one of the shows performed that night was called "Shadow Magic," which featured actors doing magic tricks behind screens as if they were literally shadows. Afterward, Kim reportedly praised the production, but a conductor remarked to someone nearby that he didn't think the show was all that good. Later that night, Joo wrote, the conductor was arrested.

According to Joo, an order was issued 2 days later for all artists in Pyongyang to gather. The reporter wrote that on 20 February people gathered at an execution site, where they saw the conductor of the choir tied up.

As translated from Korean, Joo wrote: "The conductor of the choir...died horribly in front of his men.... The execution was carried out by 3 AK-47 automatic riflemen and shooting one magazine (30 rounds) each from a distance of 10m. It is said that the body, which was hit by 90 shots, became so full that it could not be lifted."

Joo wrote that the man was the conductor from the ceremony and that his name was heard to be Hyun-woo Cho.

Joo also wrote that he tried to verify the name online, but the only conductor with a similar sounding name he could find was one named Hyun-ho Ryu, who is with the National Contribution Choir.

When he wrote the article, Joo was still not sure if the executed person was named Hyun-ho Ryu, Hyun-woo Cho or something else, "but it is certain that the conductor was publicly executed anyway."

North Korean defector Yeonmi Park shared details about the story on her YouTube channel. Yeonmi is a popular activist, though some of her personal accounts from her childhood in North Korea have been criticized for containing inconsistencies. (She's blamed these instances on translation mistakes.) Nonetheless, her video discussing the incident has received more than a million views.

Newsweek emailed the official website of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), as well as Dong-A Ilbo, for comment but did not hear back before publication.

(source: handsoffcain.info)

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES:

Rape Laws in The United Arab Emirates

In the United Arab Emirates, there exists a different kind of punishments for crimes including capital punishments for the most heinous of crimes such as rape. Sexual assaults are heavily punished in Dubai and can often include death sentence, especially in instances of sexual assault of minors.

The penal code of the UAE is promulgated under UAE Federal Law number 3 of 1987 and its amendments (the “UAE Penal Code”) which sets of the legal provisions that determine actions recognized as crimes under the penal code and also sets out the penalties incurred for such crimes. Article 354 of the UAE penal code defines ‘Rape’ as, ‘Without prejudice to the provisions of the Law on juvenile delinquents and displaced, death penalty shall be imposed on whoever used coercion in having sexual intercourse with a female or sodomy with a male. Coercion shall be considered committed if the victim is below fourteen years of age when the crime is perpetrated, or if the crime is committed against a person whose will is not recognized due to young age, insanity or dementia’. Further, Article 355 states that ‘Attempt to perpetrate the crimes stipulated in the preceding article shall be sanctioned to life imprisonment. And article 356 states, ‘Without prejudice to the 2 preceding articles, temporary imprisonment shall be imposed on whoever commits sexual molestation against a person by coercion, threat or ruse’.

As discussed earlier, capital punishment exists in the UAE for grave crimes such as rape especially, in instances of crimes against minors and pursuant to Article 357 of the UAE penal code death penalty is sentenced if the crime results in the death of the victim. Article 357 of the UAE penal code states, ‘Should death of the victim result from one of the crimes provided for in the preceding articles, the penalty shall be the death sentence’.

In terms of rape crimes in the UAE burden of proof is often to be showcased by the witnesses. Further, false allegations of rape or sexual assault are punishable in the United Arab Emirates. As stated in Article 276 of the UAE penal code, ‘Shall be subject to a jail sentence and/or to a fine, whoever falsely and with bad faith makes a false report to the judicial or administrative authorities that a person committed something which deserves a criminal penalty or an administrative sanction even if it did not entail filing a criminal or disciplinary action, as well as whoever fabricated false material evidence that a person has perpetrated a crime, or caused taking legal measures against a person knowing that he is innocent. The penalty shall be a jail sentence and fine should the fake crime be a felony. In case the false accusation result in inflicting a felony penalty, the slanderer shall be sanctioned to the same adjudged penalty.’

The crime rate in the UAE is comparatively lower when compared to most countries worldwide. This includes sexual crimes. The crime rate in the UAE for rape and sexual assaults is as low as 1.5 per every 100,000 women. When you compare this statistic to that of the USA, the crime rate for rape is 27 per 100,000 women in the USA. Stringent law enforcement in the UAE accounts for the lower statistics of sexual crimes in the country and also ensures that steps are taken to reduce the crime rate further with the aim to achieve the lowest level of crime rate in the world in the coming years. It is also realized that much stigma exists in instances of sexual crimes that often due to pressures from family members such crime also goes unreported. The police department, public prosecutors and judges are partnering on best practices to ensure better enforcement and sensitive handling of such cases. Women in the police force are secured special training in handling rape crimes and also to ensure support to women who are victims of such crimes.

Prior to the amendments introduced by federal decree no. 15 of 2020 introduced on 27th September 2020 to the UAE penal code, voluntary sexual intercourse between consenting adults outside marriage was considered a crime. Using the said language, victims of sexual assaults could be charged for illicit sex and for violating this Law. Now, with the recent changes, voluntary sexual intercourse is no longer punishable in the UAE if both parties are adults and provided that the consent has not been obtained through coercion. The UAE has been continuously working to create a more secure environment that protects and strengthens women’s rights in the emirates, and these recent amendments reflect such progressive steps.

(source: Hassan Elhais, lexology.com)

MAY 11, 2021:

TEXAS----impending execution

‘I’m nothing like that person’: Texas death row inmate makes video plea for clemency----Quintin Jones, who is scheduled to be executed 19 May, appealed to the governor in a video published in the New York Times

Texas plans to carry out 5 executions including that of Quintin Jones, out of a nationwide total of 7.

The death row prisoner stares into the camera from behind bullet-proof glass, and with a pained expression delivers a message to the Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott.

“I know you don’t know me,” Quintin Jones begins. “I’m writing this letter to ask you if you could find it in your heart to grant me clemency, so I don’t get executed on 19 May. I got 2 weeks to live, starting today.”

The plea from a condemned Black man to one of America’s staunchest advocates of capital punishment must rank as among the more unusual last-minute attempts by an inmate to save their own life. It is made in the form of a 4-minute video published in the opinion section of the New York Times, filmed from death row in Livingston, Texas.

As appeals for mercy go, this one is a long shot. In his 6 years in office, Abbott has only granted clemency once: to a white inmate, Thomas Whitaker.

The Republican-controlled state is gearing itself up as the pandemic lifts for a spree of judicial killings of the sort that have earned it the reputation of being the death penalty capital of the US.

Over the course of the year it plans to carry out 5 executions including that of Jones, out of a nationwide total of 7.

Despite the odds, Jones makes a spirited case for sparing his life. He talks about how he grew up “in the hood as a Black male” and was taught “to be tough and hard, macho. So yeah I had a messed-up childhood. Yeah, I had drug addiction, alcohol addiction. Yeah I hated myself.”

He was arrested in 1999 for beating his great-aunt Berthena Bryant, 83, to death and stealing $30 to pay for drugs. He was alleged to have been involved in 2 other murders – for which he has never been charged.

Jones tells the Texas governor he is not the person he was at 20 when he killed his great-aunt, a crime he has admitted.

“I’m nothing like that person,” he says. “I became a man on death row, so now you killing the man, and not the child.”

The prisoner promises that if Abbott shows mercy, he will spend the rest of his natural life in prison bettering himself and others around him.

“The mistakes I made – it’s mistakes, and it’s not something definitely solid about who I am. I wouldn’t be one of those that, you know, in 10, 20 years, you say ‘I regret letting him live.’”

Jones beat his great-aunt to death with a baseball bat she kept for her own protection. His other great-aunt, Bryant’s younger sister Mattie Long, has forgiven him.

Long has also written to Abbott, supporting Jones’s bid for clemency.

“Quintin can’t bring [my sister] back,” she said. “I can’t bring her back. I am writing this to ask you to please spare Quintin’s life.”

(source: The Guardian)

PENNSYLVANIA:

2 decades after being sentenced to death, Richard Baumhammers remains in prison

20 years ago this month, a jury in Western Pennsylvania had an important question to answer: should Richard Baumhammers be put to death for what he did?

“Sentencing someone to death, that’s not an easy decision,” said Ron Frew on a recent rainy day in May. Frew, 67, lives in the same Monroeville home he did when he was called to serve as jury foreman for the Baumhammers trial.

On April 28, 2000, Baumhammers went on a killing rampage, starting with his neighbor in Mt. Lebanon and ending in Beaver County. His attack left five people dead and one paralyzed. The injured man, Sandeep Patel, died nearly 7 years later, in 2007, at the age of 32.

As jury foreman, Frew handed down the death penalty on May 11, 2001, in Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning’s courtroom.

Baumhammers, who was 34 at the time of the murders, is 55 and remains on death row.

Baumhammers killed his neighbor, who was Jewish, and attacked 2 synagogues. He went on to target people at an Indian grocer, a Chinese restaurant and a karate center; his victims were Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Black.

Frew remembers a lot about the case, and disturbs him to this day, he said.

He remembers being one of the 60-person pool for jury selection, which started on a Wednesday and finished after five days. He remembers the monotony of being sequestered for 23 days in the Omni William Penn Hotel. He remembers the long days in court — the 13 days of argument, the piles of evidence, the emotions. He remembers what he felt as he delivered the guilty verdict.

When he stood up to read each charge and the “guilty” verdict, Frew was anxious, he said. After all that time, he was “on edge.”

“I didn’t want to make any mistakes,” he said about reading each charge. But then Frew remembers calming down.

“His knees were shaking,” Frew said of Baumhammers, who also stood not too far away from him in the silent courtroom. “When I saw that he was also nervous, it calmed me right down. I felt much better. Seeing him like that enabled me to calm down and get through the whole thing without any more anxiety.”

Two days later, after a few hours of deliberating, the jury reached its unanimous decision: death by lethal injection.

“I and the jury felt it was appropriate in this case,” Frew said. After delivering the weighty decision, Frew said he felt an overwhelming sense of relief. It was over.

“But I certainly don’t want to say I’m proud of it,” he said. “We sentenced someone to death. That’s not something to boast about.”

Frew describes himself as a God-fearing man who believes there are certain things humans are put on Earth to do in order to fulfill a bigger plan. His time on the jury for the Baumhammers case was one of those things.

But 20 years later, he is still disturbed. It isn’t over.

Frew said the fact that Baumhammers is still alive, along with another 114 inmates on death row in Pennsylvania, reveals a flawed justice system.

“The only way a punishment is to serve as a deterrent is if it’s carried out,” he said. “Punishments should be worse than the crime. That’s the way you keep people from doing things.”

There have been no executions in Pennsylvania since 1999, and only 3 since 1976.

Gov. Tom Wolf placed a moratorium on Pennsylvania’s death penalty in 2015. According to the American Bar Association, the moratorium will last “at least until he receives recommendations from the bipartisan Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment,” which is investigating the state’s death penalty process.

Barry Kramer, police chief of Center Township in Beaver County, has been waiting 6 years for a response to a letter he wrote Wolf arguing for the reversal of the state’s moratorium on the death penalty.

“We believe that we must clearly demonstrate to society that murder is an intolerable crime that will be appropriately punished,” Kramer wrote the governor in 2015. He re-sent a similar letter in 2016, he said, and still awaits a response.

Elizabeth Rementer, the governor’s deputy press secretary, said a person’s road to justice doesn’t end once on death row.

“Mr. Baumhammers’ actions were horrific, and the governor thanks the members of the jury for their careful deliberation and verdict in this case,” she said in an email.

“In fact, it can extend a long time and take many detours. Mr. Baumhammers’ case is an example of this, as his case is still going through the appellate process after 2 decades. Governor Wolf issues temporary reprieves if a warrant reaches his desk without further appeals, and we are not yet at that point in this case,” Rementer said.

Since being sentenced to death by lethal injection, Baumhammers has appealed the five murder charges to the state’s highest court. In his appeals, he claimed his lawyers were ineffective during his trial for the slayings, where he argued insanity and claimed he hallucinated during the 2-hour spree.

All of Baumhammers’ appeals have been denied. However, court records show Baumhammers continues to dispute the legal basis for confinement through habeas corpus proceedings. He is imprisoned at SCI Phoenix, which holds all of the state’s 115 men on death row.

Rementer said the governor’s action on capital punishment “is not out of sympathy for the convicted.”

Instead, she said Wolf wants an examination of “the drawn out and flawed capital punishment system.”

“The governor expresses his sincerest condolences to the victims’ loved ones, as that tragic loss is still very real even two decades later. Their pain is unfathomable. Thankfully, this murderer was caught, tried and convicted and the public is safer with him behind bars. The justice system is not perfect, but it is keeping dangerous individuals like Mr. Baumhammers away from the public,” Rementer said.

Kramer says that’s not good enough.

“I just don’t understand (Wolf’s) rationale,” Kramer said.

The police chief said he is frustrated that Baumhammers, whom he described as undoubtedly guilty, continues to prevent closure for him, the victims’ families and the jury.

“Being a jury member is a civic duty – and it’s an important duty. It’s an important job, and they did it. But the governor won’t accept it,” Kramer said.

Knowing what he knows now about the death penalty in Pennsylvania, Frew said the jury might have just sentenced him to life in prison, where he would have spent more of his time among general population and “probably would have been killed there.”

“We sentenced him to die, not serve his time in prison,” Frew said.

(source: triblive.com)

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

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued rulings in three death penalty cases, directing a resistant trial court to honor a federal court grant of habeas corpus relief in one case and denying post-conviction relief in two others.

In Commonwealth v. Melvin Speight, the court vacated a Philadelphia trial court’s order that had reimposed a death sentence on Speight instead of enforcing a federal district court that had vacated the death penalty and remanded the case to impose a life sentence. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the trial court’s authority to act was limited to resentencing Speight to life.

In Commonwealth v. George Lopez, the court ruled that a capital defendant’s successor petition for post-conviction relief claiming that the prosecution had not disclosed the full extent of a deal with its key witness was untimely. Lopez claimed that the prosecution’s lead witness had materially misled the jury about the nature of his deal for favorable treatment by the state, telling the jury he would be sentenced to life when he actually was sentenced to 20-40 years in prison. The court held that the factual basis for Lopez’s claim could have been discovered earlier and that his petition was filed outside the time period set forth in the statute of limitations.

In Commonwealth v. Kenneth Hairston, the court affirmed the trial court’s denial of post-conviction relief, including a broad challenge to the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s death penalty. The court also denied Hairston’s claim that his trial and appellate counsel had been ineffective for failing to object to a verdict slip that included a non-statutory aggravating factor of sexual abuse when Pennsylvania law prohibited the consideration of non-statutory aggravating evidence. The court ruled that although the verdict slip listed sexual abuse as the aggravating circumstance, the jury had actually found the statutory aggravating circumstance that Hairston had a significant history of felony convictions involving the use or threat of violence.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

On My Mind: What The Death Penalty Does To The Living

I wonder how many of the South Carolina legislators who voted to add the firing squad to the death-penalty options in the state have ever actually witnessed an execution.

I have.

It was back in 2005. The prisoner was a man named Elias Syriani, and his case was as close to open and shut as you can get. In 1990, after his wife filed for divorce, he blocked her car with his van one day and stabbed her 28 times with a screwdriver. Their 10-year-old son was in the car. Teresa Syriani died after 26 days on life support. After his trial, Elias Syriani got the death penalty.

I wrote about him near the end because of his 4 children. They had disowned him after he killed their mother. But as it got nearer to his execution date, they decided to visit him in prison. They forgave him. They did not want him to die. They mustered a final appeal to save him. But Mike Easley, the governor at the time, would not stop the execution.

So, on a cold November morning, in those hours between midnight and dawn, the state of North Carolina set out to kill Elias Syriani. I was one of the witnesses. His children did not come, but 2 of his friends did, as well as the detectives who worked the case. We waited in a small room with a single window that looked into the room next door. After a while, they wheeled Syriani into that room on a gurney.

The South Carolina legislators added the firing squad to their death-penalty options because they’re having a hard time getting the drugs for lethal injections. So now they can use a firing squad or the electric chair, although their preference is still lethal injection. It sounds strange to use that word. Preference.

Elias Syriani was hooked up to an IV. At 2 a.m. that morning, 3 unseen executioners plunged their syringes into IV tubes. The contents of 1 syringe went into an empty bag. The other 2 went into Syriani’s arm. They did it that way so none of the executioners would know for sure that they had killed him.

I wonder if it mattered.

The strongest point that opponents of the death penalty make is that there’s no way to fix it if we get it wrong. They’re correct about that. We’ve seen too many people released after 30 or 40 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. We know that the justice system sometimes gets it wrong. The death penalty is the one uncorrectable mistake.

But even a case like Syriani’s, where the state executed the right man, doesn’t take into account what happens to the living. The family members who had forgiven. The executioners who will never know if they killed someone. And the witnesses, at least one of whom still thinks a lot about that dark night at Central Prison.

If the state of South Carolina wants to make it easier to kill people, fine. I’d just add 1 requirement: that every legislator who voted for the firing squad has to watch every execution.

Maybe then some of them would learn that when the state kills someone, no matter how we do it, a lot of other people die a little death.

(source: Tommy Tomlinson, WFAE news)

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

The firing squad is being added to the electric chair and lethal injection as execution methods in South Carolina----Those on death row will have to choose between those two former methods if lethal injection drugs aren’t available.

South Carolina hasn’t executed anyone in a decade and has been unable to do so in recent years after its supply of lethal injection drugs expired, and it has been unable to procure more. This has prompted the state to open the possibility of bringing back the firing squad.

Approved by the Republican-controlled House and Senate and awaiting to be signed by a Republican governor, who has indicated support, South Carolina is going to execute their 37 death row inmates with electric-powered chairs or teams of gunmen, The Associated Press reported.

When South Carolina does reinstate these capital punishments, it will be the 4th state to allow a firing squad and one of nine in the country to have the electric chair be among its choices for executions, Black Enterprise reported.

Prisoners will still be given the option for lethal injection, but if the drugs aren’t available, they will have to choose between a firing squad and the electric chair. Currently, death row inmates in South Carolina can choose between lethal injection and the electric chair — but since no lethal injection drugs have been available all have chosen that method.

The last person to be killed on death row in the state was Jeffrey Brian Motts. He was serving a life sentence for killing two elderly people during a Spartanburg County robbery in 1995, but wound up getting the death sentence for killing a fellow cellmate at a state prison in Greenville County in 2005.

Motts died on May 5, 2011, at age 35, by lethal injection.

Ebony reported that there are 3 death row inmates filing lawsuits against the new death penalty method because they have run out of attempted appeals.

“3 living, breathing human beings with a heartbeat [are who] this bill is aimed at killing,” Democratic Rep. Justin Bamberg said. “If you push the green button at the end of the day and vote to pass this bill out of this body, you may as well be throwing the switch yourself.”

“Those families of victims to these capital crimes are unable to get any closure because we are caught in this limbo stage where every potential appeal has been exhausted and the legally imposed sentences cannot be carried out,” said Republican Rep. Weston Newton, who is in favor of the firing squads.

(source: thehill.com) **************************

Death by firing squad in South Carolina is the wrong answer to the wrong question

The South Carolina House of Representatives voted this week by a margin of 66 to 43 to add a firing squad to the state’s execution methods. If death by lethal injection is not available because of a shortage of the necessary drugs, the law requires a condemned inmate to choose between being shot or electrocuted. If South Carolina’s governor signs the bill, as he is expected to, the state will join Oklahoma, Mississippi and Utah in utilizing death by firing squad as a form of execution.

South Carolina last executed a death row inmate a decade ago. The bill, supporters say, is designed to “speed up” executions and gives victims’ families “a sense of closure.”

The idea of a state government convening a firing squad probably makes many people cringe, as it conjures up images of military executions. The idea of “requiring” someone to choose death by electrocution versus a firing squad because the state is running short of drugs for lethal injection almost certainly makes other people think that the whole discussion is so bizarre as to strain credulity.

In order to get good answers, you have to pose good questions. The essence of the problem in the South Carolina legislature is that they think the most important question is “How can executions be sped up?” rather than asking the question, “Should the state be executing anyone?”

Let’s look at some facts. About 13 % of the U.S. population is Black. About 41 % of the people on death row in the U.S. are Black. Studies have repeatedly shown that the chance of a Black person being condemned to death by the judicial system is far higher than for a White person. The chance of a Black person being condemned for the death of a White person is vastly higher than that of a White person who is convicted of killing a Black person. The death penalty is, obviously, irreversible, yet an average of 3.9 death row inmates are exonerated and released from prison each year in the U.S. The long shadow of racial prejudice continues to fall across the discussion of the death penalty in the U.S. During the Civil War, there were 11 states in the Confederacy. 10 of the 11 (91 %) maintain the death penalty. There were 21 states on the Union side. 5 (21 %) still have the death penalty; the other 16 have either outlawed it or placed a moratorium on its use. If, however, you remove the 3 states in the union (Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland) that were slave states in 1860 from the calculation, then only three of the remaining 18 states (17 %) have the death penalty. When you compare free states (17 percent) versus Confederate slave states (91 %) with the death penalty and Black people on death row at a rate over three times higher than their percentage in the population, it sure seems like there’s a pattern, doesn’t it?

As it concerns lethal injections, physicians have an obligation to care for their patients, not an obligation to serve the interests of the state. They have no business aiding and abetting the execution of people. Pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors have rightly begun to recoil from selling their products to individuals who intend to use them for human executions. That’s why there is a shortage of drugs for executions — people who make and prescribe drugs for the purpose of saving lives don’t want them used to end lives.

John C. Calhoun (1782-1850), U.S. senator from South Carolina and U.S. vice president, devoted his career to defending institutional racism and chattel slavery and destroying the union. He said, “There is no instance of any civilized colored race of any shade being found equal to the establishment and maintenance of free government.”

The judicial system cannot bring back to life those killed by criminals. Some measure of closure may be rendered to the survivors of the victims of crime by imprisoning the criminals and requiring them to make restitution. The death penalty is disappearing from most of the civilized world, because it is not a deterrent to crime, and it is applied unfairly. It is the sad and unenviable legacy of John C. Calhoun and South Carolina to continue the state’s assault upon human life by defending a death penalty that falls disproportionately on people of color and by adding firing squads to its tools for execution.

(source: Opinion; Edward C. Halperin, M.D. M.A., teaches history of medicine at New York Medical College, where he is also chancellor and chief executive officer. This essay represents his views and not those of the College----thehill.com)

GEORGIA:

Man faces death penalty in South Ga. toddler murder case ---- Indictment in the case handed down by Dougherty County grand jury

The death penalty will be sought for a man charged in what the Albany Police Department called a “heinous crime of child abuse” that eventually led to the death of a 3-year-old girl.

Gregory Parker will face the possibility of the death penalty in connection to the May 2019 death of Janiyah Brooks.

Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards said this is an “appropriate case” to seek the death penalty against Parker.

Crystal Brooks was charged in connection to the death of Janiyah Brooks, her daughter.

Janiyah Brooks died from her injuries on May 18, 2019.

“I believe it’s an issue the jury should make a decision about,” Edwards said of the decision to seek the death penalty. “We believe there’s evidence beyond reasonable doubt that he will be convicted.”

Parker was indicted by a Dougherty County grand jury on May 5. Crystal Brooks, Janiyah’s mother, was also indicted.

Parker was indicted on felony murder, rape, aggravated sexual battery, aggravated child molestation, 2 counts of aggravated battery, battery, cruelty to children, making a false statement and aggravating circumstances charges.

The aggravating circumstances charge stems from Janiyah’s “skull, brain, and lungs (being rendered) useless during a physical and sexual assault,” according to the indictment. The indictment also states Parker was “outrageously and wantonly vile, horrible, inhumane” and did “physically abuse a three-year-old child,” including sexual abuse.

Crystal Brooks was indicted on cruelty to children, aggravated battery, battery and making a false statement.

The indictment states that Janiyah was severely beaten with different objects and that several parts of her body, including her shoulders and hands, were disfigured.

May 18 will mark 2 years since Janiyah died from her injuries after she was taken off a ventilator at an Atlanta hospital.

(source: WALB news)

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Federal Court Reverses Death Sentence Imposed on Defendant Represented By Georgia Lawyer With History of Ineffectiveness and Racial Bias

A federal appeals court has reversed the death sentence of an African-American Georgia death-row prisoner who was represented at trial by a defense lawyer notorious for his history of substandard representation and racial bias in death-penalty cases.

On April 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the ruling of a federal district court and overturned the death sentence imposed on Willie James Pye (pictured). In a unanimous but unpublished opinion, the appeals court held that Pye’s court-appointed lawyer, Johnny B. Mostiler, provided ineffective representation in the penalty phase of his capital trial, unreasonably failing to investigate and present a broad range of available mitigating evidence and neglecting to obtain and review court records that rebutted the prosecution’s argument that Pye would pose a future danger in prison if the jury sentenced him to life. The appeals court ordered a new sentencing trial for Pye.

Billing records indicated that Mostiler, the only lawyer available for all indigent defendants in Spalding County, Georgia, spent only 150 hours on Pye’s representation, including jury selection and the trial itself. While representing Pye, he was also representing four other capital clients, along with thousands of people charged with felonies and misdemeanors, and private civil clients. Four Spalding County capital defendants sentenced to death during the period in which Mostiler was the sole appointed counsel have already been executed.

The appeals court found that Mostiler unreasonably failed to investigate Pye’s traumatic upbringing, which involved “near-constant physical and emotional abuse, extreme parental neglect, endangerment, and abject poverty.” Mostiler and the investigator who worked with him also did not investigate Pye’s possible intellectual disability. His billing records indicated that he spent fewer than 5 hours preparing Pye’s case for life, almost all of it on the day of the penalty phase and the day before. The court wrote, “[t]he evidence trial counsel failed to investigate and present ‘adds up to a mitigation case that bears no relation to the few naked pleas for mercy actually put before the jury.’”

Pye’s is at least the fourth case in which Mostiler has been the subject of allegations of ineffective representation and/or racial bias against Black clients. Jurors in the case of Kenneth Fults, an intellectually disabled Black defendant executed by Georgia on April 12, 2016, submitted affidavits that Mostiler slept through portions of the trial. Mostiler failed in Fluts’ case to investigate and present to the jury evidence that Fults was intellectually disabled and “functions in the lowest 1 percent of the population.” The U.S Supreme Court recently declined to hear the case of Frederick Whatley, another client of Mostiler’s. In that case, Mostiler failed to object to Whatley being shackled during the penalty phase or to the prosecution having Whatley reenact the murder in front of the jury. In the case of Curtis Osborne, Mostiler reportedly told a white client that “[t]he little n***r deserves the death penalty” and later repeated “that little n***r deserves the chair.”

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

FLORIDA:

Shelby Nealy incompetent to stand trial, lawyer says----A judge on Monday appointed a doctor to evaluate Nealy, who stands accused of killing his ex-wife and 3 of her family members.

A judge on Monday appointed a doctor to evaluate whether Shelby Nealy, who faces the death penalty in the slayings of his wife and 3 of her family members, is competent to stand trial.

Nealy, 27, is unable to help his lawyers with his defense, has “irrational trial strategies” and distrusts his attorneys, according to court documents.

Since he was booked into the Pinellas County jail in February 2019, Nealy had lived mostly in isolation for his own protection and was being treated for a mental health condition.

Recently, one of his attorneys, Pinellas-Pasco Assistant Public Defender Allison Miller, became aware of his deteriorating mental state, Miller wrote in court documents. He was placed in psychiatric isolation and had to be persuaded to take his psychotropic medication.

During a court hearing Monday, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone appointed a doctor to evaluate Nealy’s mental state. Should he be deemed incompetent to stand trial, Nealy will be sent to a state mental hospital until his competency is restored.

Nealy will go to trial twice, once for the killing of his ex-wife Jamie Ivancic and again for the slaying of her parents and brother almost a year later. One trial, in the killing of his ex-wife, is set for August in Pasco County. The other is scheduled for October in Pinellas County. Those trial dates will likely be pushed back if the expert and judge determine Nealy is incompetent to stand trial.

Nealy is accused of killing his ex-wife in January 2018 and burying her in the backyard of the Port Richey home they once shared, according to police. He then posed as her for almost a year in text messages to her family.

As the woman’s family grew suspicious of her whereabouts, Nealy drove in December 2019 to their Tarpon Springs home and bludgeoned the family with a hammer. Their bodies were found New Year’s Day 2019.

Nealy appeared in court Monday morning with a shaved head and wearing orange scrubs. He didn’t speak during the few minutes he was in the courtroom.

(source: Tampa Bay Times)

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The Florida Supreme Court issued 2 decisions denying relief in capital cases.

In Randall Deviney v. State, the court denied Deviney’s direct appeal from the death sentence imposed in 2017 in Deviney’s capital resentencing trial. The trial judge had initially sentenced Deviney to death in 2008 under Florida’s unconstitutional judicial factfinding procedures, imposing the death penalty after four of the jurors in the case had voted for a life sentence.

The main issue in Deviney’s appeal involved the trial court’s unconstitutional refusal to excuse a juror whose views “indicat[ed] an unyielding predisposition to vote for death in any case of premeditated murder,” forcing Deviney’s lawyer to exercise one of his discretionary strikes to remove the juror. Four of the seven justices acknowledged that existing Florida case precedent would have required the court to overturn Deviney’s death sentence. However, only one justice — Justice Jorge Labarga — voted to apply the law to Deviney’s case and grant a new sentencing hearing. The other three justices — in an opinion by Justice Alan Lawson, joined by Chief Justice Charles T. Canady and Justice Jamie R. Grosshans — acknowledged the trial court’s constitutional violation, but said they would recede from Florida Supreme Court precedent that required the death sentence be overturned for forcing Deviney to exercise a peremptory challenge against the juror.

In the second case, the court upheld the trial court’s dismissal of the portion of David Martin’s post-conviction petition that challenged his conviction. The court denied Martin’s claim that his right to an impartial jury had been violated when a juror was empaneled who had failed to disclose that he had a juvenile adjudication of delinquency for sexual battery; a DUI conviction; and that his grandmother had murdered his grandfather. The court upheld Martin’s conviction, ruling that he had not proven that the juror was biased.

Prosecutors did not appeal the portion of the trial court’s order that had overturned Martin’s death sentence, which the trial court had imposed after a non-unanimous jury sentencing vote.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

LOUISIANA:

Louisiana Supreme Court hears capital appeal of Angola 5 member David Brown

David Brown could hardly deny a role in a botched 1999 prison escape that left a guard beaten to death inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary.

The blood of Capt. David Knapps had soaked into Brown’s pants and long johns. It dripped across his shoes and caked around his fingers.

The Angola 5 member admitted he’d dragged Knapps, bleeding from a mallet strike to the head, from a prison hallway and into a small bathroom where he was beaten to death at age 41.

But Brown’s attorneys have long argued that he wasn’t around for the killing and wasn’t privy to a change in plans – from an escape where nobody got hurt to the murder of a prison guard.

On Monday, the Louisiana Supreme Court debated if a jury would have wavered over Brown’s guilt on a charge of first-degree murder, or the death sentence he received after a 2011 trial, had they known of a statement withheld by prosecutors that seemed to support his defense.

Brown’s case reached the state’s highest court on automatic appeal almost a decade after a jury in West Feliciana Parish found him guilty, then agreed on death in under an hour.

Jefferson Parish prosecutors were getting ready to try another Angola 5 member, Barry Edge, months later when they revealed a statement from another inmate, Richard Domingue, who claimed that Edge confessed that he and inmate Jeffrey Clark had hatched a plan together to kill Knapps.

"He said him and Jeffrey did, were the only ones that were thinking rationally during this highly charged situation. And they made a decision to help their self to kill (Knapps),” Domingue said. “But they could have let him live.”

A jury convicted Edge of first-degree murder, though jurors could not agree on a death sentence, leaving him serving life in prison. Brown's attorney, William Sothern, argued on Monday that prosecutors hid Domingue's statement until it helped them.

“Had the jury had this statement, everything in the case would have been viewed in a different light,” Sothern said. “This is the only piece of evidence in the case where someone says, ‘I did it.’”

Sothern argued that the scenario was “even worse” than in Brady v. Maryland, the 1963 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court established that prosecutors must turn over all evidence favorable to a defendant.

Juliet Clark, a prosecutor with the Jefferson Parish District Attorney's Office, which tried Brown, downplayed the importance of Domingue’s statement, however. She said Edge never admitted killing Knapps directly, and that Brown revealed a murderous intent of his own.

“Nothing that Barry Edge says can diminish the evidence that is literally on David Brown’s body. He is literally red-handed with Capt. Knapps’ blood,” she said.

The same issue came to the court years ago, after Jerome Winsberg, the ad hoc trial judge, ordered a new penalty phase for Brown. An appeals court panel reversed that decision in a 2-1 vote. The Louisiana Supreme Court declined to reconsider it in a 4-3 vote. None of the four justices in that majority are involved this time around.

Chief Justice John Weimer and new Justice Jay McCallum delved into details of Knapp's killing as they questioned the claim that a jury would consider Brown less culpable.

“I thought the defendant said in his statement he dragged the captain into the bathroom?” Weimer asked.

“Indeed he did. And we don’t dispute that point,” Sothern responded.

“And (Knapp) was already bleeding at that time because he had already been attacked in the hallway,” Weimer added.

“That’s definitely true.”

But Justice Piper Griffin questioned why prosecutors, led by roving death-penalty specialist Hugo Holland, didn’t reveal Domingue’s statement until after the trial.

Weimer and other justices also questioned a handwritten immunity deal that legendary former Angola prison warden Burl Cain reached with Brown as a hostage situation unfolded in the prison. Brown, who was serving a life prison sentence for murder at the time, then admitted he held down Knapps while the guard was being hit.

“There was no reason for David Brown to believe that he was going to benefit from that,” Clark said of the deal with Cain. “He knew that Capt. Knapps was dead and they were about to find out.”

(source: New Orleans Times-Picayune)

OHIO----female to face death penalty

Deters: Mother of slain 4-year-old Nahla Miller faces death penalty

The mother accused of beating 4-year-old Nahla Miller, who died after 9 days on life support, has been charged with murder and will face the death penalty, prosecutors announced Monday.

Nahla spent n9 days on life support before dying from her injuries. Prosecutors had previously charged Robinson in Nahla's beating but added charges regarding her death.

"I don't think folks understand the torture, the pain and the senselessness of what happened here," Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said.

When Nahla died, she was only 23 lbs and severely malnourished, Deters said.

Robinson faces the death penalty if convicted. She was arrested on April 13 and accused of strangling and striking Nahla.

Police reported Robinson admitted that she "punched the 4-year-old juvenile victim multiple times before strangling her (until) she stopped breathing."

During the press conference, Deters said that Robinson and her boyfriend Rensley Washington, 25, left Nahla at home alone while they went shopping at Kroger.

Upon returning, Nahla had urinated on herself, because she was not toilet-trained and her mother snapped, according to Deters.

Deters said had the following injuries: a broken left arm, bruising to the lower lungs, adrenal glands, diaphragm, liver, stomach, colon, pancreas and mouth. Bleeding in the muscles in the throat, bleeding in the back of the head, a significant burn to the back of her right hand.

There was evidence on Nahla of long-term abuse, Deters said. She was scarred head to toe, he said. In addition to scarring, she had a history of strangulation marks including ligature marks on her neck and she had a healing broken rib, a lacerated hymen and vaginal bleeding.

The Hamilton County Coroner's Office ruled Nahla's death a homicide. The cause of death was determined to be strangulation and blunt force trauma, resulting in significant internal injuries.

"It seems like we have these babies murdered at a frightening level right now," Deters said. "These kids are being treated like garbage or a pet you hate."

He said Job and Family Services social workers were blocked from coming into Nahla and Robinson's home to check on the child.

The investigation is ongoing, Deters said. He did not announce any further charges against Washington.

Robinson is now charged with 1 count of aggravated murder with a death penalty specification, 2 counts of murder, 1 count of felonious assault and 1 count of endangering children.

Robinson is being held at the Hamilton County Justice Center on a $1 million bond. Washington is also being held on a $40,000 bond.

(source: cincinnati.com)

ARKANSAS:

Rush of Arkansas executions that included Ledell Lee's comes under renewed scrutiny----"This case with Lee is just the latest, most vivid and maybe most tragic example of what happens when you rush to execute," one death penalty expert said.

In 2017, the state of Arkansas announced a frenzied pace of executions — planning 8 in 11 days — beginning with Ledell Lee, who insisted until his death by lethal injection that "I am an innocent man" in the 1993 murder of his neighbor.

The scheduled back-to-back executions brought the national debate over capital punishment to Arkansas, which had not executed anyone in more than a decade, and revived an outcry over the use of a sedative known as midazolam, which had been tied to a botched execution in Oklahoma in 2014.

The unprecedented rush to execute so many death row inmates was necessary, the state said, because its supply of midazolam was set to expire that month.

But 4 years later, Lee's case and the circumstances that led to his execution face new scrutiny after lawyers working on behalf of his family said last week that DNA testing of the murder weapon showed another man's genetic material.

The resurfacing of doubts about Lee's guilt should be a warning to officials who may try to hurry executions, particularly under controversial conditions, and it highlights the shifting public opinion toward capital punishment — even as states begin putting people to death after a lull, criminal justice experts, activists and death penalty researchers say.

"This case with Lee is just the latest, most vivid and maybe most tragic example of what happens when you rush to execute," Austin Sarat, a professor of jurisprudence and political science at Amherst College in Massachusetts, said Monday.

In Lee's case, the handle of a bloodied wooden club and a white shirt wrapped around the weapon had never been tested before, lawyers with the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union told The Washington Post. While the testing could not conclusively rule out Lee, the genetic profile is being run through a national criminal database in the hope that a match can be confirmed, the lawyers said.

The potential failures and flaws in the criminal justice system during trials and sentencing and in the execution process itself are a "perfect storm" that is only compounded by underlying racial factors and a "rush to execute because a drug is going to expire," said Sarat, the author of "Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America's Death Penalty."

Research shows that for about every eight people executed in the U.S., 1 person on death row has been exonerated and released, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the nonpartisan Death Penalty Information Center.

"I think it is unquestionable that people who are innocent have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated back in the 1970s," he said.

Damien Echols, an ex-death row inmate in Arkansas, said he shared a prison cell next to Lee for 2 years. Echols was one of the West Memphis Three — 3 teenagers convicted in the murders of 3 young boys in 1993, a case that drew national attention after the teens fought to clear their names. Echols was released in 2011 because of new DNA evidence.

He said Lee never stopped proclaiming his innocence in the death of Debra Reese and was hopeful that he would avoid the death chamber.

"He really did believe that, somehow, some way, this information was going to come out before it got to this point," Echols said Sunday on MSNBC.

"I believe the state would have murdered me and swept it under the rug, and it would have been business as usual," he added.

Since 1973, more than 1,500 people on death row have been executed, while at least 185 people awaiting execution have been exonerated and freed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Attorneys for Lee's family say a "wealth of new evidence supporting his claim of innocence" has been discovered since his execution, and that they wanted to conduct testing on hairs from the bedroom, scrapings from Reese's fingernails and on fingerprints from the scene. They maintain that such evidence should have been presented in the courts while he appealed but that he "couldn't afford a quality defense."

Reese, 26, was found strangled and beaten to death in her home in Jacksonville, a suburb of Little Rock. A neighbor testified that he saw Lee enter and leave Reese's home the day she was killed, and another neighbor said Lee once came to him asking for tools, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Prosecutors suggested that Lee was seeking out women who were home alone, and authorities said human blood was found in Lee's sneakers.

The 1st trial ended in a hung jury after the jurors heard from alibi witnesses who said Lee could not have committed the crime, according to the Innocence Project. But no alibi witnesses were called in his second trial.

When asked last week about the latest DNA developments in Lee's case, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who took office in 2015, said the initial case and the appeals had been reviewed by the courts at "every level."

"It is my duty to carry out the law," he said in a statement Monday to NBC News. "The recently discovered evidence is inconclusive and regretfully leads to speculation."

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said the evidence "demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that he murdered Debra Reese by beating her to death inside her home with a tire thumper."

"After 20 years, I am prayerful that Debra's family has had closure following his lawful execution in 2017," Rutledge said in a statement last week.

In further comments Monday, she stood by the state's handling of the execution cases, which included numerous lawsuits and legal proceedings.

"The courts consistently upheld the inmates' convictions, death sentences and Arkansas' method of execution," Rutledge said. "It is our hope and prayer that justice was achieved for the citizens of Arkansas and certainly for the families and loved ones of the victims in these cases."

But Dunham said Arkansas' reasoning to push ahead with the executions because its midazolam supply was set to expire "was an artificially compressed time frame." At the time, medical suppliers said they would no longer give states the drug to use in executions, setting up a legal battle between the state and those facing execution.

4 of the 8 death row inmates scheduled to die in April 2017 were executed. The state Supreme Court stayed the executions of 3 others, and Hutchinson commuted the sentence of the 8th person to life in prison.

Dunham said that local lawyers were overwhelmed handling all of the execution cases and that Lee's defense in a case that deserved more scrutiny suffered.

"When you have those artificially rushed executions, the first casualty is truth," Dunham said.

He said the spree of federal executions that began last summer during the Trump administration raised similar questions about the use of the death penalty in a short period.

The Justice Department, citing the need for justice for victims of crimes, ramped up executions after a 17-year hiatus on the federal level. The federal government put 13 people to death — despite objections that holding executions was an unnecessary risk during a pandemic. It conducted the last one just 5 days before President Joe Biden was inaugurated.

Biden campaigned on passing legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level. A 2019 Gallup poll found that for the 1st time, most Americans agreed that life in prison with no parole is a better punishment than the death penalty.

On the state level, executions have been delayed during the pandemic. Texas, which conducted the last one in July, plans to resume executions on May 19, and it has 4 others scheduled this year.

Dunham said other states, "emboldened by what the Trump administration did," appear ready to hold executions. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, notified the state Supreme Court that he will seek execution warrants in 2 cases, which would be the 1st executions in the state since 2014. He has said he wants to "ensure" that the 21 people on Arizona's death row whose appeals have been exhausted are executed before his term ends in 2023.

"There are crimes that are so terrible, so heinous that we as a society, only by carrying out executions, demonstrate how serious we think those crimes really are," he told local media.

Meanwhile, prosecutors in Las Vegas plan to put a convicted killer to death by lethal injection this summer in what would be Nevada's 1st execution since 2006.

This month, the South Carolina House voted to add death by firing squad to the state's execution methods because of a lack of lethal injection drugs, The Associated Press reported. Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, has said he would sign the bill. The last execution in the state was in 2011, and a lack of lethal injection drugs and an increase in plea deals have driven down the state's death row population.

Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen of Pulaski County, Arkansas, where Lee and Reese lived, blamed the pace of executions on a "concerted effort for bloodlust" by elected officials, who he says are looking to score political points with crime-concerned voters.

Griffen, who plans to retire next year, has been outspoken about his objection to the death penalty, and the state Supreme Court prohibited him in 2017 from handling execution cases after he blocked Arkansas from using a lethal injection drug on the same day he attended an anti-death penalty rally. Republican legislators accused him of judicial misconduct.

If Lee's case could show anything, Griffen said, it is that the effort to bring closure and justice to victims is not compatible with a system that can put the wrong person to death without consequences.

"There's nothing just about a system that allows that possibility of error, and you can't create closure by killing somebody who factually may not have been responsible for murder," Griffen said. "Ledell Lee was crying out for the evidence to be tested, and that didn't happen before he was killed."

(source: NBC News)

MISSOURI:

In the 1st Missouri death penalty trial since the pandemic, a St. Louis City jury has voted to sentence Eric Lawson to life on all counts. The high-profile case involving the murders of Lawson’s girlfriend, her mother, and his 10-month-old son was prosecuted by the state attorney general’s office instead of the St. Louis City Circuit Attorney because a former prosecutor in the Circuit Attorney’s Office had previously represented Lawson while on the staff of the public defender’s office.

The case was scheduled to go to trial in 2019 but was delayed when the trial court was unable to find enough jurors willing to impose the death penalty. It was then further delayed as a result of the pandemic. Rather than proceed non-capitally, the attorney general’s office insisted on empaneling a death-qualified jury to hear the case.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

OKLAHOMA:

Jury Selection Underway For Suspected Serial Killer

Proceedings against a suspected serial killer began inside the Oklahoma County courthouse Monday.

William Reece is on trial accused of kidnapping and murder. Monday's proceedings focused solely on jury selection.

According to prosecutors, the defendant killed 19-year-old Tiffany Johnston almost 25 years ago.

Reports show in 1997 the 19-year-old went missing from a carwash in Bethany, only to be found raped and strangled near Yukon.

Johnston's death is just one in a slew of killings spanning Oklahoma to Texas Reece has either been implicated in or admitted to over the last quarter century.

Detectives believed Reece's killing spree began after he was released 8 years in to an almost 30-year rape sentence in Oklahoma.

According to prosecutors, his 1st victim was 12-year-old Laura Smither from Texas in April of 1997. Reece was initially suspected, but police didn't have enough evidence to prove Reece murdered her, so they had to let him go.

The next month, Reece then kidnapped Sandra Sapaugh at knife point outside Houston. She escaped and eventually led police to Reece. Months later Reece would be convicted of the offense, but not before allegedly killing 3 more women.

Kelli Cox went missing in mid-July of 1997 after touring the Denton County Jail in Texas. Less than 2 weeks later, Johnston disappeared. The following month, Jessica Cain vanished.

While serving his kidnapping sentence in Texas, investigators linked Reece to Tiffany Johnston's murder using DNA evidence in 2015.

Reece then used the deaths and disappearances of Cox, Cain, and Smither as a bargaining chip in 2016 to avoid the death penalty in Oklahoma.

He admitted to killing Smither, then took police to where he disposed of Cain and Cox's bodies.

Oklahoma prosecutors said they are still seeking capital punishment for Johnston's death.

Jury selections are expected to last the rest of the week with opening statements beginning next Monday.

(source: newson6.com)

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Jury selection begins in trial of Oklahoma teen’s 1997 murder against man linked to at least 5 other kidnappings, killings

Jury selection began Monday morning at the Oklahoma County Courthouse for the trial of the 1997 murder of Tiffany Johnston in Bethany.

The suspect, William Lewis Reece, has been linked to 5 other kidnappings or murders across Oklahoma and Texas.

In July of 1997, 19-year-old Tiffany Johnston’s Dodge Neon was found at the Sunshine Carwash near Northwest 23rd and Council in Bethany. The newlywed’s keys were still in the ignition but the teen was nowhere to be found.

The next day, Johnston’s naked body was found in a Canadian County field.

The Medical Examiner later determined Johnston had been strangled and raped. According to 2015 records, examiners took vaginal and rectum swabbings from Johnston.

In 2015, DNA taken from Johnston was linked back to William Reece.

At that time, Reece was already serving a 60-year sentence in Texas for the rape and kidnapping of Sandra Sapaugh.

According to reports, Sapaugh was kidnapped at knifepoint but managed to escape and call police.

Investigators said that crime happened 2 months before Johnston’s death.

20-year-old Kelli Cox and 17-year-old Jessica Cain’s bodies were not found until 2016, when Reece led Texas investigators to graves where their remains were buried.

Back in Oklahoma, Court Documents show investigators decided to test Reece’s DNA against Johnston’s unsolved case.

The same court documents show investigators linked payphone records, proving Reece was in Canadian County on the same day Johnston vanished.

Investigators also allege Reece admitted to knowing the teen’s family.

Reece was extradited to stand trial in Oklahoma, where he previously spent a decade locked up for sexually assaulting two women. According to online records, Reece had only been out of prison for 1 year when the murders occurred.

Oklahoma prosecutors said they plan to seek the death penalty in Johnston’s murder.

Reece’s attorney has said their client is only willing to admit his roll if capital punishment is taken off the table.

Jury selection is expected to take days, perhaps even one week.

(source: KFOR news)

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The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has voided the conviction and death sentence of Miles Bench in a 2015 murder on tribal lands.

Applying the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark tribal sovereignty ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, the court found that the federal government had exclusive jurisdiction over the case because Bench is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation and the murder occurred on tribal lands. Bench remains in custody and will be tried for the crime in federal court, where he will not face the death penalty.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

MONTANA:

Canadian on death row 30 years weighs options ---- Alberta native Ronald Smith is in death row in Montana.

Stanley Faulder got the big adios on June 17, 1999. The Alberta native was the 1st Canadian executed in the United States since Toronto killer Stanley Buckowski went to the gas chamber at San Quentin in 1952.

It went down in the death house in Huntsville, Texas.

Faulder paid the ultimate price for the 1975 murder of Texas woman Inez Scarborough Phillips, 75, during a botched robbery. A jury in the Lone Star State stamped his ticket one-way in 1977.

Canada protested. Texas nodded. Ha. Ha.

Few Canadians have been executed in the U.S. Currently, there is just 1 on death row and that’s Ronald Smith.

A longtime denizen of Montana’s death row, Smith got another reprieve when the state shot down a bill to resume executions last month.

Like his killer confreres on the alley of the doomed from Florida to Indiana, Smith has been facing the needle for a long time.

Originally from Red Deer, Alta., Smith was convicted and sentenced to death in 1983 for a 1982 double murder in the border state.

Smith, 63, recently told The Canadian Press, he’s at the point now that death is “preferable” to more years with a sword poised over his head.

“Obviously, I’m happy about it, but at the same time it keeps running through the back of my head, ‘Oh crap. I’m stuck sitting around here again,'” Smith told the wire service.

“A lot of people look at it and say, ‘Well at least you’re alive,’ but I’m really not. I’m just sitting around like a bump on a log …, and after almost 40 years of this, anything is preferable.”

Death used to come quicker for the condemned. Even in this country.

You’re convicted of 1st-degree murder in March, you’re swinging at the end of a noose by summer.

And I’ve known homicide cops over the years that prefer killers getting life in prison (when that actually means you’re gone forever) to the death penalty.

“Life in prison is worse. Knowing you are never going to breathe free again. That’s the crueller punishment,” one detective in Florida told me years ago.

Smith’s crime was horrendous and he took responsibility. He pleaded guilty and told prosecutors he was ready to die.

The Albertan and a pal named Rodney Munro were stoned on LSD and booze when they executed 2 Indigenous cousins named Harvey Mad Man, 23, and Thomas Running Rabbit, 20, near East Glacier, Mont., with bullets to the head.

Munro took a plea bargain and was transferred to a Canadian prison. He has been a free man since 1998.

“He’s been out 23 years and doing well, and I wish him all the very best. Had I taken that plea deal, then I’d have been out a long time ago. It’s hard not to have that in the back of your mind on a pretty regular basis,” Smith added.

“I’m getting pretty much what I deserve for the crime I committed.”

Stanley Buckowski didn’t have to wait long for his trip to oblivion back in 1952.

On July 30, 1949, he robbed a Parliament St. Loblaws and while fleeing, shot to death RCAF vet Alfred Edward Layng in front of his wife and four-year-old daughter.

Less than a week later, cops in Wasaga Beach found the bodies of vacationing Toronto couple, Robert and Gloria McKay. Detectives suspected a link.

In 1950, a Los Angeles woman was murdered during a break-in and Buckowski was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to die in the gas chamber at the Big Q.

(source: Brad Hunter; thetorontosun.com)

IDAHO:

Warrant signed for Idaho’s 1st death row execution since 2012

Idaho is seeking to execute a prison inmate for the 1st time in nearly a decade, issuing a death warrant for next month for convicted double-murderer Gerald Pizzuto Jr.

Second Judicial District Court Judge Jay Gaskill signed the execution decree on Thursday, according to a copy of the death warrant obtained by the Idaho Capital Sun. A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office also confirmed the judge’s authorization, which starts a 30-day clock to put Pizzuto to death by lethal injection.

The state set a date of June 2 for carrying out the execution of Pizzuto, who is 1 of 8 inmates on Idaho death row. The Marshall Project, a national nonprofit news agency that tracks the country’s criminal justice system, was first to report the development.

Pizzuto, 64, was sentenced to death in 1986 for the slaying of Berta Herndon, 58, and her 37-year-old nephew Del Herndon at a rural cabin. Prosecutors said Pizzuto was armed with a .22 caliber rifle with the intent of robbing the pair of gold prospectors in July 1985 at the Ruby Meadows property in Idaho County, north of McCall. He tied his victims’ wrists behind their backs and bound their legs before bludgeoning them with a hammer, then shooting the younger Herndon in the head, according to an Associated Press report.

Pizzuto would be the first inmate put to death on Gov. Brad Little’s watch if all legal appeals are exhausted and the Republican governor declines to intervene on a formal request made last month that the 35-year death row inmate be granted clemency. “The District Court in Idaho County has ordered the Department of Correction to carry out the death sentence of Gerald Pizzuto on June 2. The governor will provide support for Director Josh Tewalt and the department to comply with this most solemn of responsibilities,” Little’s press secretary said in a written statement.

Former Gov. Butch Otter, Little’s predecessor when he served as lieutenant governor, twice faced the prospect of executing a prisoner during his three terms in office, following through in both cases. That included July 2012, when convicted murderer Richard Leavitt, 53, was put to death — the last time the state killed an inmate by lethal injection.

Before exiting the state’s lead executive position in January 2019, Otter acknowledged the gravity of the choice to end another human being’s life.

“It was impactful. Very impactful,” Otter said. “Never in my wildest dreams, in all the time I spent running for governor … did I ever think about that. … It is a tough decision.”

Attorneys representing Pizzuto from Federal Defender Services of Idaho argue that their client is already terminally ill, and execution is an “unnecessary exercise, with significant operational and personnel costs for the state,” the petition for clemency filed in April reads. Pizzuto has been in hospice care for more than a year.

“We are very disappointed that the state of Idaho has chosen to pursue execution of our terminally-ill client who is in hospice in the end-stage of his battle with bladder cancer. It is a senseless exercise to seek to execute this broken old man who God will soon take in his own time and serves no meaningful purpose towards the pursuit of justice,” Deborah Czuba, supervising attorney for the organization’s unit that specializes in death penalty cases, said in a written statement.

Requests for comment from state prosecutor LaMont Anderson, who is chief of the capital litigation unit within the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, were forwarded to a department spokesman. Scott Graf, the agency spokesman, declined to comment, citing pending litigation related to Pizzuto’s ongoing appeals process.

Idaho is 1 of 27 states where capital punishment remains legal. The state’s Department of Correction, which oversees the execution of death row inmates, has in the past few years come under heightened scrutiny due to its unwillingness to release public records detailing the source of lethal injection drugs used in its last 2 prisoner executions.

Those pair of lethal injections included Leavitt in 2012, who was convicted of the July 1984 slaying and sexual mutilation of 31-year-old Danette Elg at her Blackfoot home, and the November 2011 execution of inmate Paul Rhoades, 54, for the shooting deaths of three people in eastern Idaho in spring 1987. Rhoades’ death marked the 1st time in 17 years that the state executed a prisoner.

The suppliers of those lethal injection drugs — in each case pentobarbital sodium — were revealed through the release of records after the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in November that prison officials had failed to meet its own public records guidelines and must hand over the documents. The release came about as a result of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho on behalf of University of Idaho professor of law Aliza Cover.

The documents show that the Idaho Department of Correction scrambled to obtain the lethal injection drugs used to end Rhoades’ life from a compounding pharmacy in Salt Lake City just over a week before the execution, according to an investigation by the Utah Investigative Journalism Project in partnership with the Salt Lake Tribune. Eight months later, prison officials brought a suitcase filled with more than $10,000 cash aboard a flight to Tacoma, Washington, to buy the pentobarbital used to put Leavitt to death.

Acquiring lethal injection drugs through alternative means has become more common for states that maintain the death penalty as pharmaceutical manufacturers have increasingly curtailed sales to state prisons to kill inmates.

“Some ceased production, and other manufacturers continue to produce it commercially, but restrict their use to health care uses only,” said Dr. Jim Ruble, a lawyer and doctor of pharmacy who teaches courses in pharmacotherapy law and ethics at the University of Utah. “There are surveys and other opinion studies that show the perception about allowing capital punishment in our society is changing. Moral decisions and business decisions come into play of protecting brands, and I think economic drivers as well as religious and moral beliefs are at play.”

If the drugs cannot be secured before a 30-day death warrant expires, an inmate could receive a stay of execution, forcing a state to restart its process. Idaho permits lethal injection as its only means of putting prisoners to death, making the switch in 1982 and performing its first chemical execution in 1994. Prior to that, the state hung death row inmates, last doing so in 1957.

Officials with the Idaho Department of Correction previously acknowledged they are not currently in possession of the drugs necessary to end Pizzuto’s life.

“We are confident that when the time comes, we will have the chemicals necessary to carry out the court order,” Jeff Ray, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Correction, told The Marshall Project on Thursday in an emailed statement.

Reached by email Friday morning, Ray declined to confirm if the agency still lacks the drugs that would put Pizzuto to death or answer questions about how it might procure them, given a death warrant is now active in the state.

“I have nothing more for you on this. I’ll be in touch when I do,” he said.

(source: Idaho Press)

NEVADA:

Prosecutor senators pressed to quit foot-dragging on death penalty abolition bill

“If we’re going to have a consistent issue with legislators who are more beholden to district attorneys or would like to be district attorneys after they’re done being legislators, then we really need to have some serious primary challengers for those legislators," said Taylor Patterson of Native Voters Alliance of Nevada. (Photo: Michael Lyle)

If Nevada Democratic state senators — including key senators who are also Clark County prosecutors — refuse to advance legislation to abolish the death penalty, they should be replaced by senators who will, abolition advocates said Monday.

Assembly Bill 395, which would repeal capital punishment and has been staunchly opposed by district attorneys throughout the state, has stalled in the Senate where it could die if it doesn’t receive a hearing by Friday.

Senate Judiciary Chair Melanie Schieble, a prosecutor in the Clark County District Attorney’s office, hasn’t scheduled a hearing.

“If we’re going to have a consistent issue with legislators who are more beholden to district attorneys or would like to be district attorneys after they’re done being legislators, then we really need to have some serious primary challengers for those legislators,” said Taylor Patterson, the executive director of the Native Voters Alliance of Nevada. “We cannot continue to have a system that is so intertwined that it’s affecting justice for all of our people.”

Branden Cunningham, an organizer with the Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty, said AB 395, sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Yeager, is the most successful attempt to get rid of capital punishment.

On April 13, the Nevada Assembly voted 26-16 in a party line vote to advance the bill.

“This is the furthest a bill has come in the 20 plus years the coalition has existed pushing for abolition,” he said. “If this isn’t the year, 2023 will be the year.”

But groups want AB 395 to go forward.

As an attempt to carry it over the finish line, the coalition along with the Mass Liberation Project, Battle Born Progress, the Clark County Black Caucus, Faith in Action Nevada and the NAACP of Las Vegas hosted a virtual press conference Monday to demand lawmakers advance the bill.

Gov. Steve Sisolak said he had a “hard time with the idea of a complete abolition” and recently said executions should be reserved for extreme cases.

“(The death penalty) doesn’t target the worst of the worst, but it targets those least able to defend themselves in court,” Cunningham said.

Democratic Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, also a Clark County prosecutor, said Monday talks around AB 395 were “still ongoing” and wouldn’t say whether the bill would get a committee hearing.

There has been some speculation about amendments to the bill to make exceptions for extreme cases. But groups are still pushing for full abolition.

“We don’t want to see a situation like we saw in the 70s where it slowly expanded to include more and more cases,” Cunningham added.

Yvette Williams, the chair of the Clark County Black Caucus, said amending the bill also wouldn’t change how Black people are on death row at higher rates.

While Black people make up about 9 % of the total population, they are 35 % of current death row inmates.<

“Any version of maintaining the death penalty in any way would come along with a disportionality of that sentence being given to African Americans and other people of color,” Williams said.

It’s the fact this bill might die without another hearing that has left many death penalty abolitionists frustrated.

Leslie Turner, an organizer with the Mass Liberation Project at the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said passing the bill shouldn’t be controversial since community organizers, who campaigned for and helped elect many of the lawmakers, are pushing the legislation.

“A lot of the organizations fighting for this bill were the same organizations on the ground in 2018 working to get a lot of these people elected,” she said.

“We have this trifecta now,” Turned added pointing to the Democratic control of the governorship and both houses of the Legislature. “What has it gotten us? It’s not to say nothing has been done. I understand that the legislature is a difficult job. But this is what we want. We want to end the death penalty in this state.”

Some question the role the district attorney’s office is playing in ensuring the bill fails.

Amid discussions around AB 395, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson started pushing for the execution of Zane Floyd, who was convicted for killing 4 people in 1999.

His execution, if carried out, would be the 1st execution in 15 years. On Monday, Wolfson’s office asked for the execution to be carried out in July.

AB 395 isn’t the first time organizers have pointed to lawmakers’ ties to the district attorney’s office killing or watering down criminal justice reform.

“To the folks in the Senate and the governor, opposing the abolition of the death penalty doesn’t show you’re tough on crime,” Patterson said. “It shows you’re very, very weak and more beholden to district attorneys than you are to your constituents and to true justice.”

Maria-Teresa Liebermann-Parraga, an organizer with Battle Born Progress, added constituents shouldn’t “have to beg for bills to be heard.”

“If the Senate Majority leader wants to discuss this, the best way to discuss this is by giving it a hearing, ” she added. “This is something people care about and want to hear about.”

Turner added depending on what happens with the bill, along with other criminal justice bills being debated, organizers might have to reconsider “who we support and who we run.”

“(Candidates) need to come from us, from the community and the movement,” she said. “From the people who do the work and have our backs when the time comes. Instead of having candidates given to us and shopped to us, we need to do work around candidates who are really for the community and from the community.”

Following the death of George Floyd and a summer of protest calling for systemic changes to racial inequity within the justice system, lawmakers in Nevada declared racism a public health crisis.

The death penalty, organizers said, is rife with racial disparities that lawmakers should address.

“What was the purpose of that declaration saying that systemic racism is a public safety threat if there was no intention to actually address systemic racism in any profound way?” Turner said. “We are at a point where we are tired of the symbolic gestures … We need action behind those statements.”

Virginia became the first Southern state to abolish the death penalty earlier this year, giving many organizers hopes Nevada would follow suit.

Recently, the execution of Ledell Lee, who was put to death in Arkansas four years ago after maintaining his innocence, has brought more scrutiny to the potential of wrongful executions.

The ACLU and the Innocence Project said the genetic material on the murder weapon belonged to another man.

Pastor Ender Austin, an organizer with Faith In Action Nevada, said Lee’s death and the fear of executing an innocent man should cause lawmakers to consider AB 395.

“It should allow people of good conscience and good will to really take a pause and look,” he said. “It should make slow our breaks on killing people and have a deep conversation about what the moral price we pay when we continue unjustly lynching people. What is going to happen unfortunately is I think people are going to be beholden to other entities that may or may not have that moral consciousness.”

(source: Nevada Current)

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Nevada moves Zane Floyd execution date to July -- Nevada's execution of a mass murderer has been postponed. Prosecutors moved the date from early June to late July.

Nevada's execution of a mass murderer has been postponed.

Prosecutors moved the date from early June to late July.

The date change was submitted to a federal judge considering whether to stop and review plans to execute Zane Floyd.

Floyd is fighting the lethal injection.

Floyd was convicted for a 1999 supermarket massacre in Las Vegas that left 4 people dead.

The Nevada Assembly recently approved a bill that would get rid of death penalty and convert sentences for anyone on death row in Nevada. It still has to be approved by the Senate and signed off on by the govenor to become a law.

(source: KTNV news)

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US judge says he’ll have time to hear Nevada execution plan

A federal judge acknowledged Monday that with the proposed date for Nevada’s 1st execution in 15 years to be scheduled for late July, he’ll have time to review the state’s unannounced lethal injection plan and decide what information about it should be made public.

“We still need to move quickly because of the proposed date,” U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware II.

An execution date is expected to be set for convicted mass murderer Zane Michael Floyd by a state judge on Friday.

Floyd, 45, is fighting his execution for the 1999 shotgun killings of 4 people and the wounding of a f5h at a Las Vegas supermarket. He lost federal appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take his case.

Boulware told attorneys for Floyd, the state and the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he was inclined to grant a stay of execution so he can review the execution process, called a protocol. But the judge said no decision-making can take place until state officials supply details about the protocol.

“We’re waiting for a key piece of evidence that is central to all this inquiry to be finalized,” Boulware said.

Nevada Department of Corrections Director Charles Daniels testified last Thursday that he has not finalized the execution plan — including the drugs that would be used. Daniels said he’d like to be given up 120 days to do so.

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson had wanted to seek Floyd’s execution in early June. Last Friday, prosecutor Alexander Chen said Judge Michael Villani will be asked this week to set Floyd’s execution date during the last week of July. Nevada would join Texas, Idaho and Pennsylvania as the only U.S. states with executions scheduled.

State prison officials want to keep secret their records about the drugs that would be used, how they are obtained and the names of the manufacturers.

The last execution in Nevada was of Daryl Mack in 2006. He was convicted in a 1988 rape and murder in Reno and asked for his lethal injection to be carried out.

The court fight over Floyd’s execution is shadowed by delays of an execution that was scheduled twice — in 2017 and 2018 — for convicted killer Scott Dozier.

Dozier pleaded with the state to put him to death, but his lethal injection was called off twice by court fights over the protocol, the never-before-used combination of drugs and the unwillingness of pharmaceutical companies to let their products be used. Dozier killed himself in prison in January 2019.

Death penalty opponents want the Legislature to repeal capital punishment in Nevada. They have said the process is expensive and unwieldy and that the 64 people currently on the state’s death row should have their sentences commuted to life in prison without parole.

Boulware set another hearing about Floyd’s case for May 20.

(source: Associated Press)

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Nevada’s death penalty drug cocktail

What is all this fuss about what drugs to use and where to get them for executing condemned criminals? Law enforcement agencies have evidence lockers full of deadly drugs that will be destroyed. Use them. They will be free, and no manufacturer will complain about off-label use of their drugs. In addition, the prisoner may be very happy as he breathes his last.

Robert Henderson

(source: Letter to the editor, Las Vegas Review-Journal)

ARIZONA:

The Arizona Supreme Court has reversed a trial court ruling that had overturned the death sentence imposed on William Miller in 2011 after his defense counsel failed to object to a jury instruction that misinstructed the jury on how to treat mitigating evidence relating to Miller’s mental illness.

The trial court instructed the jury that it could find Miller’s mental illness to be a mitigating circumstance under Arizona’s death-penalty statute if it “prevented the defendant from appreciating the wrongfulness of the conduct.” The correct standard for proving the statutory mitigating circumstance was that the defendant’s mental illness “substantially reduced [his] ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of the conduct.” Furthermore, the Eighth Amendment prohibits states from statutorily limiting the mitigating evidence a jury may consider, and so the jury was entitled to consider and weigh any functional impairments arising from Miller’s mental illness. The post-conviction court found that counsel’s failure to object to the erroneous jury instruction constituted ineffective assistance of counsel.

The Arizona Supreme Court reversed, holding that counsel’s failure did constitute unreasonably deficient performance because defense counsel appointed to represent Arizona capital defendants had frequently made the same mistake in the past. It further ruled that counsel’s failure was not prejudicial, asserting that there was no reasonable probability that a properly instructed jury would have imposed a life sentence.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

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Recently the CA laura Conover said she will not seek the death pentalty for any case. would she feel the same way of God forbid a cop is murdered in the line of duty? After all her brother is a high ranking TPD officer Jason Winsky.

The death penalty should be applied in heinous crimes and the suspect is not a victim.

Nick Riverea, Downtown

(source: Letter to the Editor, Arizona Daily Star)

CALIFORNIA:

15-Year-Old Allegedly Confesses to Shooting Pop Smoke. 20-Year-Old Pleads Not Guilty, Could Face Death Penalty if Convicted

New details have emerged regarding the senseless killing of 20-year-old rapper Pop Smoke. Last July, The Root reported that 4 suspects were charged with murdering the rapper, whose real name is Bashar Jackson, during a home invasion in Los Angeles. On Friday, a detective testified that the youngest among those who were charged, a 15-year-old, admitted to shooting Jackson during a recorded interview with a cellmate at a juvenile detention center last May.

“He admitted that he shot the victim three times with a Baretta 9 [mm.],” LAPD Det. Carlos Camacho said during a preliminary hearing for 20-year-old Corey Walker, the oldest among those charged in the case, the New York Daily News reports.

According to the detective, the group of alleged assailants was there to steal Jackson’s diamond-studded Rolex.

From the Daily News:

The home intruders who stormed the Canarsie-bred rapper’s Airbnb rental in the Hollywood Hills also were after his Cuban link chain but only managed to swipe the luxury timepiece, which they later resold for just $2,000, the investigator said.

The 15-year-old alleged shooter “admitted that they asked for the jewelry” and then had “a confrontation” with Pop Smoke during the 4 a.m. home invasion on Feb. 19, 2020, the detective said.

“They got into a fight, and he shot him 3 times,” Camacho said, citing the youngest defendant’s recorded jail interview. “He said he shot him on the back.”

Camacho testified that Walker, who pleaded not guilty, was also recorded while he confessed to an informant who was placed in his cell after his arrest in July.

“He said that when the individuals got inside, the suspects confronted [Jackson], who was in the shower naked,” Camacho said.

During the hearing, Walker’s attorney, Christopher Darden, motioned to have the murder charges against his client dropped arguing that he was only the driver and that he never actually entered the home.

“He’s clearly not an aider and abettor of premeditated murder,” Darden argued. “At most, he’s a principal in a robbery. He’s a driver. He is outside.”

Camacho said during his testimony that Walker told the informant that Jackson was at first compliant in giving up his jewelry, but that he later decided to fight back and rush the group of teens who then “pistol-whipped” him before the 15-year-old shot him in the chest.

Deputy District Attorney Hilary Williams argued that even if Walker never actually entered the home, his “reckless indifference to human life” made him responsible for his part in Jackson’s death.

Williams said that Walker had scouted the house hours before the robbery and that he made the decision to “specifically target this house wanting this victim to be there.”

The judge declined to reduce the charges against Walker ruling that there was “sufficient cause” to charge him with murder.

Public testimony in the case began Thursday. Here’s what another detective said happened as reported by the Daily News:

Det. Christian Carrasco testified Thursday that a woman who was with Pop Smoke in the rented home’s second-story bedroom recalled seeing a group of men storm through curtains from a balcony accessible by a backyard staircase.

One of the men allegedly pressed a black semiautomatic firearm to her forehead and shouted, “Shut the f—k up. Do you want to die?”

“She heard a struggle coming from the shower area and heard Mr. Jackson screaming. Mr. Jackson ran out of the bathroom and then she heard a loud pop and [heard] Mr. Jackson fall to the ground,” the detective said.

“2 other individuals began to kick him,” Carrasco said, citing the woman’s testimony.

Walker is due back in court for re-arraignment on June 3. If he is found guilty of murder, he is eligible to face the death penalty, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney.

(source: Yahoo News)

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The California Supreme Court has overturned the death sentences imposed on Sandi Nieves for the arson murders of her 4 daughters in a direct review opinion rendered more than 2 decades after her July 1998 offense.

The court found that misconduct by the trial judge — who later committed suicide — had permeated the sentencing stage of Nieves’ trial, requiring that her death sentence be reversed. The appeals court found that the judge had improperly prevented the defense from presenting a range of mitigating evidence, “exclude[ing] evidence related to neuropsychological testing and PET scan results, and … sustain[ing] objections to lay witness testimony about defendant’s good character.” The court also repeatedly denigrated the defense and expressed “deep hostility” towards defense counsel in front of the jury, included making sarcastic remarks directed at defense counsel and citing him for contempt in front of the jury. The trial court also directed his hostility at defense witnesses, asking argumentative questions and remarking that one witness “just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

USA:

Doubts About Lethal Injection Drugs Reignite Capital Punishment Debate

Arguments against using lethal injection to execute prisoners on death row, and the refusal of many pharmaceutical companies to provide the chemical used in the process, are forcing states to revert to older forms of capital punishment.

The U.S. Supreme Court has backed the finding against the lethal injection technique as “cruel and unusual punishment,” which has been in use among states since 1977, said the the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), a nonprofit advocacy group.

The DPIC notes that pharmaceutical companies have distanced themselves from the drug as well, forcing states who want to continue capital punishment to reevaluate their methodologies.

Nebraska and South Carolina now stand out as particular circumstances in which states are still wielding capital punishment — but without the lethal injection drugs.

On one hand, Nebraska prosecutors continue to seek death sentences, despite having no way to obtain lethal injection drugs, whereas South Carolina lawmakers are pushing execution-by-firing-squad as an alternative death method, report the Associated Press and ABC News Australia.

South Carolina’s latest push last week to implement firing squads has reignited the debate over drug efficacy, humane treatment and availability comes into question.

Drug Efficacy and New Limited Availability

Recently, many states have opted to replace the traditional three-drug procedure previously used in federal executions with a new single-drug — pentobarbital — citing that the previously used “drug cocktail” resulted in many “botched executions” and lawsuits, reports the New York Times.

Most notably in the lawsuits, in 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that certain cocktails of the lethal injection drugs produce results that are “cruel and unusual punishment” — particularly citing a case in Missouri where an inmate had a rare disease that following a reaction to the injection, he suffocated as his blood filled his airway, according to the DPIC.

Other 2015 Supreme Court rulings note that in some instances, the three-drug protocol fails to render someone unconscious, resulting in excruciating pain also akin to cruel and unusual punishment.

Within the 3-drug protocol, research has shown that the 1st shot of the sedative and painkiller is short-acting, and has the potential to wear off before the actual lethal injection is administered. However, the 2nd dose paralyzes the person, so it’s tough to tell if someone is in pain because they cannot move or cry out, NPR details.

“You look like you’re perfectly placid, but you could be suffering horrifically,” says Paul Enzinna, an attorney at Ellerman Enzinna representing the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the legality of the federal procedure of lethal injection, as quoted by NPR.

As these Supreme Court rulings continued to mount, pharmaceutical manufacturing and distribution companies began to distance themselves with the legal injection drugs, leaving states to adopt the single pentobarbital dose which works “essentially [like] an overdose,” according to Johnathan Groner, a professor of surgery at the Ohio State University College of Medicine who has written extensively on the death penalty.

However, pentobarbital supply is limited in the U.S., particularly since the European drug manufacturers haven’t sold to the U.S. for executions since 2011, leaving states who want the drug to take matters into their own hands.

Due to the difficulty of obtaining the injection drugs, a few states have given up on executions altogether, including Oklahoma which suspended executions after “problems” with injections in two cases, and Virginia, which dropped capital punishment in March of this year, the Associated Press details.

Similarly, Nebraska has been unable to carry out capital punishment sentences because they don’t have any lethal injection drugs — “and likely won’t get any for years, if ever,” the Associated Press reports.

Despite no legal way to execute prisoners, Nebraska prosecutors continue to seek death sentences in cases, despite functionally having no way to carry out on the sentence, reflecting “longstanding ambivalence” towards capital punishment in the state.

However, other states haven’t wanted to give up so easily.

In his 2018 concurrence, Justice Brett Kavanaugh emphasized that all 9 justices agreed that any alternative method proposed by the death row prisoner or facility “need not be authorized under current state law” in order for an execution to be carried out.

So, it appears states have begun doing just that.

South Carolina’s Firing Squad

The South Carolina House of Representatives passed a bill last week that allows for firing squads to carry out death penalty sentences and makes electrocution a more likely means of execution when lethal injection isn’t possible, CNN reports.

Currently, the state’s supply of lethal-injection drugs have expired, and they have not been able to purchase any more vials.

After the bill is approved by the state senate, it will go to Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, who has already said he will sign it, according to ABC News Australia.

The only other 3 states that allow a firing squad are Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Meanwhile, as South Carolina and other states are opting for alternatives to lethal injection, other states have turned to emptying out their pockets to obtain the deadly cocktail of drugs.

In April of this year, the Guardian obtained documents that show Arizona, Tennessee and Missouri all shelled out astronomical amounts of money for “unmarked jars and boxes” of vials of pentobarbital sodium salt.

Arizona has spent $1,500,000 on 1,000 vials of the drug, each containing 1g, illustrating the lengths the state is willing to go to kill death row prisoners.

Experts say 5 grams are needed to induce a fatal dose, meaning there are 200 fatal doses within the $1.5m shipments.

This lavish spending has angered advocates, mainly considering executions in America are nearing record lows and not much of a spending priority, according to the DPIC.

Just 17 inmates were put to death in 2020, which is down from the high of 98 killed in 1999, says the Associated Press.

(source: thecrimereport.org)

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US prisons hold more than 550,000 people with intellectual disabilities

Prison life in the U.S. is tough. But when you have an intellectual, developmental or cognitive disability – as hundreds of thousands of Americans behind bars do – it can make you especially vulnerable.

In March, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the federal agency tasked with gathering data on crime and the criminal justice system, published a report that found roughly two in five – 38% – of the 24,848 incarcerated people they surveyed across 364 prisons reported a disability of some sort. Across the entire incarcerated population, that translates to some 760,000 people with disabilities living behind bars.

Around a quarter of those surveyed reported having a cognitive disability, such as difficulty remembering or making decisions. A similar proportion reported at some point being told they had attention deficit disorder, and 14% were told they had a learning disability.

As a scholar who has researched disability in prison and conducted in-depth interviews with several adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the criminal justice system, I'm all too aware of the problems that incarcerated people with disabilities face. Prisoners with these disabilities are at greater risk of serving longer, harder sentences and being exploited and abused by prison staff or other incarcerated people.

Stigma and crimes of survival

The rate of both physical and intellectual disability among the prison population is disproportionately high. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26% of Americans report any kind of disability. Of those, 10.8% reported a cognitive disability.

This is less than half of the proportion of those in prisons. And rates appear to be on the rise – in 2011-2012, 32% of people incarcerated in prisons reported a disability, with 19% stating a cognitive disability.

High as they are, these rates are likely to be an underestimate. They are based on self-reports, and research has shown many people fail to report a disability – particularly an intellectual or cognitive disability – to avoid stigma or because they simply don't know they have one.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has also found that people with cognitive, intellectual and developmental disabilities are more prevalent in jails – where people are sent immediately after arrest, to await trial or to serve a sentence of one year or less – than prisons. Jails tend to be associated with what have been called “crimes of survival," such as shoplifting and loitering. These offenses are linked to unemployed people and people experiencing homelessness – communities in which rates of disabilities are higher.

As a result, a disproportionate amount of people with disabilities enter America's criminal justice system. I see this in my research on intellectual and developmental disabilities – diagnoses like autism, fetal alcohol syndrome, ADD/ADHD, Down syndrome, and general cognitive impairment are common in our criminal justice system.

In jail, no one listens

Between 2018 and 2019, I interviewed 27 people with these disabilities about their interaction with the criminal justice system. Eighteen reported having been arrested and/or incarcerated.

Many spoke of the harm and difficulties they face throughout the criminal justice system, from courts to being behind bars.

One man I interviewed who had various learning and attention-related disabilities and was in special education as a child told me: “I was in jail one time [because] when I didn't understand the questions the judge was asking me, and she sentence me to three months in [county jail] because I didn't understand." Officially, this was for disorderly conduct.

Confusion in prison and jail can lead to violence or danger. Needing time to process instructions, particularly in high-stress situations, can be interpreted as obstinacy by staff and officers in charge. One middle-aged man who experienced incarceration on a few occasions told me that if you can't process instructions, sometimes you are physically forced to comply. He provided the example of seeing someone with mental health needs not going to the shower when requested: “In jail, they don't have time for that. They'll just throw you in the shower. They're not supposed to, but I've seen that before."

Further, being seen as obstinate can lead to disciplinary reports in prison or jail, which could result in added time to someone's sentence or the removal of certain privileges. It could also result in solitary confinement – something known to exacerbate and create mental health concerns and which has been labeled as torture by the United Nations and human rights groups. One study from 2018 found that over 4,000 people with serious mental health concerns were being held in solitary confinement in the U.S. Again, this is likely to be an underestimate.

Incarcerated people with intellectual, developmental and cognitive disabilities risk being exploited by both officers and fellow inmates. One person I interviewed who had experienced incarceration said officers look for those who have a disability by noting who only watches TV and never reads, marking them for exploitation. He went on to say that “some of the corrections officers, they be doing things they ain't got no business doing. So they'll slide up onto the disability boy and use him, you know, because he'd making him feel like 'This is my dog. This is my boy right here. Come and do this for me.' And they'll run and do it. So I think people with disabilities are used more by deceptive corrections guards than people that read."

Rates of these disabilities are even higher among incarcerated women, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report. This might be related to the fact that women have much higher histories of abuse and trauma, or because they are more willing to report these disabilities.

One woman with cerebral palsy and unidentified intellectual disabilities I spoke with said that in most jails she'd report her disability, but no one would listen to her.

Hidden behind bars

The disproportionate rates of cognitive, intellectual and developmental disability in U.S. prisons and jails have rarely formed part of the conversation on reforming our police and prison system. When discussing mental health in prison, often the focus is on psychiatric disabilities, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. There is good reason for this – people with these kinds of disabilities are also at high risk for incarceration.

But, I believe, it has meant that the needs of incarcerated people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been neglected. At present, there is little support for people with these disabilities in incarcerated settings. Prisons and jails could ensure staff are better trained to interact with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

We could also explore strategies to divert people with intellectual, learning and cognitive disabilities away from the criminal justice system. Cities are increasingly exploring alternatives to police for responding to mental health crises, like the CAHOOTS model in Oregon in which a medic and mental health expert are deployed as first responders. Additionally, there could be more attention to these disabilities in mental health courts, which combine court supervision with community-based services. They have been shown to be somewhat effective at reducing recidivism, but which seem to focus on people with schizophrenia, bipolar, major depression or PTSD.

But before that, awareness about the presence of disability in incarcerated settings needs to be higher. The plight of incarcerated prisoners with intellectual disabilities has long been an issue lost amid America's sprawling prison network.

(source: Jennifer Sarrett, Lecturer, Center for Study of Human Health, Emory University----The Conversation)

INDIA----book review:

Book Review----The Punished by Jahnavi Misra: The saga of 19 death row convicts

Jahnavi Misra’s, The Punished, published by Harper Collins, deals with the cruelty meted out by the state that reinforces the tragically conjoined duality of pain and suffering through its systems of penal and capital punishment, say ARITRO BOSE AND JIBRAAN MANSOOR.

UNMASKING the cruelty which lies at the foundation of criminal law, Friedrich Nietzsche traces the “ancient, deep-rooted and now perhaps ineradicable idea” of the equivalence between crime and punishment, a duality modelled on the “contractual relationship between creditor and debtor”.

For every act deemed a crime, a payment has to be extracted. To access such payment, as Jacque Derrida argues, “the creditor is granted a psychic reimbursement… he will be given some pleasure… a pleasure that consists in the voluptuous pleasure of causing the other to suffer, and cruelly.”

The Punished by Jahnavi Misra, published by Harper Collins, is a register for this very cruelty meted out by the state that reinforces the tragically conjoined duality of pain and suffering through its systems of penal and capital punishment.

However, if this duality indeed determines the very substance of criminal law, we wonder if there can be, as Judith Butler asks, “social relations outside the terms of debt and payment, relations that might be understood as being outside capital”.

The Punished then is a timely intervention, as it helps those of us who wish to understand the resistance from the “economies of vengeance” that any such imagination would face.

The book features 19 death-row convicts, and through its narration of the abject horrors of the Indian penal system, attends to the vulnerabilities of those, as the foreword puts it, who are more “than single incidents in their lives.”

The Punished demands us to suspend our sense of “moral simplicity” and engage with the lived experiences of those that the state wants us to hate.

Whether it is Sanjeev Sharma who, even while being custodially tortured, tells the policeman,“You can’t be wrong”, or Rukhsar who must leave her child behind forever, The Punished takes no prisoners in its attempt to delve into the lives of India’s death row convicts. In doing so, The Punished is a timely reminder that simply being opposed to the death penalty is never enough.

As Amit Bindal suggests, “Any opposition to the death penalty must be a metonymy of an overall opposition to any forms of avoidable violence, pain, and suffering that exist in the world.” By recounting the numerous instances of police brutality in its pages, as well as the abject condition of prisons and prisoners, The Punished reminds us of the moral baggage which the abolitionist discourse must register in its accounts while advancing a sincere opposition to the death penalty.

But does the text serve us in imagining what such opposition would look like? We believe that in opening up arrested incidents and destabilising the debt-credit relationship, The Punished inevitably tends to move inward into the relationship.

Perhaps, the best example of this is found in those accounts of the book where the interviewer’s role is more pronounced.

In Rammohan’s Nightmare, the author admits that they “pushed him a lot, perhaps even a little more than I [they] should have.” This is followed by the author trying to bait Rammohan’s brother, Shivmohan, into talking about the crime.

In The Study of a Murderer, we learn that the author asked Mohan Kumar questions where there “was no need for it”, as if the author was “compelled” to do it. This impulse of being compelled is, perhaps, one that anyone would be forgiven for having, because in it lies the conniving state’s biggest, and perhaps the most successful, project – the collapse of justice and cruelty, for those rendered as mere ‘objects of curiosity’. This push to engage in speculation is symptomatic of the control that this wretched relationship has on our psyche, and we find, in The Punished, that the urge to speculate does not spare the abolitionists either. Even in the stories where such compulsions aren’t present, the emotions that the plight of death-row convicts elicits in us forces us to ask the question: are we limiting our radical imaginations by settling for a bargain with justice in the form of ‘mitigating circumstances, if we do not dare to move away from the frame of debt-credit?

Nevertheless, what The Punished achieves is a remarkable feat of impressing upon us the extent of the state’s might and control over the lives of its subjects, and the heroic defiance that can only be found in situations that are as dire to begin with.

It gives voices to those on the margins, often reduced to footnotes and statistics, and reminds us of their acts of resistance.

We are informed of the deeply Socratic move by Jameel Quraishi, who refuses to stay silent as he seeks to showcase the very perversion of justice by the sovereign’s unrestrained indulgence in retribution.

We gain insight into the mechanisation of this perversion through Guru’s account of the conscious delays and disorder of law. We realise that the conniving sovereign devours its legal subjects, not merely by breaching the corporeal, but also toying with the psyche, as it uses the “the clock and the anonymity of clockwork” to ‘see itself’ become the master of death – a clockwork which, as we are told in the foreword, is again at play by the prison officials.

So if The Punished tells us that the cruelty and perversion of the sovereign know no bounds, where does that leave us in terms of the path forward?

For this, we go back to The Study of a Murderer, where the author admits that their interactions with Mohan Kumar had left them “disconcerted and confused”. It is an admission that reveals the abolitionist movement’s own ambivalent relations with those that it seeks to save.

As Butler, in reading Freud’s Totem and Taboo, suggests, there is no “overcoming ambivalence in love since we are always at risk of destroying what we are most attached to and vulnerable to being destroyed by those on whom we are most dependent” – a stagnation which presumably arises due to our inability to eradicate the death drive which, Derrida suggests, is “inherent to life itself.”

Subsequently, we must begin by asking, as Bindal asks, that even though one can abolish the death penalty, “can one prohibit the desire for it?”

We suggest that the answer to this problem of ambivalence lies in the words of Jacqueline Rose: “Only if you admit your own ambivalence even towards those you love most is there the faintest chance that you will reach out across the world to everyone, including your putative enemies”.

It is this recognition of ambivalence, this breaking through the barriers of repression that the state builds on our minds, that offers us a chance to visualise a society that does not condemn both lives and deaths of its subjects to cruelty.

It is in admitting to ourselves that we can love even those that we passionately hate, that we might catch a glimpse of a world which, as Rose puts it, “sheds the common pitfalls of the singular ego” and offers us a “new form of common life”.

We daresay that such an imagination might even prove to be radical enough to challenge the deeply entrenched relationship between crime and punishment; a socius primitive that no longer envisages relationships in terms of debt and payment.

Perhaps the author is aware of this nuance. Perhaps in naming the anthology for the one story that does not flow coherently, a hopeful first step might have been already undertaken. Perhaps it is easiest for us to admit to our ambivalence towards, for the lack of a better word, The Punished, when it concerns those who we cannot understand.

(source: Jibraan Mansoor is a law student at the Jindal Global Law School, Sonepat, and a graduate in Political Science from Ashoka University. Aritro Bose is an Economics graduate from Ashoka University----The Leaflet)

ENGLAND:

Sheryl Sandberg, Marc Benioff, Alan Jope Join Death Penalty Campaign

More than 40 preeminent business figures have declared their opposition to capital punishment and joined the Business Leaders Against the Death Penalty campaign.

They join a growing list of global executives who have declared their support for the campaign since it was launched by Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson at South by Southwest Festival in March – united in their belief that the death penalty is cruel, wasteful, ineffective, discriminatory, and unacceptably error prone. Sandro Salsano, president of Italian conglomerate Salsano Group, wrote:

“The death penalty is a brutal and discriminatory institution that must be confined to history. I’m proud to join the global business leaders working to make capital punishment a relic of a crueller past.”

COO of Facebook and the Founder of Leanin.org, Sheryl Sandberg, emphasized capital punishment being racist in practice. “I oppose the death penalty because it is cruel and disproportionately impacts people and communities of color” she said. “We can build a more just future by ending the death penalty and reforming our broken criminal justice system.”

IMAGINE chair and former Unilever CEO Paul Polman emphasized the need for businesses to step up and embrace their responsibilities when it comes to social justice, saying:

“As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s more critical than ever that business leaders demonstrate a strong moral compass and show courage in the fight against racism, cruelty and oppression. By speaking out against the death penalty, we wholeheartedly embrace that responsibility.”

Support for death penalty has been declining the world over, with over 170 UN member states having abolished it in law or practice. AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes highlighted ongoing global abolition efforts, including those in his home country of Malaysia:

“The death penalty, in all of its oppressive cruelty, should be have been confined to history a long time ago. Yet it persists around the world – including right here in ASEAN. We must do everything in our power to end it, and I am proud to join the business voices speaking out against this barbaric law.”

The campaign is being coordinated by the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, and has rapidly gathered momentum in the weeks since its launch. Branson stressed the increasing engagement of the corporate community, as well as how crucial their involvement is:

“Business has a critical role to play in this debate. When entrepreneurs and investors speak up, policy makers will listen. We have massive platforms, and we should use them to protect human rights and protect social justice…Consumers, employees, and investors demand companies take stands on causes they believe in, if they want to earn or keep their trust.”

(source: londonlovesbusiness.com)

CHINA:

MAN SENTENCED TO DEATH WITH A SUSPENDED DEATH SENTENCE FOR INTENTIONAL HOMICIDE

Nanchong Intermediate People’s Court recently sentenced to death a man for intentional homicide, with a 2-year reprieve depriving him of political rights for life, China News reported on 7 May 2021.

Feng on 14 March 2019 knocked down and stabbed his former boss on the streets of Langzhong, Sichuan, due to a wage dispute over 100 yuan.

Because of his lack of serious work, Feng was cut by his boss after working in a grain and oil store for a month and was fired the following month. He believed that the boss had paid him 100 yuan less than his salary, which caused the conflict.

After judicial appraisal, the appraised person Feng had a mental disorder to be classified, but he was judged as capable of criminal responsibility for his violation of the law.

Feng was born in 1986 and has a junior high school education.

(source: handsoffcain.info)

MAY 10, 2021:

TEXAS----impending execution

Quintin Jones Is Not Innocent. But He Doesn’t Deserve to Die.

My world had narrowed to a tiny, white-walled, fluorescent-lit hospital room in New York in 2012. I was 23 and enduring a seemingly hopeless struggle with leukemia, and I had spent much of the previous year in medical isolation, at times too sick to speak. I’d never felt so alone.

That’s when I got my first letter from a man in Texas named Quintin Phillippe Jones, Quin for short. He’d read an essay I’d written about what I described as my “incanceration” and he wanted me to know that my words had touched “a death-row convict heart.” I noticed the handwriting — wrought and elegant. I felt a kind of vertigo, knowing it was from a man who had committed a heinous crime.

In 1999, when Quin was 20 years old and on heroin and cocaine, he killed his great-aunt Berthena Bryant for $30 to buy more drugs. Following a trial, he was convicted of her murder. Based on this conviction and his alleged involvement in 2 other killings, for which he was never charged, the prosecution argued during the penalty phase that Quin was beyond redemption and that he would continue to be a mortal threat. The jury sentenced him to die.

“I know that our situations are different, but the threat of death lurks in both of our shadows,” Quin wrote. “Try to stay as positive and as hopeful as possible, even though a lot of days that may be easier said than done.”

In his subsequent letters, Quin told me about his life, but mostly he asked about how my treatments were going. He was funny and earnest, frequently interjecting, “Ya dig?!”

The longer I corresponded with Quin, the more difficult it became to reconcile the person holding the pen with the convicted murderer. This is not to say that Quin denied culpability. Quite the opposite, in fact. Despite a brutal childhood mired in poverty, violence, neglect, abuse and addiction, he didn’t blame his circumstances for his actions. He expressed deep remorse, and for a long time he believed that he deserved to die for what he had done.

During his 21 years on death row, Quin has been the epitome of a prison success story. He entered at an unimaginable low, as lost as a soul can be. And through prayer, sobriety, reconciliation with his family, and longstanding correspondence with pen pals, he has found a way to lead a meaningful life, and even to enhance the lives of others. The victim’s family — who is also Quin’s family — has forgiven him.

Quin is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on May 19. I used to tell the story of our friendship to illustrate the power of human connection. Today I tell the story of our friendship in the hope that it will save his life. I am one of tens of thousands who are asking Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Quin’s sentence from death to life without the possibility of parole.

I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not here to make the legal argument for why this case deserves a second look. In the clemency plea, Quin’s lawyers have provided ample documentation of how our justice system failed him: that his state-appointed legal representation missed filing deadlines and failed to challenge critical problems in the state’s case; that the state’s argument hinged on discredited science and a flawed methodology; that glaring conflicts of interest have tainted the procedure for setting Quin’s execution date; that there are disparities in treatment based on race.

Instead, I want to speak to how remarkably Quin has transformed himself, and who he is now — the kind of person for whom clemency exists.

Quin has corresponded with people from across the globe. Among these pen pals are a prison psychologist in Australia, a German schoolteacher fighting cancer, and a neighbor from Fort Worth, Texas, who provided Quin a haven during his unimaginably difficult childhood.

A 9-year-old girl in England, Niamh, thinks of Quin as a big brother. “Always remember that you are somebody and never let anyone else tell you otherwise,” Quin wrote to Niamh in January.

One of the most remarkable stories came from a family in Switzerland. Sylvie, her son and her daughter all corresponded with Quin. Quin cautioned Sylvie’s teenagers against dropping out of school and doing drugs — the poor choices he himself made. When Sylvie lost her son to suicide last year, Quin became a source of solace for her.

“It isn’t hard for me to understand him personally only because I’ve tried to commit suicide before,” Quin wrote to Sylvie. “You’ve got to dig deep down inside of yourself in order to get past that feeling of wanting to die, Soul Godmother, and trust me, that isn’t an easy thing to accomplish.”

I’ve often reminded myself that Quin has never hurt me. He didn’t take away the person I loved most in the world. But he did exactly that to Mattie Long, the younger sister of Quin’s victim, Berthena Bryant, known as Bert. The sisters were best friends and practically inseparable. Ms. Long went to her sister’s house every day for breakfast and lunch, and she was Ms. Bryant’s ride to the bank and the post office.

“Because I was so close to Bert, her death hurt me a lot,” Ms. Long wrote in a letter requesting clemency for her great-nephew. “Even so, God is merciful.” She says she has seen Quin’s remorse and witnessed how much he has changed. She writes to him and visits him in prison. In her letter, Ms. Long didn’t mince words: “Quintin can’t bring her back. I can’t bring her back. I am writing this to ask you to please spare Quintin’s life.”

Recently I got a long letter from Quin, written 32 days before his execution date. For the first time in our correspondence, he said that he wasn’t doing well.

Quin wrote about how psychologically taxing it was to carry on, as the day edged closer. He mentioned that he’s under around-the-clock video suicide watch. “Now please don’t feel sad and down for me,” he wrote. “Try and feel honored to be the first person that I’ve shared this realness with! (Smile!)”

We make examples of people all the time, and sometimes rightfully so. But the greatest example that can be made of Quintin Phillippe Jones is that human beings are capable of redemption and reconciliation, deserving of mercy and grace.

(source: Suleika Jaouad is the author of the memoir “Between Two Kingdoms,” where she writes about her friendship with Quintin Jones----New York Times)

ALABAMA:

A man with intellectual disability is on death row — give him his day in court

The COVID 19 pandemic has brought Americans hard lessons in fear and isolation. But it also has laid bare other long-simmering pandemics — racism, inequities in health care, divisiveness, hidden biases. For people with intellectual disability, fear, isolation and bias are not new; they’ve experienced these conditions much of their lives. The time has come to awaken our country to what we can and must do to end the inequities they face. We can unite in action now by demanding that the government enforce the law and stop risking the execution of individuals with intellectual disability.

Here’s a place to start: Mark Jenkins is a man with intellectual disability soon to face the execution chamber on Alabama’s death row. Convicted of the 1989 murder of Tammy Hogeland, he is at risk of being executed despite the Supreme Court’s mandate that individuals with intellectual disability are ineligible for the death penalty. He has asked the Supreme Court to grant him a hearing to prove his intellectual disability and is awaiting their response.

Today we read a lot of articles about innocent people trapped on death row, which is a terrifying reality of our nation’s capital punishment system. No innocent person should be convicted, let alone executed. Like the execution of an innocent person, the execution of someone with intellectual disability is a grave injustice, even when the crime was horrific. Our country¹s modern understanding of “justice” and “decency” in punishment, in theory, prioritizes more than just innocence or guilt; it also prioritizes the dignity of the individual facing punishment. In Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court relied on this understanding to rule that the execution of individuals with intellectual disability is cruel and unusual punishment.

But no court has allowed Jenkins to prove his intellectual disability. Why? Because, in reality, our legal system continues to fail to enforce the Supreme Court’s mandate in Atkins. This is why I have joined many others in urging the high court to hear his case and give Jenkins a hearing that the Constitution demands and that dignity-centric justice necessitates.

Individuals with intellectual disability on death row must be given their day in court. In fact, approximately 136 individuals have been saved from execution after they had the opportunity to prove their intellectual disability. The brief that I joined highlights the stories of five of these individuals — men who found themselves in the same situation as Jenkins, but who were given the chance to prove their intellectual disability. Like Jenkins, they struggled to learn basic tasks in school such as counting coins or telling time, and were placed in special education classes. They functioned as adults with a 3rd-grade reading level; they were limited to menial work tasks, such as bringing tools to others. They relied on others to obtain housing and pay their bills. And at times they were bullied by their peers for being “slow.”

Unlike these men, Jenkins repeatedly has been denied the opportunity to prove his intellectual disability for 30 years by courts blinded by misconceptions, stereotypes and incomplete evidence. Indeed, an Alabama court perpetuated offensive stereotypes that individuals with intellectual disability cannot maintain relationships or be employed. For example, the court said it was convinced Jenkins did not have intellectual disability because he had worked at a gas station. This stereotype is harmful and has no basis in science. The Supreme Court should right this wrong.

Our law’s 20-year-old prohibition on the execution of individuals with intellectual disability has not saved every person with intellectual disability on death row from execution. To the contrary, at least 25 such individuals have been executed, 8 of whom were executed in the past 5 years. That is 25 too many. Modern-day justice demands that courts do better, and that the execution of an individual with intellectual disability be taken as seriously as the execution of an innocent person. Indeed, at least 5 men exonerated from death row had intellectual disability — one factor that made them more vulnerable to wrongfully ending up on death row.

As recently as the late-20th century, our government has stigmatized, sterilized, experimented on, and even killed individuals with intellectual disability. In theory, the government has stopped executing individuals with intellectual disability. In reality, though, the government still executes them. Mark Jenkins’s life is at serious risk. He is not asking for a 2nd bite of the apple, but rather, a 1st bite to prove his intellectual disability. In this time when we are all the more conscious of harmful biases and mistreatment towards marginalized groups, we cannot stand on the sideline — and neither should the justices of the Supreme Court.

Give Mark Jenkins his long-overdue day in court, before it’s too late.

(source: Tim Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics and founder of UNITE, is a signatory to an amicus brief filed March 1 requesting that the Supreme Court hear Mark Jenkins’s cert petition----thehill.com)

NEBRASKA:

Nebraska death sentences continue despite no execution drugs

3 times in the past 4 years, Nebraska prosecutors have sought death sentences, and each time they have been successful. Within a couple months, 2 more people convicted of a grisly murder could also be sentenced to death.

But as the state adds to its death row population, the lawyers, judges and prison officials who oversee Nebraska's system of capital punishment largely ignore the fact that the state has no lethal injection drugs and very likely won’t get any for years, if ever. Those sentenced to death have a better chance of dying of natural causes than being executed.

While the nation remains divided over capital punishment, Nebraska stands out for its peculiar version of the institution: it's still wedded to the idea of executing prisoners, just not the practical part of doing it. The state is among a handful caught in a law vs. reality netherworld as legislatures and activists wrestle over how the issue will eventually play out.

As the Rev. Stephen Griffith, a leading anti-death penalty activist, put it, “We’re being duplicitous, really. We say Nebraska has a death penalty when, functionally, we don’t.”

27 states allow capital punishment, but many have struggled in recent years to obtain the drugs used to execute inmates because most manufacturers now refuse to openly supply them. While 12 other states responded to the hesitancy by keeping their suppliers secret, Nebraska's Supreme Court threw out its secrecy policy after the state used it to execute an inmate in 2018.

Corrections director Scott Frakes told a legislative committee that unless Nebraska is allowed to hide supplier names, the state likely would never be able to obtain the necessary drugs.

“Once we get done with the trial and sentencing, it’s kind of off our shoulders,” said Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine, who has sent four men to death row during his 14-year tenure, none of whom have been executed. “Certainly, it seems to be the case right now that the state doesn’t have the wherewithal to carry it out.”

The stand-off over execution drugs reflects a longstanding ambivalence toward capital punishment in Nebraska. Even before the drug issue, the state didn't carry many executions, and legislators in 2015 voted to abolish the death penalty, in part because it costs the state an estimated $15 million annually to prosecute and offer special housing to death row inmates.

But after Gov. Pete Ricketts helped pay for a petition drive to put the issue on the ballot, voters overwhelmingly reinstated the death penalty.

Matt Maly, a conservative activist who opposes capital punishment on moral and fiscal grounds, said many Nebraskans still support capital punishment, but they’re not especially passionate about the issue. Given that, politicians are willing to keep it on the books but not actually carry out executions.

“It’s not something you’re hearing about in coffee shops or grocery stores,” Maly said. “The legislature could have said, ‘Let’s do what it takes to make this happen,’ but they don’t have the will to do that.”

Still, the end of executions doesn't mean an end to the death penalty process. Prosecutors keep seeking death sentences, and judges have condemned three more inmates since the capital punishment reinstatement vote in 2016. Nebraska’s death row now has 11 inmates after one died in early April of natural causes.

Nationally, executions have resumed after the struggle over drug supplies but are nearing record lows, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that tracks executions. 17 inmates were put to death in 2020, down from a high of 98 in 1999.

Texas and Georgia, both leading death penalty states, now have periodic executions. Tennessee has executed 7 inmates in the last 3 years, including 1 in 2020. Several states are still working through legal challenges, including Oklahoma, which suspended executions after injection problems in 2 cases. A few states have given up, like Virginia, which dropped capital punishment in March.

Robert Dunham, the Death Penalty Information Center's executive director, said many states seem to show “inertia” with the death penalty.

“If you have a jurisdiction in which death sentences haven’t been imposed, people either forget how to do it or they sort of realize they don’t miss it and they don’t tend to push for it,” he said. “But once they do it and it becomes a part of the culture, they tend to do it again and again and again.”

All of Nebraska’s current death-row inmates were convicted of either murdering multiple people or a child, and each case includes aggravating factors such as sexual assaults, cover-ups of other crimes or dismembering bodies.

Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner said that if drugs are a problem, lawmakers should consider other execution methods, such as firing squads.

“There are some crimes that are so heinous, so evil, that they deserve the death penalty,” Wagner said.

Kleine, the Douglas County attorney, said he’ll continue to pursue death sentences out of respect for the voters who chose to keep capital punishment.

“It’s not an easy decision to seek the death penalty, but right now it’s a law on the books, and if we feel the circumstances are appropriate, that’s what we’ll do,” he said.

(source: Associated Press)

VIETNAM:

Vietnam police arrest U.S. deportee on suspicion of murdering girlfriend

A Vietnamese man deported from the United States under a push by the Trump administration to expel immigrants convicted of crimes in the United States has been arrested on suspicion of murder in Vietnam.

Bui Thanh Hung, a Vietnamese-American who was deported from the United States in December 2017, was arrested by police after attacking his girlfriend with a knife in the southern province of Tien Giang, state media reported on May 7.

Hung, an Amerasian born in 1973 to a Vietnamese mother and an American soldier who died during the Vietnam War, was convicted of domestic violence in the United States in 2010, he told Reuters in a 2018 interview.

He spent 6 years in a U.S. prison before being deported to Vietnam in 2017.

The expulsions were carried out despite a 2008 agreement that Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in the United States prior to 1995, many of whom had supported the now defunct U.S.-backed state of South Vietnam, would not be sent back.

Hung admitted murder after his arrest, state media said.

Under Vietnam's penal code, the penalty for murder can range between a minimum sentence of seven years in prison to the death penalty.

Neither Hung nor his lawyer could be immediately reached for comment. The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi was unable to provide immediate comment.

(source: Reuters)

SIERRA LEONE:

Young man sentenced to death amid debate to abolish death penalty in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone’s High Court Resident Judge in the Kailahun District of the country – Justice Francis Banks-Kamara, on Friday 7th May 2021, sentenced a young man – Kholie Tamba to death by hanging, after he was found guilty of murder.

The accused first appeared before Justice Banks-Kamara for the offence on 8th February 2021; and after 3 months of trial, judgment was delivered last Friday, with the jury unanimously returning a guilty verdict on 1 count indictment of murder.

According to the particulars of offence, the accused Tamba Kholie, on a date unknown in September 2018 in Nyadehum Mabarbu in Luawa Chiefdom, Kailahun District, is said to have murdered one Amara Koroma. The case was prosecuted by State Counsel Daniel Mansaray, while Patrick Kamara Esq from the Legal Aid Board defended the accused.

Addressing the jurors, Justice Banks-Kamara said they should be able to understand the elements constituting murder. He described the act of the accused as “barbaric and does not resonate with 21st century civilized reasoning.”

According to the Judge, the act of the accused contravenes a cardinal Provision in the Sierra Leone Constitution, Chapter 3 of Act No. 6 of 1991.

He went on to say that the act of Murder is unforgivable, adding that the judgment will serve as a deterrent to others who are hell-bent on derailing the peace in society.

Based on the ‘guilty verdict’ returned by the jurors, Justice Francis Banks-Kamara sentenced Tamba Kholie to death by hanging.

While thanking members of the jury for sacrificing their precious time, the Judge assured that the cliche of ‘Justice delayed is Justice denied’ has no place in Kailahun.

He said the vision of the Chief Justice – Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards is to provide expeditious trials and to take justice closer to the people which he is committed to achieving.

But as the debate about whether the death penalty should be abolished in Sierra Leone continues, there are calls for the president to declare a moratorium on State hanging until a national consensus can be reached.

In the meantime, the Sierra Leone Telegraph is calling on the government to take concerted action to educate young people about violence and the perpetration of murder which many believe is fuelled by drugs, alcohol, poor mental health, and lack of moral compass.

Questions are also being asked as to why citizens that commit murder are being sentenced to death, but police officers who are committing most of the murders in the country on behalf of rogue politicians are never brought to justice.

(source: Sierra Leone Telegraph)

EGYPT----execution

Egypt executes monk for murder of bishop at monastery

Authorities carried out the death penalty on an Egyptian monk who killed the abbot of his monastery in 2018, a lawyer and the monk's brother told Reuters on Sunday.

Wael Saad and Ramon Rasmi Mansour, known by their monastic names Isaiah al-Makari and Faltaous al-Makari, were convicted of the killing of Bishop Epiphanius, 64, the abbot of St Macarius Monastery, northwest of Cairo, in a case that sent shockwaves through Egypt's Coptic Christian community.

Saad's family was notified to receive his body from a morgue in the Nile Delta town of Damanhour on Sunday, his brother, who is also a monk, said.

Prosecutors had said during their trial that Saad struck the bishop three times in the back of the head with a steel pipe while Mansour stood guard outside.

Mansour was also sentenced to death but his sentence was reduced to life after he won an appeal.

They were defrocked in August 2018 for what church officials called violations of monastic life and then detained.

(source: Reuters)

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Former monk executed, lawyer says family only informed after execution

Wael Tawadros, a former monk who was known as Father Isaiah al-Makary, was executed on Sunday at Damanhour Prison, according to his lawyer, Ihab Sedra.

Sedra told Mada Masr that Tawadros’ family are on the way to collect his body, and that they were only informed of the death of Tawadros after the Prisons Authority had carried out the sentence, in violation of legal procedure.

Tawadros was convicted and sentenced to death in 2019 for the July 2018 murder of Bishop Epiphanius, the head of the Anba Makkar Monastery in Wadi al-Natrun desert.

Though the ruling against Tawadros was upheld by the Court of Cassation in July, the verdict against his suspected accomplice Raymond Rasmy, whose clerical name is Father Faltaos al-Makary, was reduced from death to life imprisonment.

Bishop Epiphanius was found dead on July 29, 2018 in front of his residence at Anba Makkar Monastery in Wadi al-Natrun desert. In August of the same year, Wael Tawadros was defrocked, investigated and charged with the bishop’s murder, while Rasmy was convicted for aiding Tawadros in the murder.

In August, several of Tawadros’ lawyers at the time filed a complaint with the public prosecutor in Alexandria alleging that Tawadros had been tortured by National Security Agency personnel, forcing him to confess to the murder.

Sedra told Mada Masr that he submitted an appeal with new statements and evidence on behalf of his client in April, but that he had received no response.

Sedra said the abrupt implementation of the sentence could indicate that officials wanted the matter closed, adding that “some death sentences that were issued in 2016 have not yet been implemented.” “I pray that our Lord will reveal the truth one day,” said Sedra.

Though executions are rarely carried out during the month of Ramadan, nine executions were carried out on April 26 this year at Wadi al-Natrun Prison in Beheira in relation to a 2013 incident, despite the fact that executions are rarely held in the Holy Month of Ramadan.

Amnesty International issued a notice the day after the 9 executions in April raising the alarm that Wael Tawadros could soon be executed given the fast escalating rate of death sentences being carried out.

The Egyptian Initative for Personal Rights has noted that over the past three years, Egypt’s use of the death penalty has shown a “steady increase.” Fifty-3 executions were carried out in October, 2020 a figure which marked the largest number of death sentences to be carried out in one month over the last 5 years.

(source: madamasr.com)

IRAN:

11 years since execution, watchdog demands information on Kurdish activists' resting place

A human rights watchdog demanded Iranian authorities reveal the final resting place of Kurdish activists executed 11 years ago.

"Kurdistan Human Rights Network condemns their executions and calls on the authorities in Tehran to disclose the fate or location of their burial to their families. It has been 11 years that the families are under psychological torture and they do not know where their loved ones are buried and the authorities must disclose their fate," Rebin Rahmani, the founder of the Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN) told Rudaw.

"11 years have passed since the execution of these five political prisoners, the judicial and security officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran have refrained from providing any information about the location of their burial," he added.

One of the people killed was Farzad Kamangar, a teacher and civil rights activist from Kamyaran in Kurdistan province. He was arrested in May 2006 for allegedly collaborating with Kurdish opposition groups in Iran and "moharebeh," or enmity against God.

Kamangar denied the charges, and he and his fellow detainees were subjected to torture.

He was executed with four others on May 9, 2010 in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

Contrary to Iranian law, the family members and lawyers were not contacted before the execution took place and, under the guise of civil unrest, the bodies were never returned nor were the locations of the burial sites revealed.

His mother still holds hope that one day she will be able to mourn her son at his grave.

According to a 2021 Amnesty International report, Iran subjugates many of its detainees to enforced disappearances, holding them in undisclosed locations and hiding their fates and whereabouts from their families. Iran is also one of the world's top executioners.

(source: rudaw.net)

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Treatment of Afkari Brothers Amounts to Torture

Vahid and Habib Afkari were transferred to solitary confinement days prior to the execution of their brother Navid Afkari in September 2020, and have since been denied telephone contact with their family, access to their lawyer and medical care. Iran Human Rights reiterates its call for the immediate release of the Afkari brothers who are being held as hostages, and strongly condemns their treatment by Islamic Republic officials which it considers to amount to torture.

“The international community must respond to the Islamic Republic’s inhumane treatment of the Afkari brothers. Their continued detention in solitary confinement is a clear example of torture and must end immediately,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of IHR.

According to Iran Human Rights, executed protester Navid Afkari’s brothers, Vahid and Habib were transferred to solitary confinement on 5 September 2020 and have since been denied telephone contact with their family, access to their lawyer and medical care.

An informed source told IHR: “Even when they do let their family visit, it’s always when there is nobody else around as to keep them in complete isolation. The prolonged solitary confinement is adding pressure on them and being denied medical treatment and phone calls is yet more pressure.”

The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) limits the period of solitary confinement to a maximum of 15 consecutive days, prohibiting solitary confinement for indefinite terms and stipulates that it may only be imposed by a competent authority in accordance with the principles of fairness and due process and must be subject to independent review. Vahid and Habib Afkari have been continuously held in solitary confinement for more than 8 months, denied their due process and a fair trial and their family’s enquiries and calls have remained unanswered.

“Their family’s efforts haven’t yielded any results and they won’t even give them an end date for the solitary or the reason for denying them medical treatment,” the source added.

Navid Afkari was a 27 year old plasterer who also wrestled professionally and had won several medals in national competitions when he was executed on 12 September 2020, without being allowed to visit his family for the last time.

Navid was sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for the murder of a Hassan Turkman, a security guard at a government building who according to court documents had been sent to identify protesters in August 2018. Vahid Afkari was sentenced to 54 years and 6 months in prison and 74 lashes, and Habib Afkari to 27 years and 3 months in prison and 74 lashes.

Throughout their trial, Vahid and Navid were denied the right to choose their own lawyer and represented by a court appointed lawyer, while Habib was denied the right to any legal representation. The brothers had told the court that all their confessions were false and obtained under torture.

According to court documents obtained by IHR, the court not only ignored their statements of torture, but also denied Navid the right to a defence by denying his request to see the CCTV footage used as evidence of his guilt. The Afkari brothers’ trial was in breach of all known standards of fair trial and due process.

Iran Human Rights considers the detention of the Afkari brothers as hostage taking and their threat of execution an attempt by the Islamic Republic’s judiciary to prevent the truth from being discovered and calls for their immediate release.

(source: iranhr.net)

MAY 9, 2021:

TEXAS:

Commentary: Texas is too quick to execute young capital offenders----Wrongful convictions and litigation costs are two reasons to oppose the death penalty. Another is the toll on youthful offenders judged by the problematic idea of “future dangerousness.”

Re: “With death penalty, Texas clinging to a relic of the past,” Other Views, Sunday:

I write in support of the op-ed by Roger C. Barnes, who chairs the department of sociology at the University of the Incarnate Word, calling on the Editorial Board to take a moral stand against capital punishment in Texas.

To his list of well-founded objections to the death penalty as it is practiced in Texas, I would add one more: the cost exacted against youthful offenders.

I have examined the cases of 82 youthful capital offenders who were between the ages of 17 and 21 since the reinstatement of capital punishment in the 1970s. Nearly 3/4 of these offenders were Black or Hispanic; nearly all were poor; and most had experienced horrific abuses as children. In at least one case — that of 17-year-old Ruben Cantu from San Antonio’s South Side — Texas executed a person who was likely innocent.

Fueling the drive to convict and execute youthful offenders was “future dangerousness,” a requirement in the Texas death-penalty statute that calls on juries to decide whether a young person could be redeemed later in life.

This standard pushed prosecutors to portray defendants as violent, inhuman monsters and to dismiss or downplay mitigating evidence, including horrific childhood abuses. Some prosecutors, including Sam Millsap, the Bexar County district attorney who prosecuted Cantu’s case, have expressed regret and become vocal opponents of the death penalty.

On ExpressNews.com: ‘It’s still emotional for me’: Bexar County prosecutors wrangle over death penalty

This rush to execute youthful offenders was illustrated most recently in July, when the state executed Billy Joe Wardlow for a murder he committed as an 18-year-old in 1993. Wardlow shot a man while trying to steal a truck to flee an abusive home. He had no prior record of crime or violence.

Puro Politics

Nevertheless, the prosecution went on to portray Wardlow as a “stone cold killer” and “an animal out in the wild” who “goes out and devours those who are weaker than him … those that are defenseless. Why does a wolf do that? A wolf does that because that’s just what he is, he’s a predator. … The wolf is totally without remorse because that’s what he is.”

This style of argumentation is consistent with nearly all of the 82 cases I have reviewed involving youthful capital offenders. It encouraged jurors to view an 18-year-old first-time offender as an animal-like “predator” while erasing any consideration of troubled histories of childhood abuse, trauma and neglect, which often come to light during post-conviction mitigation investigations. Moreover, it presents a deeply unreliable forecast of an unformed youthful offender’s likelihood to commit further violent acts in a secure prison setting.

The practice of executing youthful capital offenders on the basis of highly misleading, unreliable and at times outright false evidence is well documented in the historical record. I urge the Editorial Board to take a clear stand against the continuation of this shameful history.

(source: Commentary; William S. Bush is a professor of history at Texas A&M University-San Antonio----San Antonio Express-News)

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Glad policy change happened

Re: “Death Row Policies Still Need Scrutiny — Clergy is no longer barred from the execution chamber, but Texas’ response to DNA testing is inconsistent,” Wednesday Editorial. Thank you for drawing attention to the policy change that will allow clergy into the Texas execution chamber. I am a clergy person who works for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and we endorse chaplains. Some of those chaplains work in prison settings.

When I heard about the decision to bar clergy from the execution chamber, I worked with the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty to present a petition with several hundred signatures of clergy from various religious groups to the proper authorities.

It did result in a rather long conversation with a person in charge of executions and a possible way forward for the state of Texas to accommodate prisoners’ final religious wishes. I am happy that the state listened to our concerns and addressed them.

Of course the issue of the death penalty still remains a crucial moral issue for us to address. For decades, it has been plagued by unfairness and errors which the state has been unable to address. Therefore, we should simply abolish the death penalty in the interest of moral justice.

Rick McClatchy, San Antonio

(source: Letter to the Editor, Dallas Morning News)

OHIO:

2nd suspect in Lakewood murder turns himself in----He and another suspect are currently being held in the Solon Jail.

The suspect in a homicide that occurred last Sunday morning in Lakewood has turned himself in.

Authorities confirm Bruce Ford Jr. came to the police department with his attorney and surrendered around 6 p.m. Saturday. The 23-year-old is currently being held without bond at the Solon Jail on a charge of aggravated murder.

Officials say 44-year-old Shontell Rose was shot to death inside his Elmwood Avenue apartment last weekend, and officers found him with multiple gunshot wounds to his head. A second suspect, 22-year-old Wilmarie A. Ford, had been arrested on Tuesday and also charged with aggravated murder. Police first came to Rose's apartment just after midnight on May 6 for an between him and a woman related to Mr. Ford. It is not yet known what exact roles Bruce and Wilmarie Ford may have played in Rose's murder, and a possible familiar relation between the 2 has not been specified. A motive has also not been confirmed.

A 19-year-old man was also arrested on the day Rose was found dead. While he was later released without being charged, police are still looking into his possible involvement as well as his relationships with both Ford and the suspects.

Wilmarie A. Ford was arraigned Friday in Lakewood Municipal Court and is still being held in the same jail as Bruce Jr. If convicted, both could potentially face the death penalty, although the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office has not yet said if it will pursue that route.

(source: WKYC news)

IDAHO:

The State of Idaho will execute an Italian American with terminal cancer

The US state of Idaho has set the execution of the 65-year-old Italian-American Gerald Ross Pizzuto jr, sentenced to death for the double murder of Berta Herndon, 58, and her nephew Del Herndon, 37, which took place in 1985.

The execution, the 1st in nearly 9 years in Idaho, was scheduled for next June 2nd despite Pizzuto having end-stage bladder cancer and other chronic diseases including diabetes.

The non-profit journalistic project The Marshall Project, which deals with controversial criminal justice cases, denounced his situation by pointing out that the man has been prescribed 42 different drugs in the last year and the level of suffering suffered is already very substantial. . Over the past year, his lawyers have reported constant episodes of memory loss and some of general disorientation.

Pizzuto, armed with a .22 caliber rifle, tied the wrists and legs of the 2 victims to rob them before beating and killing them. On appeal, Pizzuto’s lawyers tried to play the mental disability card since chand federal law of Idaho prohibits the death sentence in these specific cases. In 2019, the 9th US Court of Appeals upheld the first ruling, stating that the accused had failed to prove this type of disability.

The case of Pizzuto, according to The Marshall Project, raises the question relating to the costs associated with executions in America since, as in the case of Pizzuto, the probable death of the condemned would come soon and for natural causes. The number of death row inmates decreases every year in the country but those who risk this type of final sentence are almost always very old or terminally ill.

Pizzuto’s lawyers will try to stop the execution claiming that the lethal injection would violate the constitutional rights of their client, disregarding his medical condition and causing him excessive pain. In the past, however, the Supreme Court has generally rejected this type of appeal.

(source: Time.News)

INDIA:

Daughter, 17, raped and wife murdered: Tamil Nadu man gets death

A mahila court in Pudukottai on Thursday sentenced a 52-year-old man to death for raping his 17-year-old daughter and killing his wife for questioning the exploitation. The survivor was among the convict’s 11 children from 3 wives.

Born to his second wife, the girl has been putting up with her father’s sexual assault since 2017 when she was 15 years old.

He continuously raped her by threatening to kill her mother if she revealed it to anyone.

However, the woman came to know about it in 2019 and threatened him with dire consequences.

He decided to get rid of her after she started preventing his further advances towards the girl. He murdered the woman in December 2019 at an isolated place.

Police arrested him and it was during inquiry that they came to know about his sexual assault on his own daughter.

3rd rape case ending with death sentence in 6 months

Judge R Sathya convicted the man under four sections of the Indian Penal Code and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) (amendment) Act, 2019.

Besides death sentence, she also awarded him a life sentence, 9 years of rigorous imprisonment and fines adding up to ?3 lakh.

This is the 3rd case of rape of a minor in the past 6 months in which the judge has awarded death sentence. In December 2020, a 25-year-old man who murdered a 7-year-old girl after raping her in June that year was awarded death sentence, rigorous life imprisonment and fine.

In February this year, the judge awarded triple death sentence to a 34-year-old native of Gujarat for sodomising a 17-year-old boy with learning disabilities who later died in hospital due to internal injuries.

(The victims' identities have not been revealed to protect their privacy as per Supreme Court directives on cases related to sexual assault)

(source: The Times of India)

MAY 8, 2021:

TEXAS:

Why are we still doing this?

There’s so much to be said for our traditions in Texas: the State Fair in September, college football in the fall and — the state-sanctioned killing of our citizens? Since 1982, Texas has used lethal injection to enforce the death penalty.

The execution of a criminal does not appear to dissuade others from committing capital crimes, nor does it bring back innocent victims.

What it does do is perpetuate a cycle, one that continues the violence and agony it was intended to halt. And there are often cases where the innocence of an executed man or woman is discovered when it’s too late.

Texas must end this barbaric practice and sentence the guilty to life imprisonment without parole. It’s time to start a new tradition, Texas.

Amanda Arrington, Burleson

(source: Letter to the Editor, Dallas Morning News)

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Texas House of Representatives Passes Bill to Limit Death-Penalty Eligibility for Defendants Who Do Not Kill

In an overwhelming bipartisan vote, the Texas House of Representatives has passed a bill that ends death-penalty liability under the state’s controversial “law of parties” for felony accomplices who neither kill nor intended that a killing take place and were minor participants in the conduct that led to the death of the victim. Currently, Texas law makes any participant in a felony criminally liable for the acts of everyone else involved in the crime, irrespective of how small a role he played in the offense or whether he knew or intended that a killing would occur.

The state House voted 135 to 6 on May 5, 2021 to approve HB 1340, advancing the bill for consideration by the Texas Senate. The legislation also directs the Texas Board of Paroles and Pardons to review the cases of prisoners who previously had been sentenced to death under the rule of parties to “identify appropriate inmates to recommend to the governor for purposes of granting clemency.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeff Leach (R – Plano), said “I have trouble sleeping at night knowing that there is … a man, and perhaps many men and women, on death row right now who could be put to death any day by the state when they didn’t kill anybody.” “We want to reserve the death penalty … for cases in which there is intent,” Leach said.

Leach, a death-penalty supporter, became a champion of reforming the law of parties when Texas was on the verge of executing Jeffery Wood in August 2016. Wood was convicted and sentenced to death even though he neither killed nor intended for anyone to be killed and, his supporters say, was in a car in the parking lot not even aware that the robbery in which a codefendant killed a store clerk was going to occur. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Wood’s execution five days before he was scheduled to die to permit him to litigate a claim that the prosecution had presented false expert evidence claiming he would pose a continuing threat to society if spared the death penalty.

Since 1976, at least 11 people have been executed after being sentenced to death in felony-murder cases in which the evidence undisputedly establishes that they did not kill anyone. 6 of those men were executed in Texas under the law of parties. In 2019, an ACLU review of death penalty statutes in the United States found that 27 states permit the death penalty for non-triggermen. However, no other state statute subjects non-killers to capital punishment as broadly as the Texas law of parties.

In December 2018, Texas executed Joseph Garcia, 1 of 7 Texas prison escapees implicated in a failed robbery that led to a shootout in which a police officer was killed. Garcia was sentenced to death despite not participating in the shootout and, he said, coming under fire himself when he tried to stop the shooting.

Most recently, Texas came within an hour of executing Ruben Gutierrez in June 2020, who had sought DNA testing to support his claim that he had been waiting in a park at the time of the murder, unaware that his co-defendants were going to kill an elderly woman while robbing her home. The U.S. Supreme Court halted his execution only because Texas had refused to allow his spiritual adviser to accompany him into the execution chamber. Ruling on a motion that was undecided at the time Gutierrez received his stay, a federal judge later declared that Texas had unconstitutionally denied him DNA testing.

Both Wood’s and Gutierrez’s cases remain on appeal.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

PENNSYLVANIA:

Sen. Toomey pushes act that would increase death penalty chances for convicted cop-killers

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey is pushing for a bill that would increase the chances a criminal receives the death penalty if they're convicted of killing a police officer.

It's called the Thin Blue Line Act, an attempt to increase the likelihood that someone convicted of killing law enforcement receive the death penalty in federal cases.

Toomey was surrounded by Luzerne County leaders as he made the announcement, all in support of the Thin Blue Line Act.

Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce says he's glad the community seems to support the police more than other areas.

“Police officers deserve better than this,” Toomey said. “I think our society deserves better. And in the horrendous event when a police officer is killed in the line of duty, we owe that officer and his or her family justice.”

Toomey, a Republican, says it could be tough to get the bill through the House and Senate, both Democrat-controlled, but he's hopeful.

(source: WJAC news)

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Homicide suspect waives preliminary hearing, moves case to Union County Court

Homicide suspect Tracy Ray Rollins Jr., 29, a truck driver of Dallas, Texas, waived his right to a preliminary hearing Thursday.

Rollins is accused of slaying former model Rebecca Landrith, 47, of Virginia, and allegedly leaving her body off an Interstate 80 ramp near Loganton in western Union County sometime overnight between Feb. 6 and 7.

Landrith’s body was found shortly before 7 a.m. Feb. 7 by a PennDOT worker at mile marker 199 near Mile Run along the off-ramp of Interstate 80 East.

The decision to waive the preliminary hearing means Rollins’ case will move to Union County Court where he could face trial.

According to an arrest affidavit filed by Trooper Tyler Watson of Pennsylvania State Police at Milton, Landrith was shot at least 18 times in the head, neck and chest inside the cab of Rollins’ tractor trailer truck.

Rollins was arrested by state police in Connecticut on Feb. 10 after investigators followed a paper trail to track the suspect down. Through receipts found in Landrith’s jacket, police were able to match dates and times to surveillance footage at several restaurants and convenience stores in Wisconsin and Indiana.

It is believed that Landrith had traveled with Rollins for several months during his deliveries. She had allegedly gone by the name “Leslie Myers.”

Rollins was extradited back to Pennsylvania on Feb. 23 where he was arraigned by District Judge Jeffrey C. Mensch on charges of felony homicide and a misdemeanor of abuse of a corpse. Mensch denied bail with the reason being “criminal homicide and no ties to the community” according to court documents. Rollins has been committed to Union County Jail since then.

Mensch, whose courtroom is in Mifflinburg, presided Thursday morning at Rollins’ preliminary hearing which was held at Union County Courthouse in Lewisburg due to the case being of high interest to the public.

Chief Public Defender Brian Ulmer, court appointed attorney for Rollins, told Mensch that Rollins wanted to waive the preliminary hearing. “The Commonwealth has advised they are willing to engage in accelerated discovery, some of which was presented today,” Ulmer said.

Ulmer requested that the sheriff’s office unshackle Rollins’ writing hand so he could sign waiver papers. Rollins sat at the defense table with Ulmer, as Union County District Attorney Pete Johnson sat at the nearby prosecutor’s table. Pennsylvania State Police at Milton troopers Watson and Jessica Nashcke also were present.

Members of Landrith's family, including her parents, step parents, and several siblings, attend the hearing via Zoom.

Mensch explained the process of the preliminary hearing to Rollins and asked if he had enough time with his attorney and if he knew that the waiver would move the case directly to trial court without attempting to drop charges or evidence. Rollins stated, “that’s correct,” in reply.

Rollins did not have any questions for the judge. He is now scheduled for formal arraignment at 8:30 a.m. July 26 at the county court. At that point, Rollins may enter a guilty plea or have the case potentially go to trial.

The maximum penalty for criminal homicide ranges from the death penalty to life in prison. The abuse of a corpse charge carries a punishment of up to 2 years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

(source: northcentralpa.com)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

Secrecy behind prison walls -- Should the public be denied critical information?

SC officials are witholding the names of inmates who die in prison.

This includes convicted felons who are executed or killed by other inmates.

The prison system no longer reveals dead inmates’ names, even to reporters who ask about them.

Yet many families of their victims depend on newspapers to find out what happens to these felons.

The state's top Freedom of Information attroney says this may violate FoIA rules as dead inmates have no privacy rights.

SC Corrections Director Bryan Stirling asked Attorney General Alan Wilson if the system can withhold from the puiblic the identities of inmates who die.

Under the state Freedom of Information Act, such disclosures should be given to the puiblic.

Robert Kittle of Wilson's office told the Chronicle they are looking into it and will disclose a decision when it is available.

Sterling wrote Wilson for an opinion about disclosing to the public the names of those who die due to suicide, drug overdose, homicide, or any other reason.

Before hearing from the Attorney General, Sterling has quietly reversed a longstanding practice of releasing names of newsworthy inmates who die in prison, The State newspaper found.

Top FoIA lawyer Jay Bender said the courts have held that prison inmates have no privacy expectations.

That “no privacy” holding is even more true when inmates die, Bender said.

“The notion that an inmate who dies has a right to privacy is bizarre because your right to privacy dies with you,” Bender said.

As for keeping secret the names of inmates who have been executed, Bender said that would be ridiculous.

“One reason for the death penalty is for it to be a deterrent.

"What is the prison system going to do after an execution, say, of an unnamed inmate who was executed for some crimes he committed long ago?” Bender asked.

Bender represents the Chronicle and the SC Press Association.

(source: Lexington County Chronicle)

ARKANSAS:

4 Years After an Execution, a Different Man’s DNA Is Found on the Murder Weapon----Lawyers’ request to conduct additional DNA testing before Ledell Lee was executed had been denied.

For 22 years, Ledell Lee maintained that he had been wrongly convicted of murder.

“My dying words will always be, as it has been, ‘I am an innocent man,’” he told the BBC in an interview published on April 19, 2017 — the day before officials in Arkansas administered the lethal injection.

4 years later, lawyers affiliated with the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union say DNA testing has revealed that genetic material on the murder weapon — which was never previously tested — in fact belongs to another man. In a highly unusual development for a case in which a person has already been convicted and executed, the new genetic profile has been uploaded to a national criminal database in an attempt to identify the mystery man.

Patricia Young, Mr. Lee’s sister, has been fighting for years to prove that it was not her brother who strangled and fatally bludgeoned the 26-year-old Debra Reese in Jacksonville, Ark., a suburb of Little Rock, in 1993.

“We are glad there is new evidence in the national DNA database and remain hopeful that there will be further information uncovered in the future,” Ms. Young said in a statement last week. In response to a lawsuit filed by Ms. Young in January, Jacksonville city officials released the bloody wooden club recovered from the victim’s bedroom, a bloody white shirt wrapped around the club and several other pieces of evidence for testing.

The Innocence Project and the A.C.L.U. have pushed for additional DNA testing at previous times, including the eve of Mr. Lee’s execution. The request was denied. A federal judge rejected Mr. Lee’s request for a stay of the execution, saying that he had “simply delayed too long,” according to a complaint filed by Ms. Young.

Mr. Lee’s execution, on April 20, 2017, was the 1st in Arkansas in more than a decade. Some accused the state of rushing Mr. Lee and several other prisoners to their deaths that month before the expiration of its supply of a lethal injection drug.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson defended Mr. Lee’s execution. “It’s my duty to carry out the law,” he said, adding that “the fact is that the jury found him guilty based upon the information that they had.” He called the new DNA evidence that has emerged “inconclusive.”

In a statement, lawyers from the A.C.L.U. and the Innocence Project were cautious about stating what, exactly, could be extrapolated from the newly tested DNA from the shirt and the murder weapon — beyond the facts that both samples appeared to belong to the same man and that that man was not Mr. Lee.

“While the results obtained 29 years after the evidence was collected proved to be incomplete and partial, it is notable that there are now new DNA profiles that were not available during the trial or post-conviction proceedings in Mr. Lee’s case,” Nina Morrison, senior litigation counsel at the Innocence Project, said in the statement, which The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

Uploading this newly generated profile to a national criminal database maintained by the F.B.I. has not yet provided a “hit,” she said. That means that the mystery man’s DNA does not match any of the DNA profiles that are already in the database, taken from people who were convicted or arrested on suspicion of violent crimes.

“However, the DNA profile will now remain in the database and will be automatically compared to all new profiles from convicted persons, arrestees or unsolved crimes that are entered in the future,” lawyers for the A.C.L.U., the Innocence Project and Ms. Young said in a joint statement.

According to the Innocence Project, no physical evidence was ever produced that connected Mr. Lee to Ms. Reese’s murder. In a summary of the case, the group also outlined obstacles that Mr. Lee had faced over the years, including a lawyer who was drunk and unprepared at court hearings, unreliable neighborhood eyewitnesses and conflicts of interest for key players.

Mr. Lee’s 1st trial resulted in a hung jury. His 2nd murder trial began on Oct. 10, 1995, just 7 days after O.J. Simpson had been acquitted of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

“Mr. Lee, a Black man charged with the vicious beating and murder of a white woman in her home, was tried under the shadow of the O.J. Simpson prosecution and trial,” Ms. Young argued in her January lawsuit. “The Simpson verdict shocked and angered many white Americans and polarized the nation along racial lines. It’s difficult to imagine that any jury could be truly objective in considering the evidence against Mr. Lee at that particular moment in time.”

(source: New York Times)

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4 Years After Arkansas Executed Ledell Lee, DNA Points to Someone Else----New testing suggests a hasty death penalty case killed the wrong person.

On April 20, 2017, Ledell Lee was executed by the state of Arkansas for murder, with Lee insisting to the end that he was innocent of the crime. A new test of DNA evidence in the case, which the state refused to do before executing him, points to a different suspect than Lee.

Lee was put to death 4 years ago as part of a rush in which Arkansas tried to execute 8 people in 11 days, so that the state could use scarce lethal injection drugs before they expired. In that mad dash, 4 men were executed, 3 had their executions stayed, and one was granted clemency. Lee was 1 of the 4 put to death after Neil Gorsuch, in his 1st vote as a member of the Supreme Court, joined a 5–4 ruling to allow the execution to proceed. Even then, Lee’s case was considered one of the most seriously flawed, with a distinct chance that the state would be putting an innocent man to death.

That decision to allow the execution to go forward is looking worse and worse. Last week, the ACLU and Innocence Project released the results of DNA testing that was requested prior to Lee’s execution but was only permitted to go ahead after a lawsuit was filed by Lee’s sister last year. Those results demonstrated that another man’s DNA was found on the murder weapon, a wooden club, and on a shirt that had been wrapped around the murder weapon. The unknown man’s DNA, however, was not found in the FBI’s national criminal database.

5 sets of fingerprints found at the scene of the crime that did not belong to Lee were also entered into a national database but also yielded no result. The Arkansas State Crime Laboratory has yet to test those fingerprints against its own database. 6 hairs from the scene were also tested. Lee was excluded as the source of 5 but could not be excluded as the source of the 6th, though such “mitochondrial DNA profiles may be shared by thousands of individuals in a given population,” the Innocence Project noted.

“The reason mitochondrial DNA profiles aren’t ‘unique’ and may be common to thousands of people in a community is that they are shared by everyone in a common maternal line—even very distant cousins across different generations,” a representative from the ACLU said. She continued:

In small communities or ones where many residents share some common ancestry, 2 people may share an identical mitochondrial DNA profile even if they have no idea that they are distantly related. So while mitochondrial DNA can be used to exclude someone as a potential source of a hair, or to narrow down a pool of potential candidates, it can’t be used to positively identify the source.

“While this phase of the litigation and court-ordered DNA testing is now concluded, the investigation into the case remains open due to the possibility of a future database ‘hit’ to the unknown male DNA or unknown fingerprints from the crime scene,” Nina Morrison, senior litigation counsel at the Innocence Project, said in a statement last week. “We are hopeful that one or more of these forensic law enforcement databases will generate additional information in the future.”

The case now appears to be in limbo, but the murder weapon DNA from a man who is not Ledell Lee adds to one of the many, many flaws in the case against him. As I wrote last year:

Lee’s 1st trial ended in a hung jury. At his second one, his lawyers did not bring up some of the potentially exonerating testimony and evidence raised in the 1st, including alibi testimony from Lee’s family members. In that 2nd trial, a jury of 11 white Arkansans and 1 black Arkansan—in a county where nearly 1/3 of residents were black—found him guilty after a 4-day trial and 3 hours of deliberation. The conviction came 1 week after the racially charged O.J. Simpson verdict, and 1 witness alluded to that verdict by recalling a conversation she had “last week, when they let O.J. Simpson go.”

Lee’s case also relied heavily on shoe-pattern forensic evidence that was later demonstrated to also be heavily flawed. The flaws in the case continued through the appellate process. Lee’s initial appellate attorney appeared drunk in court and later acknowledged that he had substance abuse problems. More importantly, he never introduced evidence that Lee was intellectually disabled and never won testing on the DNA samples that now point to the likelihood of a different suspect.

Earlier this week, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson insisted that he did his “duty to carry out the law” following the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2017. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, meanwhile, dismissed the DNA evidence and still insisted that Lee had committed the 1993 murder of Debra Reese, for which he was executed.

The sad fact is that Arkansas should not have executed Lee and further evidence indicates that another man may have committed the crime. Yet Lee’s family still must wait for definitive proof of another suspect, which may never come. Either way, advocates for continuation of the death penalty should have to contend with the nightmarish facts of Lee’s case as long as executions continue to occur in the United States.

(source: Jeremy Stahl, slate.com)

MISSOURI:

'Useless trips:' Diemel family frustrated with Missouri justice system

The family of Nick and Justin Diemel has grown frustrated with the Missouri justice system, as a trial for their alleged killer inches closer.

Pam Diemel, the mother of the 2 brothers, told News-Press NOW that her family “will never get closure.”

“It’s just very frustrating. It’s, I mean, people want to move on with their lives, and we are unable to do it,” Diemel said.

Police have zeroed in on a suspect; that’s not the delay. Garland Joseph Nelson has been jailed since July of 2019. He’s charged with double murder, alongside a host of other felonies. Nelson faces the death penalty.

Pam Diemel has travelled from Wisconsin to Missouri for every single court date. And there have been many in the nearly 2 years since the case began.

“That’s a long time to go,” she said of the 10 hour drive. “That’s a lot of useless trips.”

Nelson’s trial for murder was moved from spring of next year to summer of next year. He was supposed to face trial for a lesser stealing charge last month, but that was postponed on its 1st day, before a jury could even be selected.

“It isn’t our prosecutors,” Pam Diemel said. “I trust them 100%. It’s the defense lawyer, he’s the one that delays everything constantly.”

Nelson’s primary lawyer, Patrick Berrigan, previously told News-Press NOW that the defense team will litigate “each and every” objection. It was Berrigan who objected to media and the victim’s advocate being left outside during the start of jury selection for the stealing charge.

A judge later ruled the trial delayed, though there’s dispute over whose fault it is. Nelson’s case is likely to have years of appeals, especially if he’s convicted and sentenced to death.

“You know, whether it’s Wisconsin, Missouri, anywhere, sometimes the system, although it’s meant to be designed for a certain way, but there still is a certain level where you become to the point of like, enough,” Jennifer Halvorson, an administrator of a Facebook group dedicated to the brothers, said.

Pam Diemel said it’s especially hard to attend drawn-out court proceedings when Nelson hasn’t shown remorse or admitted to the most serious allegations.

“Yeah, and then he sits there. He shows no remorse,” she said.

A probable cause statement, filed back in 2019, indicates Nelson told investigators that he discovered the bodies on his property, but he denies killing the men. The defense team attempted to get two charges for abandonment of a corpse dismissed, claiming Missouri’s requirement that the public report dead bodies, would violate Nelson’s fifth amendment right against self-incrimination.

A judge denied the defense’s motion, and the charges remain.

Halvorson, who leads a group of 37,000 online followers, said she’s impressed by the support from the public in Wisconsin and Missouri.

“I think is helpful to is this helps keep the men’s memory alive,” Halvorson said. “I mean, even for Nick’s children to have those memories and in for Taylor to be able to, you know, remember her boyfriend... That they can have that connection and see that support.”

(source: News-Press Now)

NEBRASKA:

Bailey Boswell's attorney wants probation office to look into prison's plan if a woman is sentenced to death----Defense paints Boswell as one of Trail's victims; prosecution says she wanted to torture, kill

Next month, attorneys will argue -- for and against -- Bailey Boswell getting a death sentence for killing a 24-year-old Lincoln woman in 2017.

But first, her attorney is asking the judge to have the probation office look into how the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services would house her if she did get the ultimate penalty.

"The NDCS has a policy and procedure for housing male inmates sentenced to the death penalty, but does not have a specific policy or procedure for housing female inmates sentenced to the death penalty," Todd Lancaster of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy said in the motion filed this week. "This means that a female inmate sentenced to the death penalty will be treated differently and in a harsher and more restrictive way than male inmates similarly situated."

Nebraska never has had a woman on death row.

On Friday afternoon, a prison spokeswoman didn't respond to an email asking if the prison had a plan being prepared for the possibility.

The Correction Department's Inmates Sentenced to the Death Penalty Policy, last revised Dec. 31, says inmates sentenced to the death penalty will be housed at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution, a facility for male inmates only.

The policy says they are to be separated from the general public because of their risk level and can go to activities outside of their cells in groups.

But, Lancaster said, if the prison put a female inmate sentenced to the death penalty at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York under the same policy and rules for male inmates at Tecumseh, the inmate would be in permanent restrictive housing.

He said since the death penalty was reinstated in Nebraska in 1972, the state has executed 4 men. 4 others have died of natural causes or suicide while on death row. The average time on death row before execution is just over 21 years.

Lancaster said placing a female inmate sentenced to the death penalty in permanent restrictive housing would amount to cruel and unusual punishment under the U.S. Constitution and the Nebraska Constitution.

A hearing on the motion is set at the beginning of June.

Later in the month, June 30, a 3-judge panel is set to begin hearing evidence to determine if Boswell will get a life sentence or death for the murder and dismemberment of Sydney Loofe.

Susie Loofe reported her daughter missing Nov. 16, 2017, after she learned that Sydney didn't show up for work. Her disappearance sparked a massive search for her, then a manhunt for Boswell and Trail and ultimately to the discovery of Loofe's remains in plastic bags scattered along gravel roads in central Nebraska’s Clay County.

In October, a jury in Lexington found Boswell guilty of 1st-degree murder, conspiracy and the unlawful disposal of remains.

Her co-defendant, Aubrey Trail, was found guilty at trial in Wilber last year and is expected to learn June 9 a separate 3-judge panel's decision in his case.

Prosecutors said Trail and Boswell worked together to recruit young women in a conspiracy to kill and ultimately chose Loofe as their victim, and that Boswell lured her to their Wilber apartment the night of Nov. 15, 2017, under the guise of a date after matching on the dating app Tinder.

(source: Journal Star)

IDAHO----impending execution

‘I pray God takes him first’: why do some US states want to execute the dying?----Case of terminally ill Gerald Pizzuto renews debate about capital punishment for people who are sick or very old

Gerald Pizzuto is near death, but it’s unclear whether the cancer or the state of Idaho will get to him first.

For more than a year, the 65-year-old has been in hospice care on Idaho’s death row, suffering from advanced bladder tumors, along with type 2 diabetes, and a variety of heart and lung diseases. According to his defense team, he’s been prescribed 42 different drugs in the last year, and his medical records say he has “begun experiencing memory loss and mild disorientation associated with the death process”.

But on Thursday, the Idaho attorney general’s office confirmed the state’s plan to execute him on 2 June, for the 1985 murders of two gold prospectors in the mountains north of Boise. If it goes through as planned, this will be Idaho’s 1st execution in 9 years.

Given the likelihood that Pizzuto will soon die of natural causes, his case may stir up the recurring debates about the cost of capital punishment in this fiscally conservative state. His legal team has filed a petition for clemency, calling the execution “an unnecessary exercise, with significant operational and personnel costs for the state”.

“I don’t understand trying to kill somebody who is already dying,” said his sister Angelinna Pizzuto.

Across the country, executions are growing less frequent each year. But many of those facing execution are terminally ill, or simply very old. While courts try to ensure that innocent people aren’t executed and guilty people don’t face violations of their constitutional rights, the appeals process has grown longer and longer. Federal data show that people executed in 1987 had spent an average of just over seven years in prison; by 2017, those executed had been on death row for an average of nearly 20 years.

“We’ve got death rows that are starting to feel like assisted living,” said Bernard Harcourt, a Columbia law professor whose own client, Doyle Hamm, was 61 and terminally ill with lymphatic cancer when Alabama tried to execute him in 2018. Hamm’s failing health rendered it impossible for prison officials to find a usable vein, even after hours of poking that left him with a punctured bladder. Two months later, the state executed 83-year-old Walter Moody, the oldest person put to death in recent times.

In Ohio, officials tried and failed to execute Alva Campbell, who was already dying of cancer. He was unable to walk, used a colostomy bag and required four breathing treatments per day. Officials called off the execution in 2017 after they could not find a vein, and Campbell later died in his cell of natural causes.

Then in June 2018, Texas executed a confessed serial killer named Danny Bible, who shook with Parkinson’s tremors as he lay on the gurney. Bible’s legal team had argued, unsuccessfully, that he was too sick for execution because his “galaxy of medical issues” would make the process more painful, violating the 8th amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

For more than two decades, defense lawyers for death row prisoners have argued that long prison stays under the impending threat of death amount to “cruel and unusual punishment”, and that lethal injection methods can cause excessive pain to prisoners in ill health.

The most successful of these efforts have been about dementia. The US supreme court has ruled that people cannot be executed if they don’t understand why. In 2018 the court agreed to hear the case of Vernon Madison, who was facing execution in Alabama even though he could not remember his crime, the 1985 murder of a police officer. Alabama officials had argued that executing Madison would still fulfill the primary purposes of the death penalty – retribution and deterrence – and attorneys general in 14 other states took their side in the case.

The court stopped the execution until a lower court could revisit the case. That hearing never took place; Madison died in prison early last year.

“We may face ever more instances of state efforts to execute prisoners suffering the diseases and infirmities of old age,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote of Madison’s case, adding that rather than “develop a constitutional jurisprudence that focuses upon the special circumstances of the aged”, the court should re-evaluate the death penalty entirely.

In Idaho, Gerald Pizzuto’s lawyers may soon argue that the state’s lethal injection plan will violate his constitutional rights, by failing to account for his medical conditions and causing him excessive pain. Such arguments have reached the supreme court and have generally fared poorly.

But Pizzuto’s attorneys can’t make those arguments because prison officials have not yet announced what drugs they plan to use.

“It’s our contention that they should have to pick it, tell us what it is and we shouldn’t have to guess which of these various protocols they might choose,” said Pizzuto’s lawyer Bruce Livingston. Defense lawyers for Idaho prisoners have been arguing that the delay robs them of the ability to study the medical issues involved, but that in Pizzuto’s case, his heart problems render it “highly likely that he would experience sensations associated with a heart attack, including significant pain and a feeling of impending doom”.

Over the last decade, pharmaceutical companies have made it more difficult for prisons to use their products in executions, leading states to seek drugs from small compounding pharmacies, and even overseas. In the meantime, Idaho has been embroiled in a court battle over secrecy surrounding its lethal injection protocols, stemming from the University of Idaho professor Aliza Cover’s request for information about the drugs and procedures the state used in its last 2 executions, in 2011 and 2012.

Prison officials have maintained that revealing too much would compromise future efforts to get drugs. But in 2020 a court ordered them to release records. Since then, officials have said they no longer have lethal injection drugs on hand, and it remains unclear how difficult it will be for them to get more.

“We are confident that when the time comes, we will have the chemicals necessary to carry out the court order,” an Idaho prison spokesman, Jeffrey Ray, wrote in an email on Thursday, adding that the agency had not yet received the death warrant for Pizzuto.

At Pizzuto’s 1986 trial, prosecutors said he was camping with friends in the mountains north of Boise when he walked to a cabin and robbed, beat, shot and buried 2 gold prospectors: Del Herndon, 37, and his aunt, Berta Herndon, 58.

In court records, Pizzuto’s friends – and later co-defendants – described how he said he was going “hunting”. Pizzuto emerged from the Herndon cabin with a wad of $100 bills, saying he had “put those people to sleep permanently”. The others, who took some of the money and helped bury the victims, all received prison terms.

The Herndon family has not made public statements recently, but before the trial they said they supported a death sentence. “When they murdered Berta they took my life away too,” Berta’s husband, who is also named Del Herndon, said in a report introduced at trial. “I realize nothing can help my wife, but maybe we can protect others from it happening to them.”

In the years since, Pizzuto’s lawyers have argued that he suffers from an intellectual disability, which should disqualify him from execution. They also claimed prosecutors withheld details about his co-defendants, who received deals for pleading guilty and testifying against him.

As his execution approaches, Pizzuto’s team is asking the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole to take into consideration the trauma of his damaging childhood. According to his siblings, when Pizzuto was a child, his stepfather would frequently wake him up with a flashlight and hunting knife, take him to a garage, string him up with extension cords, rape him and charge other adult men up to $20 to rape him as well. The stepfather beat Pizzuto with a cattle prod, horse crop and 2x4, leaving him with brain damage.

“You could be asleep in your bed and be yanked out by your hair in the middle of the night and drug off,” his sister, Elsie Pizzuto, told a defense investigator.

This all began when Pizzuto was five or six, and his mother, according to the other children, did not protect him from the abuse. If anyone began looking into the abuse, the stepfather would uproot the family, even changing their last names to evade law enforcement.

Stories of trauma and abuse are troublingly common on death row, but the repeated sexual abuse by friends of a parent echoes the case of Lisa Montgomery, who was executed by the Trump administration despite pleas for clemency from leaders in domestic violence prevention.

Pizzuto’s sister Angelinna last saw him 18 months ago. “He’s in a wheelchair, and I’m in a wheelchair, and he could hardly stand up to hug me,” she said. At times, he’s on so much pain medication that he doesn’t recognize her or understand the severity of his medical condition. But she tries to make jokes to keep his spirits up. “It’s killing us both,” she said. “I don’t know what they’ll do when they take him. I pray God takes him first.”

(source: The Guardian)

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Scheduled Executions

Gerald Ross Pizzuto, Jr., is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, at the Idaho Maximum Security Prison in Kuna, Idaho. 65-year-old Gerald is convicted of beating to death 58-year-old Berta Herndon and her nephew, 37-year-old Del Dean Herndon, at a mountain cabin near McCall, Idaho. Gerald has been on death row for the last 35 years.

Gerald had a sad childhood, as he was frequently beaten, allegedly leaving him brain damaged. Gerald also allegedly had a violent personality, according to his ex-wife. During their marriage, he was physically and verbally abusive, including pushing her down the stairs while she was pregnant and killing their pets. Gerald was also addicted to drugs and had health issues relating to his prolonged and excessive drug use.

On July 25, 1985, Gerald Pizzuto was camping with friends at a campsite in Ruby Meadows, near McCall, Idaho. Pizzuto approached Berta Herndon, and her nephew Del Dean Herdon with a rifle and forced them into their cabin, where Pizzuto tied them up. Pizzuto robbed them and left, returning later to beat them both over the head with a hammer. He eventually shot Del because Del did not die quickly from the hammer blows. Pizzuto later joked and bragged about the murders to those with whom he was camping. The group helped Pizzuto bury the bodies and took some of the stolen money.

Nearly 1 year later, in May 1986, Pizzuto was convicted and sentenced to death for the double murder and robbery. Those who helped bury the bodies were given prison terms.

Pizzuto is currently in poor health and battling bladder cancer in a hospice. He also has Type 2 diabetes and a variety of heart and lung diseases.

Please pray for peace for the families of Berta adn Del Dean Herdon. Pray for strength for the family of Gerald Pizzuto. Please pray that if Gerald is innocent, lacks the competency to be executed, or should not be executed for any other reason, that evidence will be presented prior to his execution. Pray that Gerald may come to find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, if he has not already.

(source: theforgivenessfoundation.org)

NEVADA:

Possible Nevada execution date being pushed to late July

Prosecutors in Las Vegas are changing from early June to late July the date they’re proposing for the lethal injection of a mass murderer who would be the 1st convicted killer put to death in Nevada in 15 years.

The date change emerged Friday in a court filing submitted to a federal judge considering an order to stop and review plans to execute Zane Michael Floyd.

Floyd is fighting his execution for the 1999 shotgun killings of 4 people and the wounding of a 5th at a Las Vegas supermarket. His attorneys did not immediately respond Friday to messages.

Deputy Nevada Attorney General Randall Gilmer said in the court document that District Attorney Steve Wolfson still plans to ask a Clark County District Court judge next Friday to issue an execution warrant for Floyd, but will seek the week of July 26 instead of the week of June 7.

Deputy Clark County District Attorney Alexander Chen confirmed the change and noted that Nevada prisons chief Charles Daniels told U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware II on Thursday that while he would carry out an execution if a warrant is issued, he would like more time to plan.

“We agree that’s the best course,” Chen said.

“There’s no do-over button in executions,” Daniels had testified.

State law gives the prisons chief primary responsibility for an execution. But Daniels told Boulware he has not finalized plans for an execution, including the drugs that would be used, and has not yet drawn up protocol. Daniels said also that prison officials would benefit from practice to correct possible mistakes.

Floyd’s attorneys, deputy federal public defenders David Anthony and Brad Levenson, are raising concerns about a rush toward a botched and inhumane execution. They want Boulware to stop and review the process and require Daniels to make the execution protocol public.

The court fight is shadowed by delays of an execution that was scheduled twice -- in 2017 and 2018 — for convicted killer Scott Dozier.

Dozier pleaded with the state to put him to death, but his lethal injection was stopped twice by court fights over the process and the drugs. Dozier killed himself in prison in January 2019.

In court documents, Gilmer has raised concerns about a “media sideshow” and “cancel culture” if the state reveals the drugs it would use in Floyd’s case, and the names of manufacturers. The state attorney argued that only after the plan is developed can Floyd challenge the process.

Boulware scheduled another hearing Monday.

Floyd, 45, a former U.S. Marine, is not a volunteer for execution. He was sentenced in 2000 to die, and also was convicted of raping a woman at his parents’ home hours before the deadly shooting rampage.

Although his lawyers filed documents in state court suggesting he could be executed by firing squad, lethal injection is the only capital punishment method Nevada allows.

The last person put to death in Nevada was Daryl Mack in 2006. He had been convicted in a 1988 rape and murder in Reno and asked for his sentence to be carried out.

(source: Associated Press)

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

Nevada Prosecutors Are Standing in the Way of Abolishing the Death Penalty

Time is running out for the state Senate to advance a bill repealing the death penalty. 2 influential Democratic senators also work as prosecutors, and the state’s DA association is fighting the reform.

Nevada, a state where district attorneys are fond of death sentences, is close to repealing capital punishment. When the Assembly passed a bill to abolish the death penalty in April, the chamber’s Democrats, who hold the majority, all voted in its favor, sending it to the Democrat-controlled Senate.

But a pair of Democratic senators, both of whom work as prosecutors when the legislature is not in session, may derail the effort. Nicole Cannizzaro is the Senate majority leader and has not committed to bringing forward the legislation, Assembly Bill 395. Melanie Scheible leads the Judiciary Committee, which has yet to hold a hearing or vote on the bill. The clock is ticking; the bill would need to pass the committee by next week, and the entire legislative session is winding down at the end of May.

Cannizzaro and Scheible are deputy district attorneys in the office of Clark County (Las Vegas) DA Steve Wolfson. Wolfson is a staunch foe of death penalty abolition who has sought death sentences in dozens of cases over his tenure, testified against AB 395, and is trying to schedule an execution just as this debate is coming to a head in the state Capitol.

“There’s an apparent conflict of interest, where the people that are making laws are enforcing laws,” Scott Coffee, a longtime public defender in Clark County who has worked on many capital cases, told The Appeal: Political Report. “Walking into that office after repealing the death penalty would be kind of like walking into the Red Sox dugout after trading Babe Ruth.” Neither Cannizzaro nor Scheible responded to requests for comment for this article.

The Nevada Association of District Attorneys, the state’s prosecutorial lobby, has been urging lawmakers to reject AB 395. Its president, Elko County DA Tyler Ingram, testified against abolishing the death penalty in the Assembly. “Throughout Nevada, prosecutors make the decision to seek the death penalty sparingly and judiciously,” Ingram told the Assembly. “It is reserved for the worst of the worst.”

But Nevada prosecutors have pursued the death penalty so frequently that they have helped make their state an outlier even by national standards.

Nevada has about 70 people on death row. Relative to the state’s population, that is the second-highest number in the country, behind Alabama. The numbers are “completely out of whack with the rest of the country and the rest of the free world, to be quite honest,” said Coffee, who blames a “culture” where DAs seek death sentences “in volume because it’s always been sought in volume.”

And state prosecutors have filed notices seeking death sentences in dozens of additional cases—but have either failed to secure them or else dropped their quest. Critics say prosecutors use these notices to gain leverage in plea negotiations.

The Nevada District Attorneys Association, contacted through its president and through 2 registered lobbyists, did not respond to requests for comment.

For Assemblymember Steve Yeager a Democrat who is a chief sponsor of AB 395, the death penalty gives prosecutors an alarming degree of discretion over someone’s life.

Yeager worked as a public defender in Clark County for 8 years, going up against the county’s prosecutors. He says he already opposed the death penalty before that experience, but his resolve hardened when he witnessed the “unjustifiable differences” in how prosecutors handled similar cases. A disproportionate share of the people on Nevada’s death row are Black, and Yeager says last summer’s protests for racial justice have helped push this bill further than similar measures have gone in the past.

AB 395, as currently drafted, would commute the sentences of people on Nevada’s death row to life without the possibility of parole—in addition to barring future death sentences.

Nevada has not executed anyone since 2006, in part due to its difficulties obtaining execution drugs from manufacturers. But abolition advocates point to the resurgence of federal executions under President Donald Trump to warn that a pause could end at any moment.

Wolfson, the Clark County DA, is looking to break Nevada’s stretch by trying to schedule an execution for Zane Michael Floyd, who was sentenced to death in 2000 for the murders of four people. There is a hearing scheduled in state court for next week, shortly before the deadline by which the Judiciary Committee must act on AB 395, though a federal judge said on Thursday that he may intervene to block the proceedings.

Holly Welborn, policy director at the ACLU of Nevada and a member of the Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty, says the DAs’ involvement in the death penalty debate this year mirrors how they’ve torpedoed past criminal justice reform proposals. She regrets that lawmakers let them have such sway in legislative proceedings.

“It’s almost like they have a veto, that everything has to be signed off by the DAs, by some law enforcement entity,” Welborn said. Referencing a 2019 omnibus reform bill that several DAs opposed that was weakened before its final passage, she added, “It seems that every change in a bill is at the request of law enforcement, who then still show up and oppose these measures.”

This dynamic has played out before, in ways strikingly similar to the current debate on the death penalty.

In 2019, the Assembly overwhelmingly passed legislation to limit civil asset forfeiture. Advocates who supported the bill called on Cannizzaro to allow a Senate vote on the bill, much like they are doing now with AB 395. But the bill never received a vote in the Senate.

The Nevada District Attorneys Association testified against that asset forfeiture bill in the Senate’s Judiciary Committee. This year, when lawmakers introduced a watered down version that also has yet to get a vote, the association testified against it again. The group has also been resisting a bill that would toughen use-of-force standards for police.

Throughout the country, DAs and their statewide associations play a similar role of adamantly fighting reform, but they are facing a reckoning in some states. Reform advocates in Nevada hope their state can follow suit. “This is something that we’re not tolerating anymore,” Wellborn said, describing renewed efforts by criminal justice reform advocates to expand whose voices are heard at the state Capitol.

Leslie Turner, an organizer with Mass Liberation, credits AB 395’s progress to community organizing. “We really focused on getting into impacted communities and empowering our own community members, reducing the stigma and shame about having been impacted by the criminal justice system,” she said. “And I think that that has created a lot of momentum around criminal justice reform in general.”

“There is a difference between the emotional satisfaction that comes from revenge, versus actual justice,” Turner added about the death penalty. “Justice to me is making sure that this doesn’t happen in the future. We’re having three or four mass shootings a week, because we never actually got to the root cause of why this was happening. … We just react over and over again. I think there’s just a mass refusal in the community to accept this anymore.”

Local elections have also added to the influence of public defenders, sparking new fault lines even within the Democratic Party. In addition to former public defender Yeager, the chief sponsor of AB 395 in the Senate—Democrat James Ohrenschall—works as a public defender in Clark County when the legislature is not in session.

Public defenders also secured a string of victories in judicial races in Clark County last year after running on promises to bring a decarceral outlook to the bench. In response, Wolfson called on the state to move away from electing its judges. Wolfson himself is up for re-election as DA in 2022.

The Nevada Democratic Party has faced broader turmoil this year. A slate aligned with the Democratic Socialists of America took over the leadership of the state party. And Judith Whitmer, the incoming state party chairperson, supports abolishing the death penalty.

Even if the Senate were to pass AB 395, though, Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak has tentatively indicated he may block the legislation. He said he would have a “hard time” supporting a bill that fully abolishes the death penalty.

Death penalty opponents remain hopeful that the state’s broad political transformations, combined with the reckoning brought about by protests and the nationwide tide against executions, can outweigh Nevada’s propensity for capital punishment.

Welborn invoked the anti-death penalty movement’s recent triumph in Virginia, another state that long embraced executions. “We know that the death penalty system is too broken to fix in the state of Nevada, and anywhere else in this country,” she said. “Virginia at one time had the highest rate of executions in the country. If they can do it, we certainly can do it here in Nevada.”

(source: The Appeal)

USA:

Felix Verdejo might face the death penalty, his ring career is over

News stemming from the disappearance of Keishla M. Rodriguez Ortiz, a woman linked to the lightweight boxing standout Felix Verdejo, gets more and more disturbing.

Verdejo, age 27, is in the custody of authorities after presenting himself to police after the lifeless body of Keishla got fished out of a lagoon in San Juan on Friday, April 30th. She had been declared missing the day before, and her mother went on record stating that she’d been planning to meet with Verdejo, to discuss the fact that she was pregnant.

Verdejo is married to Eliz Marie Santiago Sierra; the rumor mill started churning out theories about what happened to Keishla, but this doesn’t seem to be a case that will languish in a state of uncertainty, while engines of theorizing hum.

On Thursday afternoon, word dropped that an autopsy on Keishla showed her to be 1 month pregnant, and that she died by drowning. Asphyxia, forced by immersion into a body of water, caused her demise.

And the details flowing out paint a beyond-disturbing picture, according to a story in Primera Hora, by Maribel Hernandez Perez. Her sources allege that Keishla got into a vehicle with Verdejo, and the boxer then punched her in the face and injected sedatives, it looks like fentanyl and heroin, into her body.

An accomplice helped Verdejo tie Keishla’s hands and feet, weighed her down with a block, and then threw her in the San Jose lagoon. Verdejo, the Primera Hora story states, shot at Keishla, too, but she lived. Her oxygen gave out, though, and she drowned in the lagoon. A grand jury on Thursday made official the indictment of the fighter, who didn’t match the promise he showed as a 2012 Olympian, but still hoped to restore lost luster, and fight on the title shot status.

One could surmise “the accomplice” is one Luis Antonio Cadiz-Martinez, who, according to CBS reporter David Begnaud, has been indicted, by the US Attorneys office.

Verdejo is facing as of federal charges for kidnapping resulting in death, and also the death of an unborn fetus. The paperwork filed to the court of jurisdiction indicates that the death penalty could be considered for Verdejo, whose boxing career looks to be definitively over. The charges he faces allow for life imprisonment.

(source: nyfights.com)

YEMEN:

Yemeni journalists call for release of 4 sentenced to death by Houthis

4 Yemeni journalists formerly imprisoned and tortured by the Houthi militia have called for the release of 4 of their colleagues currently facing the death penalty.

They were among 10 journalists arrested in the capital Sanaa in 2015, and say they were subjected to torture, including being starved and placed in solitary confinement, before being put on trial in 2020.

All 10, having been detained shortly after the intervention of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, were convicted of “collaborating with the enemy” and “spreading false news and rumors,” but 6 were released and left the country.

Now living in Cairo, Abdel-Khaleq Amran, Akram Al-Walidi, Hareth Hamid and Tawfiq Al-Mansouri, alongside family members of the four facing execution, say not enough is being done to secure their colleagues’ freedom.

“We would need to write books to (fully) describe what we went through and suffered in these detention facilities. Only God knows the hardships and suffering of our families in our absence,” they said in a statement.

“And there are still 4 journalists, who were sentenced to death inside these dark prisons, waiting for fate to intervene to save their lives and bring them back to their children.”

Amnesty International, which said the trial was based on “trumped up charges,” added that none of the detained had been permitted a lawyer or family members to be present, and had seen appeals rejected.

The mother of one detainee told The Observer: “My son is just a civilian, he’s not a soldier, he didn’t fight anyone, he wasn’t involved in politics. He didn’t deserve something like this for seven years.”

She added: “We went everywhere, we talked to everyone but no one really helped us. I’m crying everyday, and I can’t sleep.”

Al-Mansouri’s brother Abdullah said: “We still don’t know why some of the journalists were released and others condemned to death. They were targeted to make an example for others.”

Adding that his brother had been “a healthy young man when he was first detained,” he said the Houthis had denied him medical treatment in captivity, leading to him developing diabetes and kidney issues.

Buthaina Faroq, a Yemeni activist who was forced to flee the country, said the journalists still in captivity are likely being used as leverage.

“These 4 colleagues are being used by the Houthis as pawns, to blackmail both the international community and the Yemeni government,” she added.

“Every single day is important for them stuck in prison. The Houthis are unpredictable, they could decide to keep them or execute them at any moment.”

According to Reporters Without Borders, the four detained journalists are among at least 20 members of the media being held by the Houthis or by Al-Qaeda in Yemen.

Throughout the conflict, the Houthis have been known to target journalists. Their leader Abdul-Malik Badreddin Al-Houthi is known to have called journalists “more dangerous than those fighting on the front lines.”

As well as torture, the Houthis are thought to deliberately imprison people in military areas likely to be targeted by coalition airstrikes.

(source: Arab News)

MAY 7, 2021:

VIRGINIA:

How Virginia’s Death Penalty Finally Ended ---- The commonwealth was once the epicenter of executions. Now the first former Confederate state has abandoned the practice. How a small group of activists helped turn the tide against capital punishment.

On March 24, Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation abolishing the death penalty in Virginia. “The practice is fundamentally inequitable,” Northam said. “It is inhumane. It is ineffective.”

Northam’s signature makes Virginia the 23rd state to abolish executions, following New Hampshire (2019) and Washington (2018). But abolition in Virginia is a much bigger deal than that. Virginia is the 1st Confederate state to embrace abolition. Beyond that, Virginia has historically been a leader in the use of the death penalty as well as slavery, lynching, and eugenics. In fact, Virginia introduced the death penalty to English-speaking America in 1608, when Captain George Kendall of the Jamestown colony was shot for treason. Since then, capital punishment has been Virginia’s longest continuing institution, with 1,296 men and 94 women executed between 1608 and 2017. That is more killings than any other state, including Texas.

Virginia—with its post-colonial paternalistic guardianship of white female purity—has executed only 3 white women since the Revolutionary War. Susannah Brazier was hanged in 1774 and Mary Snodgrass in 1896, both for murdering a child. Teresa Lewis was executed by lethal injection in 2010 in a murder-for-hire case—despite credible evidence of innocence.

In 2017, I was hired as field director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (VADP), part of a bipartisan coalition that also includes the Virginia Catholic Conference, the Virginia ACLU, and the Virginia Interfaith Center. The position took me to targeted legislative jurisdictions, mostly Republican, where VADP had done little to no outreach, knocking on doors, organizing presentations and raising grassroots awareness of the death penalty’s corrupted processes. I spoke to political groups, civic organizations such as Kiwanis, and many faith groups. I even worked an abolition booth at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) in National Harbor, Maryland.

One of those early presentations was to a Ruritan Club in deep-red Pittsylvania County, at one time a very active death penalty region straddling the North Carolina line. The presentation was a bit tense and greeted with skepticism, with many barbed comments. One man suggested we were soft on crime; another tried to claim we cared more about coddling criminals than justice for victims. These points underscored the misconceptions surrounding the death penalty, and my replies that life in a Supermax prison with no possibility of parole was not only less expensive than execution, but could hardly be considered soft or coddling, seemed to be appreciated.

I later discovered one of the attendees was the Circuit Court judge, now retired, who had pronounced a death sentence on Teresa Lewis. Lewis had been convicted of procuring the murder of her husband, Julian Lewis, and his son Charles, as a ploy to collect Charles’s insurance proceeds. Her execution stirred controversy because of testimony that she was on the borderline of intellectual disability and because, advocates said, she had rehabilitated herself into a model prisoner. She was executed in 2010 when then-Governor Bob McDonnell denied her petition for clemency.

The judge later agreed to meet me, and over coffee cordially and maybe half-seriously answered my question that if he had to do it all over again, he would reconsider becoming a circuit court judge.

Over the last 5 years, VADP saw attitudes about the death penalty evolve, especially among conservatives, thanks in large part to this continuous public outreach. Virginians who believed in the theory of the death penalty finally got to truthfully hear of the exorbitant costs, the racial disparities, the lack of deterrence, and the possibility of an innocent person being put to death. We continued to hammer those points not just to the public but to elected legislators in pandemic-era Zoom meetings, many of whom admitted they never thought about the death penalty before.

During the 1790-1865 antebellum period, Virginia executed about 736 slaves—roughly 86 % of all slave executions nationwide. 16 juveniles were also executed by Virginia before they reached their 18th birthday, including a slave named Rebecca, who was only 11 or 12 when she was hanged in Monroe County (now West Virginia) in 1825 for allegedly murdering a 4-year-old.

Weights were sometimes tied to children’s feet to assure their necks would break in the drop.

During the Jim Crow era, Virginia used hangings, then the electric chair, as legal lynching. Young Black males were overwhelmingly convicted in bogus, minuteslong trials, then rushed into execution, sometimes with no legal counsel, for such non-homicide crimes as highway robbery, rape, attempted assault, or—like 17-year-old Winston Green in 1908—for simply scaring a white school girl. Between 1908 and 1963, 41 Black men were executed for rape, 13 for attempted rape, 1 for rape and robbery, and 1 for attempted rape and highway robbery. Not one white.

Judges saw nothing improper about these “rocket docket” trials which frequently mollified looming lynch mobs. Platitudes such as “let the law take its course” and “justice will prevail” were correctly interpreted by mobs hell-bent on revenge as dog whistle for “the courts will do the lynching for you, legally.”

Support for the death penalty remained solid in the state, but there were cracks in the support for out-and-out lynching. In 1928, Virginia became the first state to pass an anti-lynching law, thanks to the untiring efforts of Richmond Planet editor John Mitchell Jr., and Norfolk Virginian-Pilot editor Louis Isaac Jaffé, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning editorials were in response to rapid increases in mob violence in the early to mid-1920s. Gov. Harry F. Byrd declared there was no need for lynching with such ruthless capital punishment laws. “There is no excuse for lynching in a State where the enforcement of the law in cases likely to provoke mob violence has been prompt and rigorous. Attempted rape in Virginia may be punished by death, and juries are quick to punish crimes that once incited men to take the law in their own hands.” Congress would not pass an anti-lynching statute until 1957.

The 1984 electrocution of Linwood Briley confirmed that lynching-style toxic, mob-driven racism still lingered decades later even after lynching was no longer legally sanctioned. This execution—fueled by a gathered crowd—sparked the first iterations of an abolition movement by a small group of dedicated people, many I know well, who bore witness, during nearly half a century of frequently disheartening struggle, to the fundamental immorality of the death penalty.

Briley was a killer. Along with his brothers James and Anthony, and another named Duncan Meekins, terrorized Richmond in the late 1970s, violently murdering 12 people before they were captured. In 1984, while on death row at Mecklenburg Correctional Facility, James and Linwood, along with four other inmates, overpowered guards and fled in the largest death row escape in American history. All 6 were later recaptured.

On the night of the execution, just before midnight, a small group of volunteers gathered beside the Virginia State Penitentiary in a prayerful candlelight vigil. Meanwhile, a much larger mob that would have been more familiar in 1914 than 1984 collected across the street, shouting racial epithets and waving Confederate flags and homemade signs proclaiming such racist invectives as “Kill the negro,” “Fry, Briley, fry,” and far, far worse.

Michael Stone, at the time an employee of the Richmond Catholic Diocese, was in the crowd that night at the request of Bishop Walter Sullivan of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. Nearly four decades later, Stone recalled “seeing the raw racism expressed by the large crowd cheering the death of a Black man.” Partly as a result of what he saw, Stone would eventually devote much of his life to abolition—first as a staffer at the National Coalition Against the Death Penalty, and since 2015, as executive director of VADP. At least one relative of a murder victim was also repulsed by the mob. That night Nancy Gowen, whose mother, Mary Gowen, had been murdered by the Briley gang eyed the drunken celebrants across the road and told a United Press International reporter that “I think it’s something wrong with our system. … I don’t think to murder someone for a murder committed is the answer.”

Over 70 years before that ugly 1984 mob scene, the anti-death penalty movement began to take hold, though not entirely for reasons of humanity. The earliest efforts to abolish Virginia’s death penalty date to 1913, when the subject was broached in Richmond Times-Dispatch editorials following the execution of Floyd and Claude Allen, the white father/son ringleaders of the Hillsville Courthouse Massacre, where five, including the judge, the commonwealth attorney and the sheriff, were shot dead. Subsequent discussions followed only after high-profile executions of white men in 1928, 1936, and 1953, over the implied concern that it wasn’t fair to subject whites to the indignities of capital punishment. Executions diminished whites and maybe the practice was too untoward for the Commonwealth.

Others, such as the Newport News Daily Press, acknowledged those early arguments that the death penalty created indignities for white men, but thought it worth it for fear of what would happen if women and “sobbing sentimentalists” spared “black beasts” from death. This would be a travesty because in the paper’s words, “the negro fears death, and death alone.”

Abolition debates in 1953 newspaper editorial pages followed not the horrific 1951 mass executions of the Martinsville Seven, when seven Black men were convicted of raping a white woman and then electrocuted in assembly-line fashion over two days, but after the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, two white convicted spies, in New York.

In 1963, Virginia joined an unofficial multi-state moratorium on capital punishment. Popular support had dropped to an all-time low, with the Richmond Times-Dispatch opining that, after 54 years of use, the electric chair had lost its “elegance.” Then, in 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia declared the death penalty as practiced in the United States unconstitutional; four years later, in Gregg v. Georgia, the Court created a set of procedures that, in the Justices’ view, would rationalize the death penalty and comply with the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.” With public support for the death penalty rising along with the national crime rate, Virginia resumed executions in 1982.

Scattered individuals could be heard voicing support for abolition throughout the 1980s. But the modern abolition movement took shape in the fall of 1991, when about 10 people, recalling the words of Nancy Gowan, whose mother was murdered, assembled in a Richmond church classroom at the request of an uncompromising death row counselor and abolitionist, Marie Deans, to discuss organized opposition to Virginia’s death penalty. Deans, a native of South Carolina, had moved to Virginia 8 years earlier to form the Virginia Coalition on Jails and Prisons, whose work aimed in part to improve conditions on death row.

Deans pointed out to her group a then-recent Virginia Tech poll, which showed that death penalty support topped out at 75 percent—but decreased significantly when respondents were offered the option of a sentence of life imprisonment without parole, along with some form of restitution to murder victims’ families. “Americans [do not] give a hoot about killing people. They really don’t give a hoot about killing them fairly, either,” an angry Marie Deans had written in 1986. “As long as there is the appearance of fairness in the death penalty, they will accept executions as a necessary evil.”

The group that formed at that meeting named itself Virginians Against State Killing (VASK). “A part of that group … felt that information [in the poll] was enough to do something with,” says Henry Heller, the first volunteer director. The group soon renamed itself Virginians Against the Death penalty, then later Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, or VADP.

The 1990s was a frustrating decade for the organization and the abolition movement. Virginia prosecutors and legislators seemed obsessed with death sentences and were willing to pursue sometimes legally questionable lengths to assure them. Meanwhile, skyrocketing public support drove Virginia to sentence 5 to 10 people to death, and execute up to 14 people each year—the most since 1915.

“When 1996 came along,” Heller recalled, “the death penalty seemed to be in the news daily. And I did my best just to keep it out there.” The next year, the state executed Thomas Beavers, a 26-year-old white man from Hampton, Virginia, for murder of a neighbor, 61-year-old retired school cafeteria manager Marguerite Lowrey. Beavers was the 1st white person in Virginia history to be executed for a crime against a Black person.

Popular support never wavered—nor did the abolition movement—throughout this gut-churning rush of sentences and executions, despite questions about the blood evidence that convicted Joseph O’Dell, a white man executed in 1997 for murdering a woman named Helen Schartner outside a Norfolk nightclub, and the botched 1990 electrocution of Wilbert Lee Evans, who bled copiously from behind the execution mask as the state delivered a 55-second jolt of electricity to his body.

In the early 2000s, approval of the death penalty remained high—but support for an alternative was increasing. “I was getting more and more inquiries from not only faith groups, but rotary type groups, schools, universities, and the press,” Heller said, adding he often had to take a break from his full-time carpentry job to do interviews. “We saw more and more in-depth reporting on the issue. Numbers at demonstrations at the Capitol were increasing.”

A few legislators introduced death penalty abolition bills but watched them unceremoniously die in committee. Heller remained optimistic. “I was actually pushing for a moratorium bill [rather than outright abolition], as that sounded more palatable,” he said.

A new executive director, Jack Payden-Travers, a retired Lynchburg College professor and volunteer at the Richmond Peace Education Center, took over VADP in 2002. His appointment coincided with the infamous cases of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, the “D.C. Snipers” whose random rifle shots took ten lives that October, including shootings in Virginia. Muhammad was executed in 2009; Malvo, who was 17 at the time of the crimes, was sentenced to life without parole—a sentence reduced in 2020 to life with the possibility of parole when Virginia changed its murder statute.

After John Allen Muhammad’s execution, public death penalty support jumped from 68 % to 77 %.

Payden-Travers, also in 2006, spent time with Virginia’s only death row exoneree, Earl Washington Jr., an intellectually disabled Black man who needed assistance going from his home in Virginia Beach to meetings and court hearings in Richmond and Charlottesville. Washington was falsely convicted and sentenced to death for the 1982 murder of Rebecca Lynn Williams, in Culpeper, Virginia. Washington, whose near-execution is chronicled by Margaret Edds in her 2006 book “An Expendable Man,” spent 19 years in prison and was nine days away from execution when DNA evidence fully exonerated him.

In 2004, the General Assembly, under the direction of the Virginia Supreme Court, replaced the former Public Defender Commission with the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission, which currently oversees 26 public defender offices and 4 capital defender offices. The commission replaced inadequate and poorly-paid court-appointed lawyers in capital cases with highly qualified full-time defenders. Death sentences soon dropped an astonishing 90 percent. The playing field against prosecutors was finally leveled.

Before 2021, the General Assembly was not yet “friendly” enough to pursue full abolition. VADP and its coalition partners instead, from 2016 to 2020, advocated against expanded capital sentences, and in favor of legislation stopping the execution of the profoundly mentally ill. In 2020, a Severe Mental Illness exemption bill passed soundly in the Senate, proving that attitudes toward capital punishment in the General Assembly were indeed changing.

Death penalty abolition in 2021—the 30th anniversary of VADP—was the convergence of numerous factors. VADP and coalition partners pushed for months to place guest op-eds in Virginia newspapers, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post and others. They collected abolition sign-on letters from progressive commonwealth attorneys, murder victim family members, conservatives, and faith leaders. They participated in prayer vigils at lynching and execution sites around the state to raise awareness. Most importantly, they coordinated constituent contact with key legislators, compelling some of them—even 2 Democrats who for years supported the death penalty—to flip their votes for abolition.

In addition, the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter movement focused an intense spotlight on racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Virginia’s Democrats took control of the General Assembly in 2019 for the first time since 1995. Delegate Mike Mullin, a state prosecutor in Hampton, sponsored the House bill; Sen. Scott Surovell, a Fairfax lawyer, sponsored the identical Senate bill. Northam voiced his support for abolition during his State of the Commonwealth address.

“No doubt about it,” stated Sister Helen Prejean in April 2021, “the activism of citizens in VADP over 30 years was the sustaining fire that led to Virginia’s repeal of the death penalty.”

When he heard that the death penalty had been abolished, former death row inmate-turned-paralegal Joe Giarratano admitted he was at once stunned and uplifted. “Then I chuckled,” he recalls. His mind turned to Marie Deans, the original firebrand of Virginia’s abolition movement, who had died of cancer in 2011 before her campaign bore fruit. “I could hear Marie’s voice in my head, ‘Get back to work, all of you, the job is not done. States continue to kill in our names to show that killing is wrong.'”

(source: Dale M. Brumfield is field director for Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty----Washington Monthly)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

After a Decade Without Executions, South Carolina’s Solution: Bring Out the Firing Squad----State lawmakers have voted to add the firing squad as an alternative to the electric chair or lethal injection, with the drugs used for capital punishment in short supply.

Frustrated by the lack of drugs available to carry out lethal injections in their state, South Carolina lawmakers are on the cusp of a controversial solution: forcing death row inmates to face the electric chair or firing squad when lethal injection is not possible.

A bill proposing that change, approved by the State House this week, appears almost certain to become law in the next few days, and is being lauded by Republicans, including Gov. Henry McMaster, who have been vexed by pharmaceutical companies’ refusal to sell states the drugs needed to carry out lethal injections. The lack of drugs, they say, is a key reason South Carolina has not executed anyone in 10 years.

Opponents are appalled by the bill, which would make South Carolina the fourth state — along with Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah — in which death by firing squad is an option for the condemned.

“Why would South Carolina move toward the firing squad when they also do that in North Korea?” State Representative Justin Bamberg, a Democrat, said in an interview on Thursday.

The firing squad measure was proposed by State Senator Richard A. Harpootlian, a Democrat and former prosecutor, who argued that it was more humane than the electric chair. “It’s an extraordinarily gruesome, horrendous process,” Mr. Harpootlian said of electrocution, “where they essentially catch on fire and don’t die immediately.”

Three inmates in the United States have been executed by firing squad since the 1970s, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. The most recent, in 2010, was Ronnie Lee Gardner, a convicted murderer who requested that Utah officials carry out the execution by firing squad, calling the method “so much easier” than lethal injection, and one in which “there’s no mistakes.”

On the day of Mr. Gardner’s execution, officials placed a black hood over his head and affixed a small circular target over his heart.

Internationally, the use of firing squads is uncommon. In the United Arab Emirates, a convicted murderer was executed by firing squad in 2014. Defectors from North Korea have reported on the use of firing squads for a range of offenses. China used firing squads for many years but more recently has relied on lethal injection.

South Carolina’s proposal, and the passionate debate that has followed, comes at a complicated juncture for capital punishment in the United States. The nation has seen a general move away from the practice in recent years, but there has also been a vigorous effort to turn that tide, one headed most conspicuously by former President Donald J. Trump.

South Carolina is among 24 states where the death penalty remains law. In the past 16 years, 11 states have rescinded capital punishment, Mr. Dunham said, including Virginia, which in March became the first Southern state to do so. Governors have also imposed death penalty moratoriums in California, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

At the courthouse level, prosecutors have been increasingly reluctant to seek the death penalty, and juries increasingly unwilling to impose it. The decline in death sentences has been dramatic: Fewer than 50 have been imposed in the United States in each of the last six years, Mr. Dunham said, a marked difference from the mid-1990s, when the total number of yearly sentences sometimes exceeded 300.

Gallup polling from late last year showed that public support for the death penalty was at its lowest level since the early 1970s, although still popular with a majority of Americans, with 55 percent of respondents saying they approved of capital punishment for convicted murderers.

After years without a federal execution, Mr. Trump’s administration oversaw 13, more than 1/5 of the prisoners who the Bureau of Prisons says were on death row. President Biden, by contrast, campaigned on a promise to end the death penalty for federal inmates and encourage states to follow suit.

In articulating his support for ending capital punishment, Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, a Democrat, noted the vast racial disparity in how it was imposed in his state: Roughly 79 % of the inmates who were executed were Black. “Ending the death penalty comes down to one fundamental question, one question: Is it fair?” Mr. Northam said.

A similar imbalance exists across the country, including in South Carolina; in the 284 executions carried out by the state since 1912, almost three-quarters of the inmates were Black.

The state now has 37 men on death row, with three who have exhausted all appeals, officials said.

“Those families of victims to these capital crimes are unable to get any closure because we’re caught in this limbo stage,” William Weston J. Newton, a Republican state lawmaker, said during the House debate.

But critics said that lawmakers arrived at a solution that was retrograde and inhumane. “When we should be moving forward, we like to move backward,” Mr. Bamberg told colleagues during the House debate on Wednesday.

Mr. Bamberg cited the botched and sometimes gruesome executions using the electric chair and the fate of George Stinney, a 14-year-old African-American convicted of murdering two white girls by an all-white jury in 1944. He was sent to the electric chair, then posthumously exonerated in 2014.

Many states had gravitated over the years toward lethal injection, seeing it as more humane than the electric chair.

But that impression has been undermined in recent years, as problematic executions, including one in which an inmate regained consciousness, drew widespread attention. Medical experts have also argued that while lethal injection gives the appearance of a more peaceful death, the paralytic component of the common 3-drug cocktail masks an excruciating demise that can stretch on for 15 minutes or longer.

In Tennessee, a rare state that uses the electric chair, death row inmates have repeatedly opted in recent years to die from the 2 cycles of 1,750 volts of electricity instead of lethal injection. In 2018, 4 inmates, in an unsuccessful effort, asked a judge if they could be killed by a firing squad, arguing that, compared with other methods, “the firing squad significantly reduces a substantial risk of unnecessary and severe pain.”

The use of the death penalty has slowed as the drugs used in lethal injections have become scarce; pharmaceutical companies, not wanting their product associated with ending lives, have made them more difficult for states to acquire.

Still, those complications have not dimmed the resolve of states that continue to embrace the death penalty. Last year, Oklahoma moved to resume executions through lethal injection after a 5-year pause that began after a string of botched executions, including one where an inmate appeared to moan and struggle during a 43-minute ordeal and another in which the wrong drug was used to stop an inmate’s heart.

In South Carolina, corrections officials had previously contemplated producing their own execution drugs, but the proposal was scrapped because of the cost.

A version of the current South Carolina bill previously passed in the State Senate. After a few procedural steps, it will most likely head to the governor, who pledged this week to immediately sign it into law.

“We are one step closer to providing victims’ families and loved ones with the justice and closure they are owed by law,” Mr. McMaster wrote on Twitter.

(source: New York Times)

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

S.C. Death Row Prisoners Will Soon Have to Choose Between Firing Squad or Electrocution ---- A shortage of drugs for lethal injections has states looking for alternatives

South Carolina lawmakers voted to allow firing squads as an execution option when carrying out death penalty sentences. The state’s Republican governor, Henry McMaster, said he will sign the legislation into law.

On Wednesday, the state’s House approved the bill requiring inmates sentenced to the death penalty to choose between firing squad or electrocution. In a 66-43 vote, only 1 Democrat voted in favor of the legislation and just 7 Republicans voted against it.

Presently, South Carolina is unable to execute death row inmates due to the nationwide lack of lethal injection drugs. And because inmates can choose between the electric chair and lethal injection, they opt for the unavailable option. Death by injection will remain an option, but the inclusion of a firing squad gives officials a required method to fall back on.

The reason for the shortage follows a slew of “botched” executions using lethal injections over recent years, leading pharmaceutical companies to withhold certain drugs, causing a shortage that has slowed the rate of the carrying out of death sentences nationwide.

Democratic Rep. Justin Bamberg railed against the bill’s passage, saying those who voted in favor are executioners themselves.

“If you push the green button at the end of the day and vote to pass this bill out of this body, you may as well be throwing the switch yourself,” Bamberg said.

State House Democratic Leader Todd Rutherford condemned the bill passage and said he feels “ashamed.”

“It’s 2021. We should move on from these barbaric forms of punishment that are more medieval than they are modern. Today, our state has taken a step backward and I am ashamed,” Rutherford wrote.

The state has not executed anyone since 2011. Once Gov. McMaster signs the bill, South Carolina will become the 4th state to allow executions by firing squad.

(source: Rolling Stone)

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

South Carolina Legislature Authorizes Use of Electric Chair and Firing Squad as State Reaches 10 Years Without an Execution

1 day shy of the 10th anniversary of the state’s last execution, the South Carolina legislature, frustrated by the state’s inability to obtain execution drugs, approved a bill that would authorize putting prisoners to death in the electric chair or by firing squad.

On May 5, 2021, the South Carolina House of Representatives voted 66-43 to approve Senate Bill 200, bringing the bill closer to final passage. The State Senate passed an earlier version of the bill on March 2 by a vote of 32-11. The bill now returns to the Senate for ratification of the House amendments before it can be sent to Gov. Henry McMaster to be signed into law.

The legislature’s action comes nearly 10 years to the day after South Carolina carried out its last execution on May 6, 2011. The state is the 13th that currently authorizes capital punishment but has not executed anyone for more than a decade. 36 U.S. states — nearly 3/4 (72%) of the nation — have now either abolished the death penalty or had no executions in at least 10 years.

South Carolina law provides for execution by lethal injection, but the state’s supply of execution drugs expired in 2013. Since then, U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers have refused to sell their medicines to states for use in executions and South Carolina corrections officials have been unable to procure a new supply. Falsely attributing the companies’ refusals to intimidation and threats by anti-death-penalty activists, Gov. Henry McMaster has lobbied the legislature to authorize using the electric chair if lethal-injection drugs are unavailable. Legislators amended the bill to add the firing squad as a second alternative execution method.

In November 2020, South Carolina issued a death warrant for Richard Moore, setting an execution date of December 4, 2020. Corrections officials provided no information to Moore about how the state intended to perform the execution. His lawyers asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to stay the execution, writing, “Never before has [the South Carolina Department of Corrections] denied a condemned inmate and his counsel access to the execution protocols in advance of an imminent execution. Indeed, no other state in the country has executed someone under such an extreme veil of secrecy.” The South Carolina Supreme Court stayed the execution, stating that it had “been advised the South Carolina Department of Corrections does not have, and will not be able to obtain, the drugs required for execution by lethal injection.” It directed that the stay remain in effect “until the South Carolina Department of Corrections advises the Court it has the ability to perform the execution as required by the law.”

SB 200 would make electrocution the default method of execution, and allow prisoners to elect execution by lethal injection, if available, or firing squad. Gov. Henry McMaster has said he supports it. A 2015 national poll by YouGov found that most Americans oppose execution methods other than lethal injection. Just 1/3 of respondents said the electric chair and the firing squad were not cruel and unusual.

Legislators from both parties criticized the bill, pointing to the risk of executing innocent people. Representative Neal Collins (R – Pickens), raised concerns about wrongful convictions. “We have been wrong at least 3 times and probably 7 times within my lifetime,” Collins said. “The system is not perfect and it’s arbitrary.” Senator Kevin L. Johnson (D – Clarendon) invoked the execution of George Stinney, Jr., a Black 14-year-old boy who was convicted by an all-white jury of killing 2 white girls. Stinney, who wept as white prison guards strapped him into the electric chair and placed the electrocution helmet on his head and a bit in his mouth, was the youngest person executed in the U.S. in the 20th century. His conviction was posthumously vacated in 2014, 70 years after his execution. His case came to symbolize the racist misapplication of capital punishment in the U.S.

Frank Knack, Executive Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, sharply criticized the legislature’s attempt to “reform” the death penalty by making it easier for the state to execute prisoners. “We watched the debate around the electric chair bill yesterday and it seemed like it was taking place in some alternative universe where we have a justice system that is fair,” Knack said. “This lofty imposed punishment is based in a system that is racist, arbitrary and error-prone.”

“South Carolina’s capital punishment evolved from lynchings and racial terror, and it has failed to separate its modern capital punishment system from this racist history,” the ACLU of South Carolina said in a statement. “The death penalty is modern-day lynching.”

A DPIC analysis of executions in South Carolina in the 20th century found stark racial disparities. Of the 302 people executed in the last century, 237 (78%) were Black. Of the 41 people executed for rape, 36 (88%) were Black. All 25 people executed for attempted rape were Black men.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

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

Reconsider South Carolina’s death penalty

South Carolina, 1 of 24 states that continues to allow executions, hasn’t been able to carry one out for the last decade because it hasn’t had access to lethal injection drugs. Those on death row currently pick whether they want to die by electrocution or lethal injection. Predictably with the drugs not available, that is the preferred choice, which has ground executions to a halt.

But now the S.C. House, following in the footsteps of the state Senate, approved a measure that would add death-by-firing-squad to the list of choices. With this as a replacement choice if lethal injection drugs are not available, executions could continue. Gov. Henry McMaster has pledged to sign the bill into law.

All of this is procedural. There hasn’t been serious consideration about whether it’s right for the state to execute prisoners on South Carolina’s death row, which now has 37 inmates.

So consider the thoughts of Hunter Limbaugh, elected in 1994 as a Republican to a Florence seat in the S.C. House. After that election, the GOP took over the House after years of rule by Democrats.

Limbaugh, now a lobbyist, today would describe himself in 1994 as “a very conservative traditional Republican.” He said in an interview he probably wouldn’t have given a second thought to voting for the firing squad bill had it been before the chamber because he was for the death penalty.

“It wouldn’t be a stretch that I might very well have been a cosponsor of the bill,” he said.

But not now, in part he says, because he has understood how his children have less certitude about right and wrong. In other words, millennials see a lot more gray than black or white.

Then there’s another difference: Limbaugh, who left the House in 1997 to become the chief legal counsel for Gov. David Beasley, served as the governor’s representative “to make the call on reprieves at the time of an execution,” he said, adding he was in charge of giving final approval before an execution took place.

“I’d then stay on the phone until the death was declared. It was some very intense, up-close and personal stuff.”

At one point, he decided to wait because the U.S. Supreme Court had not ruled on a petition for a stay of execution.

“I literally had the life of this person in my hands. Honestly, it felt horrible. My answer was to wait, and the stay was soon denied, but those are five minutes I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

In other words, Limbaugh faced something more instant than a vote on procedure as considered this week in the S.C. House. He felt the death penalty in action.

Over the last generation, DNA evidence, often now used to exonerate wrongly convicted people on death row, has clearly shown how the justice system is tilted against people of color and those without good legal counsel. “Claims that each execution deters a certain number of murders have been thoroughly discredited by social science research,” adds the ACLU.

Limbaugh said his experience with the death penalty has led him to conclude it is wrong to put people to death.

“I just personally have come to the conclusion that neither I nor the state acting on the right to take the life of another human being should do so.” But he’s not opposed to tough punishment: “It has all the right in the world to isolate people who have demonstrated an inability to live in civil society.”

It’s time to rethink the death penalty in South Carolina, not just add another option on the menu.

(source: Commentary; Andy Brack, Statehouse Report)

FLORIDA:

Florida Supreme Court upholds death penalty in Jacksonville murder----Randall Deviney was sentenced to death in the 2008 murder of Dolores Futrell

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the death sentence of Randall Deviney, a Jacksonville man convicted of murdering his one-time babysitter.

Deviney was sentenced to death after he was convicted of 1st-degree murder in the August 2008, slaying of Dolores Futrell, who was found with her throat slashed inside her Westside home.

The sentence was overturned when an appeals court ruled that Deviney’s confession was coerced by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. He was convicted and sentenced to death when he was tried again.

Though the conviction was upheld, it was based on an 8-4 jury recommendation. Because the Florida Supreme Court found death penalties must be unanimous, Deviney received a 3rd sentencing.

A jury in 2017 returned a unanimous recommendation that Deviney be put to death.

The defense for Deviney appealed that ruling, saying he deserved a new trial because 2 jurors should have been excluded and that there were errors made in jury instructions, among other arguments.

In its ruling Thursday, the state Supreme Court rejected those arguments and upheld the death penalty.

(source: WJXT news)

MICHIGAN:

Did You Know: Michigan Was First State To Abolish The Death Penalty

A lot of people like to say "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," basically meaning if you kill someone you should also suffer the fate of death. But I recently discovered that Michigan was the first state to have the thought, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Very good. That way the whole world will be blind and toothless.*" This mindset must have encouraged them to become the first state to get rid of the death penalty. According to deathpenaltyinfo.com, it details how Michigan dropped the penalty and gave a small history lesson about its origins in the state:

Only 13 executions were carried out in Michigan’s history, just 6 of which occurred after Michigan officially became a territory in 1805. The only execution carried out in Michigan after it gained statehood was the federal execution (outside state jurisdiction) of Anthony Chebatoris in 1938. The death penalty has been constitutionally banned in Michigan since 1963.

Shockingly, in one of the most famous cases in an exhibition of capital punishment in Michigan, one man was falsely accused and sentenced: In 1828, Patrick Fitzpatrick was hanged after being declared guilty for the rape and murder of an innkeeper’s daughter. In 1835, Fitzpatrick’s former roommate confessed to the murder on his deathbed, proving that Fitzpatrick had been executed for a murder in which he was innocent.

Sadly, nothing can ever truly make up for the loss of a loved one to someone who committed an unforgivable act, but to some, this is the justice they fined suitable.

(source: WKFR news)

TENNESSEE:

Tennessee Register: 'Bill represents a welcome step toward abolition of death penalty'

This column originally appeared as an editorial in the April 30, 2021 edition of the Tennessee Register and online at www.tennesseeregister.com, publications of the Catholic Diocese of Nashville. It is being run with permission.

Tennessee, one of the most conservative states in the union, has taken a small step away from the death penalty and toward the position espoused by the Catholic Church that the life of every human being, no matter their status or deeds, has value.

Both the State House of Representatives and Senate have passed a bill that bans the death penalty for people with severe intellectual disabilities. It allows defendants convicted of 1st-degree murder to petition the court to examine the defendant’s intellectual competency, if the issue has not yet been decided by the court. The bill also allows people sentenced to death row before the law takes effect, to petition the court to examine their intellectual competency.

The bill is awaiting the signature of Gov. Bill Lee, who has expressed his support for the measure and is expected to sign it into law.

One of the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Todd Gardenhire, a Chattanooga Republican, told reporters the bill follows guidance handed down by the Tennessee Supreme Court in a 2016 case. At that time, the justices recommended the Legislature consider changing state law to allow courts to determine an inmate’s intellectual competency.

The bill passed with wide bipartisan support. In the House, the vote was 89-4 in favor with 1 legislator present but not voting. In the Senate, the bill passed 28-1. Those kinds of numbers approach what one might see for a resolution saluting motherhood and apple pie.

In these times of hyper-partisanship, the Tennessee General Assembly found common ground in opposing the death penalty for people with severe intellectual disabilities. Even ardent supporters of the death penalty voted for this change in the law.

It appears nearly everyone saw the wisdom of this piece of legislation. Certainly, the three Catholic bishops of Tennessee, Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, and Bishop David Talley of Memphis, welcomed the vote. Before the vote, they sent a letter to the sponsors, Sen. Gardenhire and Rep. David Hawk, a Greeneville Republican, supporting the measure, which they described as “Pro-Life legislation.”

The last 3 popes – St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis – have all spoken and written passionately in opposition to the death penalty. In 2018, Pope Francis revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church to say the death penalty is “inadmissible” in all cases as “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

Pope Francis reiterated that position in his 2020 encyclical “Fratelli Tutti”: “There can be no stepping back from this position. Today we state clearly that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible’ and the Church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide.”

The bishops’ letter in support of the bill echoed the reasoning of Pope Francis and his predecessors. The bishops noted the many people who have been released from death row after new evidence has proved their innocence. “Based on a human system as it is, there is always the chance that the state executes an innocent person,” they wrote.

“It is simply not necessary as the only means to protect society while still providing a just punishment for those who break civil law,” the bishops added. “Rather than serving as a path to justice, the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life and continues a cycle of violence in society.”

The Church’s opposition to the death penalty is a piece of its teaching on the respect for life and the hope for repentance and redemption, even for those who have committed heinous acts against another. Her opposition to the death penalty does not lessen her concern or care for the victims of crime. She offers continual prayers that the victims will find peace beyond their pain.

We recognize that this bill, rather than being the end of the journey toward the abolition of the death penalty, does represent some progress. And for that, we thank Gov. Lee, Sen. Gardenhire and Rep. Hawk, as well as all the other legislators who voted for the measure, for their support and leadership in seeing this bill to passage.

We pray that our state eventually will recognize the truth of the Church teaching on the value of every human life, from conception to natural death, and complete the journey that will take us to a society that rejects state-sponsored killing.

(source: Main Street Nashville)

ILLINOIS:

10 years ago Illinois abolished the death penalty. These people helped make it happen.

10years ago, Illinois abolished the death penalty. The moment of abolition, effected by then-Governor Pat Quinn with a stroke of the pen, capped years of advocacy by a wide range of stakeholders. They included individuals who had been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death, faith-based leaders, journalists, community organizers, families of victims of crime, and elected officials.

Seven states have followed in Illinois’ wake; a decade later, 23 states and the District of Columbia do not impose the death penalty. In the aftermath of 13 federal executions during President Donald Trump’s final months in office, President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland have indicated that they support reinstating the moratorium on federal capital punishment. In March, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill making Virginia the first state in the South to ban capital punishment.

To commemorate the anniversary, Injustice Watch asked people whose lives were changed by the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois and those involved in the campaign to abolish it to reflect on the moment of abolition and what it means today. In this series of short videos, seven advocates reflect on crime, punishment, mercy, forgiveness and the range of perspectives that compelled them to advocate. They all came to this issue for highly personal and distinct reasons. What they had in common was their shared conviction that the death penalty was immoral. Their shared sincerity and passion, a decade later, are palpable.

Gary Gauger was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for the 1993 murder of his parents in McHenry County. In 1996 the Illinois Appellate Court vacated his conviction and Gov. George Ryan pardoned him in 2002 based on actual innocence. Gauger became an advocate against the death penalty based on his own experience. After his release, he told lawyers at Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, who had represented him on appeal, “Until this happened, I really believed in the criminal justice system.”

As an Illinois state senator in 2011, Attorney General Kwame Raoul sponsored the bill that abolished the death penalty. During debate, he declared on the state house floor that Illinois had “an opportunity to part company with countries that are the worst civil rights violators and join the civilized world by ending this practice of putting to death innocent people.”

Unrequited Innocence

Cornelia Grumman won a Pulitzer Prize for her 2002 series of Chicago Tribune editorials calling for abolition of the death penalty. The final article in the series described the “astonishing failings in the Illinois criminal justice system,” including wrongful convictions of individuals sentenced to death.

As the executive director of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Jeremy Schroeder argued to the Deficit Reduction Committee of the Illinois Legislature that the death penalty was an expensive and inefficient form of punishment.

Jeanne Bishop’s sister Nancy Bishop Langert was murdered in 1990. She joined the fight for abolition because she and other family members of murder victims did not want to desecrate the memories of their loved ones by killing more.

Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, former president of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, was a spiritual advisor to Andrew Kokaraleis, the last prisoner to be executed by the State of Illinois. In his video he speaks of his belief that “each and every human being is created in the likeness of God, and therefore, every life is inherently sacred.”

Chick Hoffman was a lawyer with the Office of the Appellate Defender who frequently represented individuals condemned to death. “As Sister Helen Prejean teaches us, the real question is not whether they deserve to die, but whether we deserve to kill them,” Hoffman wrote in a 2011 Chicago Tribune blog. “Given Illinois’ inherently arbitrary, racist, mistake-prone, corrupt death penalty process, the answer to that question is a resounding ‘no.’”

(source: Commentary, Julie Sorensen; injusticewatch.org)

OKLAHOMA----death sentence overturned

Oklahoma court overturns another death penalty, cites McGirt

An Oklahoma appeals court on Thursday overturned the death sentence of a man who was convicted of killing a teenager, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the state lacks jurisdiction for crimes committed on tribal reservations in which the defendants or victims were tribal citizens.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction and sentence of Miles Sterling Bench, 30, in the 2012 beating death of 16-year-old Braylee Henry inside a convenience store in Velma, about 70 miles (115 kilometers) south of Oklahoma City, where Bench worked.

Prosecutors say Henry entered the store to purchase a soda and candy when she was attacked. Her body was later found on property owned by Bench's grandparents. Bench worked in the store.

The state court found that Bench is a member of the Choctaw Nation and that the crime occurred on land within the historic Chickasaw Nation reservation.

The court has now overturned at least four death sentences and could toss as many as 6 more based on the Supreme Court ruling, known as McGirt.

The overturned cases now fall to federal authorities to pursue. Court records show Bench has been charged in federal court with kidnapping resulting in death and faces a potential death sentence.

The court records do not list an attorney who could speak on Bench's behalf.

Although federal prosecutors have the authority to pursue the death penalty, the tribal nation must also agree and only one — the Sac & Fox Nation of Oklahoma — has explicitly authorized the death penalty in federal cases.

(source: Associated Press)

SOUTH DAKOTA:

3 charged in Rapid City Christmas Eve homicide

3 men are facing charges from a Christmas Eve homicide after court documents say they set up a fake drug deal for retribution and to beat up the victim.

The incident occurred in the area of Silverleaf Avenue on December 24. Vernall Marshall, 31, of Rapid City was found shot in the street.

Around 11 p.m. on December 24, the Rapid City Police Department was dispatched after witnesses living near the 1000-block of SilverLeaf Avenue heard gunshots. Court documents say that when police arrived, they found Marshall unconscious, laying in the middle of the road. He was later pronounced dead at the scene.

Elias Richard, 21, of Rapid City was originally charged with 2nd-degree murder charges while Kaleb Lukkes, 21, of Rapid City, Clint Marshall, 20, of Sioux Falls, and Masheka Barnett, 42, of Rapid City, were charged with aiding and abetting 1st-degree robbery in connection to the homicide.

Barnett’s robbery charge has been dropped and she is now charged with aiding and abetting aggravated assault. Richard is facing a 1st-degree murder charge while Lukkes and Marshall are now being charged with aiding and abetting the murder.

If convicted, Richard and Lukkes could face the death penalty or life in prison with no chance of parole.

(source: newscenter1.tv)

MONTANA:

Canadian on death row says he has accepted execution as possible fate despite bill being defeated in Montana

Ronald Smith sounds tired.

Despite good news last month, when a bill to resume executions in Montana was unexpectedly defeated, the Canadian on death row in that state is in a sombre mood.

Smith, originally from Red Deer, Alta., has been facing capital punishment since 1983 for killing 2 young Montana men in 1982.

“I thought we were screwed,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press from Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, Mont.

“I didn’t think there was a chance in hell that this wouldn’t be approved. Once my daughter found out, I explained to her which road we were going down and what the probable outcomes were going to be. I was that sure that it was over.”

All executions have been stayed in Montana since 2015 because the state requires the use of an ultra-fast-acting barbiturate, which is no longer available. There hasn’t been an execution in Montana since 2006.

Montana’s house of representatives passed a bill in February that would have amended protocol to include any substance in a lethal quantity sufficient to cause death. But the senate voted it down 26-24.

The execution issue is likely to arise again in two years when the state legislature reconvenes.

“Obviously, I’m happy about it, but at the same time it keeps running through the back of my head, ‘Oh crap. I’m stuck sitting around here again,”’ Smith sighed.

“A lot of people look at it and say, ‘Well at least you’re alive,’ but I’m really not. I’m just sitting around like a bump on a log is all I’m doing, and after almost 40 years of this, anything is preferable.”

Smith, 63, rephrased his response when asked if he would prefer to be executed.

“Well, maybe not preferable, but I wouldn’t be bothered by it. As soon as I heard what was going on, I accepted it. I went, ‘OK, cool. I don’t have to deal with this crap anymore.’

“I was worried about my family because they were going to take it hard. Personally, I don’t care. I’ve hit that point where I’ve done enough of this. If they’re (legislators) not going to cut me a break, than go ahead and do away with me.”

Smith and Rodney Munro, both high on LSD and alcohol, shot and killed two Indigenous cousins near East Glacier, Mont., in 1982. They admitted to marching Harvey Mad Man, 23, and Thomas Running Rabbit, 20, into the woods by a highway. They shot each man in the head with a sawed-off .22-calibre rifle.

Court heard that Smith and Munro wanted to steal the victims’ car. Smith also said at the time that he wanted to know what it was like to kill someone.

He was initially offered a plea deal that would have taken the death penalty off the table, but he rejected it. He pleaded guilty and asked to be put to death, but later changed his mind. He has had five execution dates set over the years. Each has been overturned.

The victims’ families have continued to push for Smith to be executed.

Munro took the plea bargain, was eventually transferred to a prison in Canada, and has been free since 1998.

“He’s been out 23 years and doing well and I wish him all the very best. Had I taken that plea deal, then I’d have been out a long time ago. It’s hard not to have that in the back of your mind on a pretty regular basis.”

Smith said he’s content with paying for his crimes, but would like to be transferred to a prison in Canada, where he has a daughter, two sisters, grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

“I’m getting pretty much what I deserve for the crime I committed,” he said. “If I was in a position where I could see my family on a constant basis, then leave me locked up. I don’t care.

“It is what it is. I committed the crime.”

(source: The Globe and Mail)

IDAHO----new execution date

Judge issues death warrant for Idaho death row inmate Gerald Pizzuto

The state of Idaho has signed a death warrant for Idaho death row inmate Gerald Pizzuto.

A spokesman for the Idaho Attorney General Office says a judge signed off on the warrant on Wednesday. Pizzuto is now scheduled to be executed on June 2.

Pizzuto is 1 of 8 people on Idaho's death row. He was sent there in 1986 after his murder conviction for the 1985 beating deaths of Berta Herndon, 58, and her nephew Del Herndon, 37, at a remote Idaho County cabin where they were prospecting.

The state of Idaho hasn't executed an inmate since 2012.

The planned execution was first reported by the Marshall Project, which is reporting Pizzuto is currently in hospice care.

"Gerald Pizzuto is near death, but it’s unclear whether the cancer or the state of Idaho will get to him first," the report from Marshall Project states.

(source: Idaho News)

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

They Are Terminally Ill. States Want To Execute Them Anyway.----“I don’t understand trying to kill somebody who is already dying,” says the sister of Idaho death-row prisoner Gerald Pizzuto.

Gerald Pizzuto is near death, but it’s unclear whether the cancer or the state of Idaho will get to him first.

For more than a year, the 65-year-old has been in hospice care on Idaho’s death row, suffering from advanced bladder tumors, along with Type 2 diabetes, and a variety of heart and lung diseases. According to his defense team, he’s been prescribed 42 different drugs in the last year, and his medical records say he has “begun experiencing memory loss and mild disorientation associated with the death process.”

Death Sentences

The death penalty is in flux. These are the stories that you need to know about capital punishment's past, as well as its uncertain future.

But on Thursday, the Idaho attorney general’s office confirmed the state’s plan to execute him on June 2, for the 1985 murders of 2 gold prospectors in the mountains north of Boise. If it goes through as planned, this will be Idaho’s 1st execution in 9 years.

Given the likelihood that Pizzuto will soon die of natural causes, his case may stir up the recurring debates about the cost of capital punishment in this fiscally conservative state. His legal team has filed a petition for clemency, calling the execution “an unnecessary exercise, with significant operational and personnel costs for the State.”

“I don’t understand trying to kill somebody who is already dying,” said his sister Angelinna Pizzuto.

Across the country, executions are growing less frequent each year. But many of those facing execution are terminally ill, or simply very old. While courts try to ensure that innocent people aren’t executed and guilty people don’t face violations of their constitutional rights, the appeals process has grown longer and longer. Federal data show that people executed in 1987 had spent an average of just over seven years in prison; by 2017, those executed had been on death row for an average of nearly 20 years.

“We’ve got death rows that are starting to feel like assisted living,” said Bernard Harcourt, a Columbia law professor whose own client, Doyle Hamm, was 61 and terminally ill with lymphatic cancer when Alabama tried to execute him in 2018. Hamm’s failing health rendered it impossible for prison officials to find a usable vein, even after hours of poking that left him with a punctured bladder. Two months later, the state executed 83-year-old Walter Moody, the oldest person put to death in recent times.

In Ohio, officials tried and failed to execute Alva Campbell, who was already dying of cancer. He was unable to walk, used a colostomy bag and required four breathing treatments per day. Officials called off the execution in 2017 after they could not find a vein, and Campbell later died in his cell of natural causes.

Then in June 2018, Texas executed a confessed serial killer named Danny Bible, who shook with Parkinson’s tremors as he lay on the gurney. Bible’s legal team had argued, unsuccessfully, that he was too sick for execution because his “galaxy of medical issues” would make the process more painful, violating the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

For more than two decades, defense lawyers for death row prisoners have argued that long prison stays under the impending threat of death amount to “cruel and unusual punishment,” and that lethal injection methods can cause excessive pain to prisoners in ill health.

The most successful of these efforts have been about dementia. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that people cannot be executed if they don’t understand why. In 2018 the court agreed to hear the case of Vernon Madison, who was facing execution in Alabama even though he could not remember his crime, the 1985 murder of a police officer. Alabama officials had argued that executing Madison would still fulfill the primary purposes of the death penalty — retribution and deterrence — and attorneys general in 14 other states took their side in the case.

The court stopped the execution until a lower court could revisit the case. That hearing never took place; Madison died in prison early last year.

“We may face ever more instances of state efforts to execute prisoners suffering the diseases and infirmities of old age,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote of Madison’s case, adding that rather than “develop a constitutional jurisprudence that focuses upon the special circumstances of the aged,” the court should reevaluate the death penalty entirely.

In Idaho, Gerald Pizzuto’s lawyers may soon argue that the state’s lethal injection plan will violate his constitutional rights, by failing to account for his medical conditions and causing him excessive pain. Such arguments have reached the Supreme Court and have generally fared poorly.

But Pizzuto’s attorneys can’t make those arguments because prison officials have not yet announced what drugs they plan to use.

“It’s our contention that they should have to pick it, tell us what it is and we shouldn’t have to guess which of these various protocols they might choose,” said Pizzuto’s lawyer Bruce Livingston. Defense lawyers for Idaho prisoners have been arguing that the delay robs them of the ability to study the medical issues involved, but that in Pizzuto’s case, his heart problems render it “highly likely that he would experience sensations associated with a heart attack, including significant pain and a feeling of impending doom.”

Over the last decade, pharmaceutical companies have made it more difficult for prisons to use their products in executions, leading states to seek drugs from small compounding pharmacies, and even overseas. In the meantime, Idaho has been embroiled in a court battle over secrecy surrounding its lethal injection protocols, stemming from University of Idaho professor Aliza Cover’s request for information about the drugs and procedures the state used in its last 2 executions, in 2011 and 2012.

Prison officials have maintained that revealing too much would compromise future efforts to get drugs. But in 2020 a court ordered them to release records. Since then, officials have said they no longer have lethal injection drugs on hand, and it remains unclear how difficult it will be for them to get more.

“We are confident that when the time comes, we will have the chemicals necessary to carry out the court order,” Idaho prison spokesman Jeffrey Ray wrote in an email Thursday, adding that the agency had not yet received the death warrant for Pizzuto.

At Pizzuto’s 1986 trial, prosecutors said he was camping with friends in the mountains north of Boise when he walked to a cabin and robbed, beat, shot and buried 2 gold prospectors: Del Herndon, 37, and his aunt, Berta Herndon, 58.

In court records, Pizzuto’s friends — and later co-defendants — described how he said he was going “hunting.” Pizzuto emerged from the Herndon cabin with a wad of $100 bills, saying he had “put those people to sleep permanently.” The others, who took some of the money and helped bury the victims, all received prison terms.

The Herndon family has not made public statements recently, but before the trial they said they supported a death sentence. “When they murdered Berta they took my life away too,” Berta’s husband, who is also named Del Herndon, said in a report introduced at trial. "I realize nothing can help my wife, but maybe we can protect others from it happening to them."

In the years since, Pizzuto’s lawyers have argued that he suffers from an intellectual disability, which should disqualify him from execution. They also claimed prosecutors withheld details about his co-defendants, who received deals for pleading guilty and testifying against him.

As his execution approaches, Pizzuto’s team is asking the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole to take into consideration the trauma of his damaging childhood. According to his siblings, when Pizzuto was a child, his stepfather would frequently wake him up with a flashlight and hunting knife, take him to a garage, string him up with extension cords, rape him and charge other adult men up to $20 to rape him as well. The stepfather beat Pizzuto with a cattle prod, horse crop and 2x4, leaving him with brain damage.

“You could be asleep in your bed and be yanked out by your hair in the middle of the night and drug off,” his sister, Elsie Pizzuto, told a defense investigator.

This all began when Pizzuto was 5 or 6 years old, and his mother, according to the other children, did not protect him from the abuse. If anyone began looking into the abuse, the stepfather would uproot the family, even changing their last names to evade law enforcement.

Stories of trauma and abuse are troublingly common on death row, but the repeated sexual abuse by friends of a parent echoes the case of Lisa Montgomery, who was executed by the Trump administration despite pleas for clemency from leaders in domestic violence prevention.

Pizzuto’s sister Angelinna last saw him 18 months ago. “He’s in a wheelchair, and I’m in a wheelchair, and he could hardly stand up to hug me,” she said. At times, he’s on so much pain medication that he doesn’t recognize her or understand the severity of his medical condition. But she tries to make jokes to keep his spirits up. “It’s killing us both,” she said. “I don’t know what they’ll do when they take him. I pray God takes him first.”

(source: Maurice Chammah is a staff writer whose book, "Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty," won the 2019 J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Book Award. A former Fulbright and H.F. Guggenheim fellow, he has reported on a range of criminal justice subjects, including jail conditions, sheriffs, wrongful convictions, and art by incarcerated people.

Keri Blakinger is a staff writer whose work has focused on prisons and prosecutors. She previously covered criminal justice for Houston Chronicle, and her work has appeared in the Washington Post Magazine, VICE, the New York Daily News and NBC News. She is the organization's 1st formerly incarcerated reporter----themarshallproject.org)

NEVADA:

US judge says he might block Nevada setting execution date

A federal judge said Thursday he might issue an order to block a bid by prosecutors to have a state judge set a date as early as next month for Nevada’s 1st execution in 15 years.

U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware II told officials he'll need time to determine if the as-yet-undisclosed drugs and lethal injection process that prison officials want to use to put convicted mass murderer Zane Michael Floyd to death would be constitutionally humane.

The judge made no immediate decision and scheduled another court session Monday after hearing from a chief deputy Nevada attorney general, the state’s prisons chief, newly hired lawyers for Nevada’s top doctor and federal public defenders representing Floyd.

“This is a man who is going to be executed by the state,” Boulware said. “What could possibly be the state’s interest that would override that interest with respect to not disclosing the nature of the drugs under consideration?”

“Mr. Floyd has a constitutional right to know,” the judge added.

Prosecutors and prison officials are invoking the specter of a “media sideshow” and “cancel culture” in a bid to convince Boulware to let them keep secret the process for developing their plan to execute Floyd by lethal injection, the only capital punishment method that Nevada allows.

Randall Gilmer, a state attorney representing the Nevada Department of Corrections and prisons chief Charles Daniels, told the judge that until the state discloses the method and drugs to be used there is nothing for the judge to stop.

To date, Gilmer said, issues are in a “predecisional” stage and not subject for review by courts, defense attorneys or the public.

Nevada law lets prison officials withhold information about the execution protocol until several days before a scheduled execution. At that time, Gilmer said, Floyd can challenge the process.

David Anthony, an attorney representing Floyd, accused the state of stalling to cripple the defense team's ability to challenge the process, and to prevent drug manufacturers from learning their products would be used in an execution.

Anthony represented another convicted killer, Scott Dozier, who volunteered to have his death sentence carried out in 2017, but whose execution was called off twice, including after pharmaceutical companies sued to stop the use of their products. Dozier killed himself in prison in January 2019.

“We’re 4 weeks out from a potential execution and we don’t know even the most basic information,” Anthony said Thursday of Floyd's case.

Boulware said he was aware that Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson is asking a state judge in Las Vegas to issue Floyd’s execution warrant next Friday for a date to be set by prison officials during the week beginning June 7.

“This all can’t get done by June 7, that’s for sure,” the judge said of the decisions before him.

Wolfson’s bid would put an execution date just after the Legislature adjourns June 1 from a session during which a bill sought to make Nevada the 24th U.S. state to abolish the death penalty. The sentences of 63 men now on death row would be commuted to life in prison without parole.

Floyd, 45, was sentenced in 2000 to die for killing 4 people with a shotgun and badly wounding a 5th in a Las Vegas supermarket in 1999. He also was convicted of repeatedly raping a woman at his parents’ home hours before the shooting.

The last person put to death in Nevada was Daryl Mack in 2006 at Nevada State Prison in Carson City. Mack had been convicted in a 1988 rape and murder in Reno. He asked for his sentence to be carried out.

A new lethal injection chamber was built in 2016 at Ely State Prison at a cost of about $860,000. It has never been used.

(source: Associated Press)

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

Nevada and the death penalty

Drew Johnson’s Sunday commentary about abolishing the death penalty was interesting. Mr. Johnson mostly railed about the cost of carrying out the death penalty and the money we waste in doing so. Well, most sane people realize this is because we allow appeal after endless appeal.

According to Google, the average cost to house a Nevada inmate is $17,851 per year. To house a prisoner on death row, however, will cost $90,000 per year. If a prisoner sits on death row for 20 years, that will cost the state $1.8 million.

No one wants to see an innocent person put to death. But in clear-cut cases where there is no doubt about the perpetrator, the death penalty should be applied as soon as possible. Zane Floyd is a classic example. The man should have been executed years ago.

Tim Hicks, Las Vegas

(source: Letter to the Editor, Las Vegas Review-Journal)

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

I-Team: Questions surround plan for first execution in Nevada since 2006

The State of Nevada is planning to execute a man, but his lawyers and even a federal judge are questioning a lack of transparency.

Zane Floyd killed 4 people more than 20 years ago.

On Thursday, he appeared virtually from prison in a federal courtroom.

No cameras were allowed inside, but the I-Team was there.

Floyd gunned down 4 employees and injured another at a Las Vegas Albertson’s in 1999. More than 20 years later, the State of Nevada is trying to carry out his death sentence.

“I don’t know if there’s anything I can say to the families,” Floyd said more than 20 years ago.

Now, while Nevada lawmakers are considering abolishing the death penalty, the state is trying to move forward with plans to execute Floyd.

It is not yet final, but a date could be set for early June.

The Nevada Department of Corrections has released no details.

A spokeswoman tells the I-Team information will be released no less than 7 days before the execution date.

Floyd’s defense team points out Floyd has a right to know which drugs will used to kill him and lawyers need time to review the plan.

The Nevada Attorney General’s Office, which represents NDOC, argues if the names of the drugs are released, drug companies may sue to make sure their drugs are not used for lethal injection.

That is what happened in the case against Scott Dozier, the last inmate Nevada tried to execute.

Federal Judge Richard Boulware even questioned the lack of transparency Thursday and wants lawyers back in court Monday.

The head of the department testified in court Thursday but revealed no information about the plan.

Director Charles Daniels said he takes his duty to carry out the execution seriously and pointed out, “there is no do-over button.”

“I can’t take back what I’ve done, but if I could I would,” Floyd said.

Judge Boulware asked several questions about why there is so much secrecy about the plan to execute Floyd.

We are potentially four weeks away from Nevada’s first execution in 15 years and we have no information about a plan.

(source: KLAS news)

USA:

Sheryl Sandberg joins business leaders pact against death penalty----More than 40 executives have signed on to the Business Leaders Against the Death Penalty campaign since it was launched by Virgin Group founder Richard Branson in March.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg is among the latest executives to sign on to a global pledge against capital punishment first launched by Virgin Group founder Richard Branson earlier this year.

Sandberg, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and Unilever CEO Alan Jope added their names to a list of more than 40 global business leaders who have joined the Business Leaders Against the Death Penalty campaign.

Is the world at a ‘tipping point’ to abolish the death penalty?

“I oppose the death penalty because it is cruel and disproportionately impacts people and communities of colour,” Sandberg said in a news release issued by the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice. “We can build a more just future by ending the death penalty and reforming our broken criminal justice system.”

At least 483 people were executed in 18 countries in 2020, with 4 countries — Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia — accounting for 88 % of known executions, according to Amnesty International. Seventeen people were executed in the United States in 2020.

The total number of executions cited by Amnesty International does not include the thousands of people that Amnesty International believes were executed in China, where death penalty data is classified as a state secret.

At least 28,567 people are known to be on death row around the world, and at least 1,477 people were sentenced to death in 54 countries in 2020, Amnesty International found.

While both the number of executions and death sentences fell last year due in part to the coronavirus pandemic, capital punishment remains a human rights issue around the world.

Opponents of the death penalty say it is inhumane, discriminatory and often used as a political tool or in flawed criminal justice systems. Methods of execution vary by country but include such practices as beheading, hanging, shooting, lethal injection and use of the electric chair.

Capital punishment is also final, and there are many cases around the world in which people on death row have been found to be innocent.

The Death Penalty Information Center maintains an “Innocence List” that tracks death row exonerations in the US, and the organisation has found that 185 people have been exonerated after being wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death.

In fact, the organisation estimates that a staggering one in every 8.3 people sentenced to death in the US since capital punishment resumed in 1970 was exonerated.

Signatories of the Business Leaders Against the Death Penalty campaign have committed themselves to help end the use of the death penalty around the world. Their companies, however, are not currently part of the pledge.

“Change comes when business leaders and advocacy leaders join forces — and this is exactly how our campaign is designed,” Celia Ouellette, CEO and founder of the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, told Al Jazeera.

“The 40 current signatories are all individuals who recognize that they have massive voices and therefore massive potential to amplify and accelerate the work done by organisers and campaigners on the ground,” she added.

Corporate activism has been on the rise recently, with several major US companies taking a stand against Georgia’s voting laws, which have been criticised by civil rights groups and the Biden administration as serving to disenfranchise people of colour.

Hundreds of US companies and CEOs signed on to a letter opposing “any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter” from casting a ballot.

The statement was organised by Kenneth Chenault, a former chief executive of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of Merck, and its major signatories include General Motors, Netflix, Starbucks, Amazon, Google, and Warren Buffet.

A movie starring actor Will Smith that is bankrolled by Apple pulled its production from Georiga in response to the law, and Major League Baseball also announced that it would move its All-Star Game from Atlanta, Georgia to Denver, Colorado.

Several major US companies have taken a stand against Georgia’s voting laws, which have been criticised by civil rights groups and the Biden administration as serving to disenfranchise people of colour [File: Dustin Chambers/Reuters]Earlier this year, business leaders also took a stand against the Trump administration following the deadly siege at the US Capitol on January 6, with a variety of firms, institutions and cities cutting ties with Trump and the Republican lawmakers who refused to certify the 2020 election results.

But in the US’s deeply polarised political climate, the corporate backlash has sparked its own backlash, with Republican legislators like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warning of “serious consequences” if “parts of the private sector keep dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government”.

But Ouellette believes consumers now expect companies and their executives to speak up about injustice when they see it.

“Silence is no longer an option,” she said. “Leaders have a choice, they can either use their platforms for good or not. The social capital, leverage and reach that business leaders have can either be used for their own good or for the good of us all.”

(source: aljazeera.com)

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

Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2021 Becomes Bi-Partisan

With the addition of U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Michigan) as a formal co-sponsor of the legislation, the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2021 (HR262/SB582), sponsored by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), has become bi-partisan.

“More than 20% of all members of Congress are now co-sponsors of this historic bi-partisan legislation,” said Abraham Bonowitz, executive director of Death Penalty Action, a national advocacy group mobilizing opposition to the death penalty. “Americans across the country are calling on their members of Congress to support HR 262 and SB 582, and urging that the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2021 be brought up for debate as soon as possible. 23 states have abandoned the death penalty so far, and it is time to prohibit federal and military executions as well.”

Dozens of additional organizations have added their endorsements of the bill, among them traditionally conservative groups. Recent additions include Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative, the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, the Catholic Mobilizing Network and Witness to Innocence. Representative Ayanna Pressley’s office created the attached document on May 6, 2021, and one day later it is already out of date. The most up-to-date and complete list is here, with 282 groups as of May 7, 2021.

Businesses are also joining the growing chorus crying for abolition. Earlier today the Business Leaders Against the Death Penalty campaign announced dozens of new preeminent supporters including Sheryl Sandberg (COO, Facebook), Marc Benioff (CEO, Salesforce) and Alan Jope (CEO, Unilever). “The death penalty fails at every turn: it doesn’t deter crime, it’s racist, it’s wasteful and it kills innocent people,” writes Bayer CEO Werner Baumann, “even capital punishment’s most ardent supporters are realizing how indefensible it is.”

(source: Death Penalty Action)

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

DNA and the Death Penalty: Why Ledell Lee’s Case Should Increase Calls for Abolishment

If our criminal justice system is to pull from the brink of insanity, it should be designed not just to punish, but to rehabilitate without foreclosing that opportunity.

“The death penalty kills innocent people.”

This is what reads upon the hoodie and T-shirt from the Forgive Everyone Collective, an abolitionist screen printing collective from Grand Rapids, Michigan. On it, the names of 173 individuals who were sentenced to death and later exonerated are featured on the item, and Ledell Lee might have been another to add—but he was executed for murder in a flurry of lethal injections despite lawyers’ calls for DNA testing.

“No one should be executed when there is a possibility that that person is innocent,” attorney Nina Morrison said in April 2017, just after Lee—convicted in the 1990s—became the 1st person put to death in Arkansas in more than a decade. This week, four years later, attorneys shared word that genetic material from the murder weapon in Lee’s case pointed to someone else. On the handle of the bloody club apparently used to bludgeon Debra Reese to death, new testing found DNA from an unknown man, in an effort led by The Innocence Project, the American Civil Liberties Union and Lee’s family to exonerate him even after his execution.

25 states, including, Kansas, Indiana, Virginia and Texas still have the death penalty, according to a 2020 study. Four others, Colorado, Pennsylvania, California, and Oregon have suspended the law until deemed worthy again. And even despite what may be looked at like “diminished usage,” the flaws and failures of capital punishment are more apparent than ever before. In a study released in October 2015, 156 individuals have been exonerated from death row, which means for every 10 people who have been sentenced to death, only one person has been set free. As Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson tells it, even if the new evidence were to have been submitted before Ledell Lee’s execution date, he would’ve ignored the chance of examining the discovery and called for his death. “They [the Supreme Court] affirmed the convictions and it’s my duty to carry out the law,” Hutchinson said, reacting during Wednesday’s news briefing. “The evidence obviously that’s been uncovered is inconclusive and the fact is that the jury found him guilty based upon the information that they had.”

Guilty.

It is uniquely interesting how that word can subscribe a man to death in a Christian country that professes to expound values found in the Ten Commandments. While many outside a certain demographic know this to be untrue, you would think that those Boastful Bible Thumpers would realize the hypocrisy in their behavior. In the King James’ version of the Holy Scriptures, the argument is made that “thou shalt not kill” should be interpreted as “thou shalt not murder,” which when placed against how many innocent lives the American death penalty has taken, that this “act of justice” would be deemed an affront against God.

According to the Criminal Justice Project of the NAACP, there are 2,620 people on death row in the US as of Jan. 1, 2020.

This includes Mumia Abu Jamal, a political activist and journalist who was sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer, but who’s sentence was overturned by a Federal court in 2011.

And since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated by the US Supreme Court, states with the “legal authority” to do so have executed 1,516 people (as of July 2020).

How does ending one’s life—especially an innocent or potentially innocent one—make one accountable for their actions? The Forgive Everyone Collective defines accountability as “understanding one’s harm, choosing transformation, and committing to systemic change.” Ledell Lee’s family, equipped with evidence that counters the claim, even after his execution, points out just how important it is to abolish the death penalty. According to The Innocence Project, eighteen people have been proven innocent and exonerated by DNA testing in the United States after serving time on death row. Think about how those people served a combine 229 years in prison—including 202 years on death row—for crimes they didn’t commit, and then think of them being denied because new evidence is “inconclusive” or “the jury found them guilty based upon the information that they had.”

And then open your eyes and see Ledell Lee.

While his innocence or guilt can no longer be argued, what can is that the death penalty has again come under spotlight for all the wrong reasons. It is state-sanctioned revenge that does not achieve accountability, healing or transformation—and it definitely does not improve public or personal safety.

We’re all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done, because we’re all capable of change and growth. The death penalty affects and traumatizes everyone it touches. If our criminal justice system is to pull from the brink of insanity, it should be designed not just to punish, but to rehabilitate and offer transformation, redemption and grace—without foreclosing that opportunity.

(source: Opinion; Kevin Clark, Ebony)

BANGLADESH:

17 Years into Ahsanullah Master Killing----Wait for justice gets longer

Justice could not be delivered even 17 years after the grisly murder of Awami League lawmaker Ahsanullah Master as appeals in case are still now pending with the apex court.

The procrastination of case proceedings and wait for justice may take few more years because the regular judicial functions of the top court remain suspended for the Covid-19 pandemic.

For all latest news, follow The Daily Star's Google News channel.

Amid the harsh reality, the 17th death anniversary of Ahsanullah Master, a veteran freedom fighter and lawmaker from Gazipur-2 constituency, is being observed today.

The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court is yet to start hearing on appeals filed against the High Court verdict in the case, although they were filed a few years ago.

Advocate Khandker Mahbub Hossain, principal defence counsel of the case, told The Daily Star that the Appellate Division is now hearing and disposing of the death reference and appeals of 2013.

The appeals and death reference in Ahsanullah Master killing were filed in 2016 and, therefore, they will be heard and disposed of few years later if they come up before the apex court maintaining serials, he said.

He said he will not place the appeals of his clients (convicts who are now in jail) before the Appellate Division for their quick hearing as it will not bring any benefit for them. "The Appellate Division will hold hearing on the appeals and death reference maintaining the serials."

Khandker Mahbub said his clients will have to serve in jail till the apex court deliver its verdict in the case.

Deputy Attorney General Bishwajit Debnath said the Appellate Division is now virtually holding the appeals filed against the ad-interim orders of the High Court Division.

The apex court is not hearing the appeals filed against the full verdicts of the High Court due to Covid-19 pandemic, he said, adding that the appeal hearing in Ahsanullah Master murder case will be held when they will be included in the hearing list of the Appellate Division.

On May 7 in 2004, assailants killed Ahsanullah Master and Omar Faruq Ratan, a student, and wounded 17 others in a staccato burst of fire on a rally of Swechchhasebak League at Noagaon near the lawmaker's house in Tongi.

His brother filed the case next day, against 19 people, including Nurul Islam Sarkar, a Jubo Dal leader.

On April 16 in 2005, a Dhaka court handed death sentences to 22 people and life terms to six others. A decade later, on June 15, 2016, the High Court confirmed death penalty of six persons, including Nurul.

The HC, however, commuted capital punishment of seven others to life imprisonment, upheld life term of 2 and acquitted 11 of charges.

Currently, five appeals challenging the High Court verdict are pending with the apex court, including those by Ahsanullah's brother Motiur Rahman, the government and convicts, attorney general office sources said.

The appeals sought death penalty of all convicts, while convicts sought acquittal from all conviction and sentences.

(source: The Daily Star)

THAILAND:

US citizen in Thailand charged with murdering Thai wife

Police in Thailand said Friday they have charged a US citizen from the state of Colorado with murdering his pregnant Thai wife.

Jason Matthew Balzer, 32, was interrogated Friday in the northern city of Nan where he had lived with Pitchaporn Kidchob, said police Lt. Col. Somkiat Ruam-ngern. The murder charge carries a maximum penalty of death.

Balzer was arrested Thursday in the northern city of Chiang Mai and confessed to killing his 32-year-old wife, said Maj. Gen. Weerachon Boontawee, chief of Provincial Police Region 5''s Detective Department.

It was unclear if Balzer had a lawyer representing him. Balzer''s last known residence in the US was in Longmont, Colorado.

According to Weerachon, Balzer said Pitchaporn had “given him hope,” so he married her and bought her a house in Nan, her home province. Balzer said he became enraged when she tried to chase him out, so he stabbed her with a knife, the police officer said.

He said Balzer put her body in a rubbish bin that he sealed and buried in the woods about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from their home. Balzer then drove on a motorbike to Chiang Mai, where he was arrested, Weerachon said.

Police had been alerted to a possible crime when Pitchaporn''s mother, who was unable to reach her daughter by phone, went to the couple''s house and found bloodstains.

Balzer, a programmer, met Pitchaporn in Thailand in 2017 and they were married in the US, after which Balzer quit his job, sold all his property and moved to Nan, the newspaper Thai Rath reported, citing Provincial Police Region 5 commander Prachuab Wongsuk.

Balzer said he did not know his wife was three months'' pregnant, Prachuab said.

According to media reports from Colorado, Balzer has been in previous legal trouble.

The Boulder Daily Camera reported that Balzer in December 2019 pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree assault in Boulder District Court and was sentenced to 2 years of probation. It said he had originally been charged with attempted murder and six related charges, but his victim would not testify in court.

The Greeley Tribune reported that Balzer and a 2nd man were stopped by police on December 30 last year in the town of Mead for a possible traffic violation, and were found to be transporting 72 guns.

Balzer was arrested for 74 violations of a protection order, two felony counts of possession of an illegal weapon and two counts of possession of a dangerous weapon, the report said. He was released from custody after posting bail, it said.

(source: outloookindia.com)

TAIWAN:

New warrant is issued for former NSB officer Liu

An arrest warrant for former National Security Bureau (NSB) officer Liu Kuan-chun was issued on April 23, more than 2 decades after he left Taiwan in the wake of media reports accusing him of embezzling government funds, the bureau said on Thursday.

The warrant issued by the Taiwan High Prosecutors’ Office says that Liu, a former colonel who was director of the Cashiers’ Section, is accused of surrendering to the Chinese government and engaging in espionage operations.

The maximum penalty for both charges is death.

Liu traveled to China in September 2000 after media reports said that he allegedly embezzled about NT$190 million (US$6.81 million at the current exchange rate) of bureau funds allocated to secret government projects.

An arrest warrant was issued that month on money laundering and corruption charges.

However, a re-examination of the case determined that Liu might have leaked information from the projects, for which he was responsible, an unnamed prosecutors’ office official said.

Classified documents were disclosed by the media in 2002, 2 years after Liu left Taiwan, some bearing a watermark that showed they were printed in Liu’s office at the NSB, the official said.

Liu took the highly classified documents with him when he fled to China, investigators said.

He is believed to have given the documents to Chinese authorities and even helped them decipher messages, investigators said.

In February, the bureau transferred the case to the high prosecutors’ office, which on April 23 issued a warrant for Liu’s arrest on espionage charges.

The Shilin District Prosecutors’ Office, which is in charge of Liu’s embezzlement case, in March applied for a court order to confiscate his assets in Taiwan, which total about NT$200 million.

However, the whereabouts of Liu, now in his 60s, remains unknown.

His wife, Meng Wen-hua, reportedly left Taiwan with their children the day after Liu departed.

(source: Taipei Times)

INDIA:

Man awarded death penalty for murdering wife, raping daughter

The Pudukkottai Mahila Court on Thursday awarded death penalty to a man for murdering his wife and sexually assaulting his daughter.

According to prosecution, Murugesan (54) of Thenipatti near Pudukkottai, has 3 wives and 11 children. He had been sexually assaulting his 17-year-old daughter born to his 2nd wife Banumathi (50) from 2017 for around 2 years. He had also threatened his daughter of dire consequences if she revealed the torture to anyone in the family. However, he continued to sexually assault the girl and in 2019 she narrated her plight to her mother Banumathi, who informed the abuse to the 1st wife and both reprimanded Murugesan.

Instead of correcting himself, Murugesan turned furious after the warning and decided to murder his 2nd wife, whom he saw as a troublemaker and hindrance to his activities. As planned, Murugesan dropped a boulder on Banumathi’s head, while she was grazing cattle at Thennandirayanpatti in RS Pathy reserved forest area and killed her. When confronted by family members, he told them that she went missing. He also lodged a missing complaint with the Ganesh Nagar police. Later, the body of Banumathi was found in the RS Pathy forest region in a pool of blood. Police retrieved the body and sent it to the GH for post-mortem.

Meanwhile, the police during investigations found out that Murugesan had been sexually assaulting his daughter and killed his wife Banumathi. Subsequently, Murugesan was booked under various sections, including POCSO Act and was arrested. The trial in the case was held in Pudukkottai Mahila Court and on Thursday, judge Sathya awarded death penalty to Murugesan besides directing the government to pay a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the affected girl.

(source: dtnext.in)

PHILIPPINES:

Human rights groups coalesce, go digital to fight death penalty

Capital punishment in the country has been an on-and-off cycle.

In 1987, the Philippines abolished the death penalty under its post-dictatorship Constitution, but with a caveat that it could reinstate it later for heinous crimes. Death penalty resurfaced in 1993 under Republic Act 7659. In 2006, it was again abolished.

Today, 15 years later and under the Duterte administration, another resurgence is looming. Several bills have been filed to bring back the death penalty.

“These calls are alarming, especially in relation to the administration's sham and bloody drug war which, in one way or another, is already a form of death penalty in itself,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of the human rights organization Karapatan.

Collective act

Under the Coalition Against the Death Penalty (CADP), several church-based and civic groups have joined forces to raise awareness on the issue. The alliance was first formed in 1994 in response to the increasing number of people being sent to death row after its 1st reinstatement.

Since 1996, the group has been led by Fr. Silvino Borres SJ, who had served as chaplain of the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, where he comforted families of prisoners on death row, among other tasks.

“Aside from losing our moral standing in the world of nations and compromising our existing trade agreements with other nations of which commitment to human rights is a requisite, there is a real danger of erroneous convictions and executions,given the flawed justice system we have," said Borres.

Awareness via digital

To spread their message to a younger and digital audience, CADP has launched Panibagong Pagkakataon. This digital film series aims to convey the ethical, psychological, and spiritual toll of capital punishment.

Co-funded by the Commission on Human Rights, the series features short films from some of the Philippines’ most acclaimed directors, including Arden Rod Condez (John Denver Trending), and Baby Ruth Villarama (Sunday Beauty Queen).

You can now watch Villarama’s Dance for Life on Rappler Act One. The documentary follows a former death row prisoner who uses dance to enrich the lives of her fellow inmates.

To watch the rest of the series and learn more about joining the fight against the death penalty, follow the CADP’s Facebook page.

(source: rappler.com)

SIERRA LEONE:

Sierra Leone may soon abolish the death penalty

The President of the Sierra Leone Bar Association, Eddinia Michaela Swallow, last week took part in a roundtable discussion on the abolition of the death penalty in Sierra Leone, held at the residence of the British High Commissioner in Freetown, Simon Mustard.

In his opening address, Simon Mustard said that there are 30 countries that are yet to abolish the death penalty.

He spoke about the need for the abolition, adding that there is no proven justification that death penalty can deter crimes of the same nature.

President of the Sierra Leone Bar Association, Ms. Eddinia Michaela Swallow said she is encouraged by the level of commitment shown by actors of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), as well as representatives of the opposition parties regarding the abolition of the death penalty.

She stated that after a series of discussions, members of the Bar are overwhelmingly in support of the abolition of the death penalty in Sierra Leone.

She also said that the Bar Association had already presented a position paper to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Anthony Y. Brewah, calling for the President of Sierra Leone to formally pronounce the abolition of the death penalty in Sierra Leone, and for Government to take legislative steps to amend all existing laws which provide for the execution of the death penalty.

“As a professional body of lawyers, the Bar Association is willing to provide the necessary support towards the drafting of the relevant law that will replace the death penalty,” Eddinia M. Swallow Esq. assured.

Speaking at the roundtable also were: The Deputy Minister of Justice – Umaru Napoleon Koroma; the Leader of Government Business in Parliament – Matthew Sahr Nyuma; the All People’s Congress (APC) Party Leader in Parliament – Chernor R.M. Bah; Momoh Turay of the UK/Sierra Leone Probono Network on the abolition of the death penalty in Sierra Leone; Simonnetta Rossi of UNDP and other stakeholders.

The Bar Association says that it “will continue to collaborate with other stakeholders as part of its efforts to increase advocacy on the death penalty and to accelerate its abolition”.

(source: thesierraleonetelegraph.com)

INDONESIA:

Cheltenham gran Lindsay Sandiford still getting Government support on death row in Bali----The grandmother has spent eight years on death row in Bali

Death row gran Lindsay Sandiford is said to still be receiving UK consular support.

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson told Teesside Live this week that they were in contact with the grandmother.

He said: "We are in contact with Ms Sandiford, and are providing consular assistance.

"The Indonesian Government is well aware that the UK is firmly opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances and in every country as a matter of principle."

This information comes after it was revealed in 2019 that she had abandoned her legal battle to avoid her execution.

She reportedly said she didn't want to deal with another lawyer after being "burnt enough times", and didn't want any more Foreign Office help.

The punishment for drug smuggling in Indonesia is often the death sentence and many are sent to the firing squad.

Sandiford is now 64 having spent over 8 years on death row in Bali.

She was given the death sentence in January 2013 after being caught with 10lb of cocaine on a flight from Bangkok to Bali.

At the time, she said she was carrying the drugs to protect her son, who she said was being threatened.

She once lived in Hester’s Way and Warden Hill, and was previously reported to be running knitting classes to keep her mind occupied as she teaches other inmates her craft skills.

Sandiford is a former legal secretary who worked for many years in management at the Cheltenham-based law firm DTS Legal but is now locked up in the infamous Kerobokan jail – known locally as Hotel K.

According to reports, Lindsay shares a cramped cell measuring 16ft by 16ft with 4 other women prisoners and spends her days knitting clothes and toys.

She keeps photos of her granddaughters next to her bed in her cell, and has expressed regret that she cannot be a full-time grandmother.

(source: gloucestershirelive.co.uk)

MAY 6, 2021:

TEXAS:

A minor change in Texas' death penalty law. A major call for a major review.

There was a time in Texas — a long, long time — when it was political malpractice for candidates to declare anything other than unflinching fealty to the death penalty.

I recalled that era this week as the Texas House took a significant, if less than sweeping, step in a direction that once might have been scorned by some as soft on crime because it would reduce the pool of miscreants eligible for execution.

Anyone else remember the 1990 Democratic gubernatorial primary when Ann Richards, Mark White and Jim Mattox each sought to be the staunchest supporter of capital punishment?

"As governor, I made sure they received the ultimate punishment, death. And Texas is a safer place for it," White, who later in life opposed the death penalty, said on a TV ad, standing in front of photos of men executed during his 1985 to 1989 gubernatorial stint. "Only a governor can make executions happen. I did, and I will.”

That ad came after Mattox aired a spot in which he took credit for 32 executions during his stint as attorney general. Richards, despite citing Biblical admonitions against killing, said the death penalty was the law of the land and she expressed no interest in doing anything about that.

And those were Democrats. You know the GOP mantra on the death penalty. The current state party platform says, “Properly applied capital punishment is legitimate and should be reasonably swift, while respecting all due process.” The Texas Democratic platform says, “Abolish the death penalty.”

But there on the House floor on Tuesday and Wednesday was Rep. Jeff Leach, a Republican from very Republican Plano, pushing a bill to eliminate some criminals who now can get the death penalty.

Let’s nod here to the truth that, on the GOP side, there’s been a long-standing dissonance, perceived and real, between opposition to abortion and support for the death penalty. If all life is sacred, why is it OK to snuff some out? You have your own thoughts on that.

Due to the serendipity of legislative agenda coincidence, abortion and the death penalty converged on the House floor this week. On Wednesday, the House gave final approval to the Leach bill on the death penalty a few hours prior to debating a Senate OK’d measure banning abortion after the 6th week of pregnancy.

Leach, a board member of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, won overwhelming bipartisan House support for his HB 1340 which, if backed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, could be seen as the biggest change in Texas’ capital punishment law since the 2005 measure that added life without parole as a sentencing option.

The Leach bill narrows the state’s “law of parties,” as in the parties to a crime. Under that long-standing law, an accomplice — perhaps a getaway driver not at the immediate scene of a killing — can be sentenced to death even if he or she did not know or expect another party to the crime was going to kill somebody. It’s a law that always makes me think back to Doyle Skillern and Charles Sanne, both convicted in the 1974 slaying of Texas Department of Public Safety undercover narcotics officer Patrick Randel in Aransas County

Sanne fired 6 shots that killed Randel, who was in a car with him. Skillern was in another vehicle nearby and was in on the planned robbery that turned into unplanned murder. Under the law of parties, non-gunman Skillern was executed in 1985. Gunman Sanne also was sentenced to death, but that was reduced by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to life in prison in 1980. And that’s where he died in April 2018.

You have your own thoughts on which man suffered the more severe punishment.

Texas House Bill 1340 narrows the state’s “law of parties,” as in the parties to a crime. Under that longstanding law, an accomplice — perhaps a getaway driver not at the immediate scene of a killing — can be sentenced to death even if he or she did not know or expect another party to the crime was going to kill somebody.

There have been more cases like this. Leach mentioned Jeff Wood, who had written to him about his situation. Wood was sentenced to die after Daniel Reneau killed a store clerk while Wood, an accomplice, waited outside in a planned 1996 robbery in Kerrville.

Leach: “Mr. Wood was expecting to be the getaway driver for what was going to be the robbery of a convenience store. Little did he know that his friend who sat in the passenger seat actually had a gun … in his pocket. The crime went wrong. The clerk fought back, and his friend Mr. Renaud, who has since been executed by the state, shot and killed the clerk.”

Reneau was executed in 2002. Wood is still on Death Row. Leach’s bill would make accomplices like Wood ineligible for the death penalty. And an amendment added by bill co-sponsor Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston and a longtime death penalty opponent, would require the Board of Pardons and Paroles to review the cases of current accomplices on death row.

Under the bill, a co-conspirator in a capital murder case could be sentenced to death only if, according to the bill analysis, “the conspirator is a major participant in the conspiracy; in attempting to carry out the conspiracy, the conspirator acts with reckless indifference to human life; and the capital murder was committed in furtherance of an unlawful purpose.”

And while Leach’s bill does a very specific thing about one very specific part of Texas’ capital punishment law, his most striking words were about the overall concept.

“Members,” he told colleagues Tuesday, “we will make sure that any Texan that receives the ultimate punishment imposed by the state of Texas, of course, sentenced by a jury of his or her peers, actually committed a crime deserving of the ultimate punishment.

“And members, no matter where you stand on the death penalty, this is an issue that, as I mentioned, we've got to take seriously. We should take seriously. And I'm hopeful that this bill will actually lead to a broader, deeper conversation about the very existence of the death penalty in Texas,” he said.

Repeating for emphasis here. A Texas GOP lawmaker with solid conservative cred is calling for “a broader, deeper conversation about the very existence of the death penalty.” At this point, however, I can’t recommend you hold your breath awaiting that.

“But as for the bill that's in front of you today,” Leach continued, “I am increasingly concerned that there are perhaps men on Death Row right now, as we sit here voting on the floor of the Texas House, who do not need to be there, who did not kill anybody. And who did not know anyone was going to be killed. For you lawyers, they didn't have the requisite mens rea.”

For you nonlawyer, non-Latin speakers, mens rea means guilty mind. In the justice system, it involves determining someone’s intention to commit a crime or harbor knowledge that actions taken or not taken would further the commission of a crime.

Leach on Tuesday told House colleagues about an Arkansas case (he mistakenly said Oklahoma) in which recently revealed new DNA evidence casts serious doubt on a conviction that led to a death sentence ordered for Ledell Lee in a 1993 murder.

Lee was executed in 2017.

"That should keep us up at night," Leach said.

He wrapped up on Tuesday with this reference to the abortion restriction bill, of which he is a co-sponsor, that was on the House agenda Wednesday:

“Members, in closing, I want to challenge you as your friend and your colleague. And I specifically want to talk to my Republican counterparts, especially those who are going to be voting on pro-life bills as early as tomorrow. It is our obligation, members, it is our obligation as legislators, as Texans — and for those of us who pride ourselves on doing everything we can to protect innocent life — I encourage you and implore you to think deeply about the death penalty in Texas.”

The bill won 140-5 preliminary approval Tuesday, and Wednesday’s 135-6 final vote sent it to the Senate.

"It's always right to fight and stand up for innocent life," Leach, a co-sponsor of the abortion restriction bill scheduled for Wednesday action in the House, said prior to the final vote.

As noted above, the Leach bill would make a very specific — though meaningful — change in the death penalty law. His heartfelt call for a broader discussion might be the most important thing here.

Many Texans favor the death penalty. Many oppose it on moral grounds. I can’t even get to the moral question. I stop at what all must acknowledge as a sad truth.

The death penalty, once carried out, is an irreversible action produced by fallible humans operating in an imperfect judicial system.

(source: Ken Herman; Austin American-Statesman)

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

Poll Shows Decreasing Support for Death Penalty in Texas

A new poll of registered Texas voters has found that support for the death penalty, while still strong, has fallen significantly over the past decade. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters conducted from April 16-22, 2021 found that 63% say they favor keeping the death penalty for people convicted of violent crimes. That number is down from 75% in February 2015 and 78% when the poll began in 2010.

The poll found that fewer Texas voters said they want to keep the death penalty than at any prior time in the poll’s history. The numbers reflect that 19.2% of the electorate who had expressed support for keeping the death penalty in 2010 have changed their minds, nearly one in five prior supporters. Since 2015, 16.0% of those who favored keeping the death penalty — nearly 1 in 6 — have changed their minds.

The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.83 % points.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

CONNECTICUT:

Former CT death row inmates are moving to general population. Correction workers say they weren’t informed.

Union officials said the state Department of Correction failed to inform them about former death row prisoners being transferred to other facilities as Connecticut prepares to close its maximum security prison.

“There was no notice,” said AFSCME Local 391 President Collin Provost, who represents 1,500 DOC employees, including correction officers, kitchen supervisors, maintenance staff, correction counselors and others. “It’s discouraging when you get a call from one of your members saying, ‘Hey a death row inmate wound up in my general population, why didn’t they tell anyone?’”

In February, the state Commissioner of Correction Angel Quiros announced the July 1 closing of Northern Correctional Institution, the state’s “supermax” prison where the former death row inmates were being held. On March 11, a federal court ruling deemed the “special circumstances” security status for death row inmates was unconstitutional.

This suddenly changed the landscape on how the DOC would move forward in dealing with those who had the special circumstances designation.

With the transfers becoming necessary, Provost said no input was sought from the correction officers or other union staff.

“That’s the challenging part for my members. We weren’t brought into the conversation on how they were handling the transfer for those who are being held under special circumstances,” Provost said.

The special circumstances designation became law when the death penalty was abolished in Connecticut in 2012. It requires former death row inmates to be held in more isolated circumstances than other prisoners, regardless of their behavior.

The DOC said it notified leadership of the unions, but there was little that could be done because the inmates needed to be transferred.

“The agency communicated with leadership from all of the different unions associated with the Department of Correction, including the NP4 president representing front-line staff,” said Karen Martucci, spokeswoman for the agency. “There was no room for negotiating how this move would take place since the direction and timeframes were dictated through the legal court decision.”

4 of the 10 former death row inmates, Richard Reynolds, Daniel Webb, Jessie Campbell and Todd Rizzo, who are serving life sentences, have been moved to the MacDougall Building of the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution, a level 4 and 5 maximum security prison in Suffield.

Northern’s 4 remaining inmates, Russell Peeler, Sedrick Cobb, Robert Breton and Richard Roszkowski, are expected to be moved by July 1.

Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, who were convicted of killing 3 female members of the Petit family in 2007, have been serving their life sentences in a Pennsylvania prison and are not impacted by the transfers.

The state Supreme Court in 2020 overturned the conviction of an 11th former death row inmate, Lazale Ashby, who will likely be retried.

The state’s former death row inmates were reclassified as “special circumstances high security status” by the General Assembly in 2012 in an offering to those legislators who were reluctant to vote in favor of abolishing the Connecticut death penalty, said state Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, co-chair of the judiciary committee.

“It made lawmakers feel better about what they were doing,” said Winfield, who pushed for the end of the death penalty as a new state legislator in 2009.

Legislators were also keenly aware of the issues caused by Komisarjevsky and Hayes, who were convicted and sentenced to death in the killings of Michaela and Hayley Petit and their mother Jennifer Hawke-Petit during a Cheshire home invasion in 2007. Dr. William Petit, the sole survivor of the attack, and his family championed the death penalty for the two perpetrators.

The legislature abolished the death penalty “prospectively,” which meant the men on death row would still receive death sentences. Their continued confinement was defined by a separate change in the law, which required the state commissioner of correction to keep the 11 inmates who had received death sentences in the same isolated conditions as they were on death row.

That meant the former death row inmates were kept in separate cells with little opportunity to leave, few educational programs and no contact with anyone other than those serving under the same status, Martucci said.

“Their sentences were converted to life without the possibility of release when the death penalty was abolished,” Martucci said. “They were managed by a state statute (CGS 18-10b) and their movement from Northern CI is in response to a federal appeals court decision declaring that part of that state statute is unconstitutional.”

Reynolds, who was convicted in the killing of a Waterbury police officer in the early 1990s, challenged the “special circumstances” designation in federal court after the state Supreme Court ruled the law that abolished the death penalty “prospectively” was unconstitutional.

Reynolds won his case in U.S. District Court in 2019 on the grounds that the DOC failed to provide “even minimal due process protections,” including allowing him any advance notice or hearing on his reclassification to “special circumstances high security status,” records show. The ruling banned the DOC from enforcing the special circumstances status against any other current or future inmate, court filings said.

The DOC appealed in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The Second Circuit court tossed out some of the U.S. District Court’s ruling, but agreed with Reynolds that the law establishing the special circumstances designation was unconstitutional.

By the time the appeals court ruling was issued, Quiros had already announced his intent to close Northern under heavy pressure from prison reform advocacy groups.

The DOC has since been working on the transition of the former death row inmates to other facilities, Martucci said. They all will remain in maximum security settings, she said.

“We’ll look at their risk and their needs and place them where it is most appropriate,” Martucci said.

Union officials do not have a problem with the inmates being placed in the general population, Provost said.

“The employees that I represent deal with violent people every day,” he said. “They don’t have to be on death row to be violent. They could be serving a 10-year sentence or even be imprisoned for a violation of probation.”

But Provost and several union members do have a problem with the agency not notifying staff that the former death row inmates were being transferred to certain facilities.

“Correction officers are always on guard,” Provost said. “When they step into a restaurant and have a seat and then see a person who was formerly incarcerated walk in the door, it changes their perception. It’s the same when any of the former death row inmates show up in your general population. There’s a change in your perception. Correction officers are responsible for the safety of all inmates. When you bring in someone with some notoriety, there’s going to be a difference in how you look at things.”

(source: ctinsider.com)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

SC death row case reaches state Supreme Court as lawmakers push to restart executions

Facing historically long odds and rapid questioning from the state’s highest judges, an attorney for a South Carolina man argued that her client’s death sentence should be overturned because the punishment he received was excessive.

Attorney Whitney Harrison told the state’s five Supreme Court justices that she wasn’t at the May 5 hearing to argue whether Richard Moore was guilty or innocent. Rather, her argument focused on whether Moore had received a disproportionally severe sentence when compared to other cases involving robberies that ended with homicides.

Moore, now 56, was convicted and put on death row in connection with a September 1999 fatal shooting of a night clerk at a Spartanburg County convenience store.

He admitted to grabbing a bag of money from the store before fleeing but insisted he shot the clerk, James Mahoney, in self-defense after the man pulled a gun on him during an argument and threatened him.

SC death row inmate petition for stay of execution puts state law to test

Under current law, the state Supreme Court reviews death penalty sentences to consider whether a person’s punishment is excessive based on penalties imposed in similar cases. A previous appeal by Moore, under that rule, was denied.

That response is typical.

In fact, in approximately 75 reviews, the state Supreme Court has never once said a death penalty sentence was excessive, noted Justice Kaye Hearn.

“If we have a court, such as our court, who has never in the history found a sentence disproportionate, doesn’t that signal to lawyers that this is a loser — it’s a loser argument?” Hearn said to Harrison.

“It could be until today,” Harrison replied.

The stakes for Moore could not be greater. He was scheduled to die in December before his execution was delayed because state officials did not have the drugs needed to kill him through a lethal injection. They still don’t, and haven’t since 2013, according to the state Department of Corrections. Pharmaceutical companies have withheld drugs that were being used in executions due to public scrutiny, which has led to shortages across the nation.

2 other scheduled executions in South Carolina have been put on hold so far this year.

On the same day the justices heard Moore’s case, state legislators debated a bill that would allow prison officials to use an electric chair or a firing squad to kill someone when lethal injection drugs are not available. The last person put to death in the state was in 2011.

Harrison told the justices that Moore’s situation is an outlier and said they should consider expanding the types of cases used to determine if a sentence is equal. For decades, the court has only compared death penalty cases to others in which the ultimate punishment was imposed, passing over those that resulted in life sentences.

That limited review affected Moore’s situation, Harrison said. Her client was not armed when he showed up to the store, and Mahoney’s killing was not premeditated, which should be taken into account when determining if Moore’s death sentence was fair.

That argument was met with pointed questions.

Justice George James Jr. asked Harrison: Aren’t you watering down the facts of what the jury found Moore did?

Mahoney, the store’s clerk, was shot in the heart, James said, and Moore also fired at a store patron. Although Moore argued that he was scared, he left the scene after he stepped over Mahoney’s body to rob the store.

“So why is that not in the category of perhaps being pretty doggone bad?” James asked.

Harrison replied that there are many murders in the state that have resulted in someone getting life in prison rather than being sentenced to death.

South Carolina currently has 37 people, including Moore, who have been sentenced to death, according to the Department of Corrections. The state has executed 43 people since 1976.

Attorney William Salter III, who represented the Department of Corrections at the hearing, said Moore’s situation was not an outlier. Even if the justices expanded the number of cases that it reviewed, Salter said he did not think that would have changed the overall result.

“It’s not aberrant, it’s not capricious,” he said of Moore’s sentence. Adding, as long as he became armed during a robbery, it’s an armed robbery.

Justices also peppered Salter with questions and interjected during his responses.

Chief Justice Donald Beatty asked why the justices couldn’t expand the number of cases they review due to recent advances in technology. James raised concerns that expanding the number of cases could make the pool so large that any death sentence could seem excessive.

Salter also used the Supreme Court’s spotless record of never overturning a death sentence, on the account of it being unequal to make his argument. That, he said, was an example of the court’s review process working. It was never meant to supplant the decision of a jury, he said.

Hearn asked Salter if he would feel the same way if the Supreme Court’s record was flipped and justices had always overturned death sentences because they thought they were unfair.

Salter acknowledged that he would have a different take on the process if that were the case.

(source: Charleston Post and Courier)

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

South Carolina House adds firing squad to execution methods

The South Carolina House voted Wednesday to add a firing squad to the state’s execution methods amid a lack of lethal-injection drugs — a measure meant to jump-start executions in a state that once had one of the busiest death chambers in the nation.

The bill, approved by a 66-43 vote, will require condemned inmates to choose either being shot or electrocuted if lethal injection drugs aren’t available. The state is 1 of only 9 to still use the electric chair and will become only the 4th to allow a firing squad.

South Carolina last executed a death row inmate 10 years ago Thursday.

The Senate already had approved the bill in March, by a vote of 32-11. The House only made minor technical changes to that version, meaning that after a routine final vote in the House and a signoff by the Senate, it will go to Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, who has said he will sign it.

There are several prisoners in line to be executed. Corrections officials said 3 of South Carolina’s 37 death row inmates are out of appeals. But lawsuits against the new death penalty rules are also likely.

“3 living, breathing human beings with a heartbeat that this bill is aimed at killing,” said Democratic Rep. Justin Bamberg, rhythmically thumping the microphone in front of him. “If you push the green button at the end of the day and vote to pass this bill out of this body, you may as well be throwing the switch yourself.”

South Carolina first began using the electric chair in 1912 after taking over the death penalty from individual counties, which usually hanged prisoners. The other 3 states that allow a firing squad are Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

3 inmates, all in Utah, have been killed by firing squad since the U.S. reinstated the death penalty in 1977. 19 inmates have died in the electric chair this century.

South Carolina can’t put anyone to death now because its supply of lethal-injection drugs expired and it has not been able to buy any more. Currently, inmates can choose between the electric chair and lethal injection. Since the drugs are not available, they choose injection.

The bill retains lethal injection as the primary method of execution if the state has the drugs, but requires prison officials to use the electric chair or firing squad if it doesn’t.

“Those families of victims to these capital crimes are unable to get any closure because we are caught in this limbo stage where every potential appeal has been exhausted and the legally imposed sentences cannot be carried out,” said Republican Rep. Weston Newton.

The lack of drugs, and decisions by prosecutors to seek guilty pleas with guaranteed life sentences over death penalty trials, have cut the state’s death row population nearly in 1/2 — from 60 to 37 inmates — since the last execution was carried out in 2011. From 2000 to 2010, the state averaged just under 2 executions a year.

The reduction also has come from natural deaths, and prisoners winning appeals and being resentenced to life without parole. Prosecutors have sent just 3 new inmates to death row in the past decade.

Democrats in the House offered several amendments, including not applying the new execution rules to current death row inmates; livestreaming executions on the internet; outlawing the death penalty outright; and requiring lawmakers to watch executions. All failed.

7 Republicans voted against the bill, while 1 Democrat voted for it.

Opponents of the bill brought up George Stinney, the youngest person executed in the U.S. in the 20th century. He was 14 when he was sent to South Carolina’s electric chair after a 1-day trial in 1944 for killing 2 white girls. A judge threw out the Black teen’s conviction in 2014. Newspaper stories reported that witnesses said the straps to keep him in the electric chair didn’t fit around his small frame.

“So not only did South Carolina give the electric chair to the youngest person ever in America, but the boy was innocent,” Bamberg said.

Other opponents noted that fellow Southern state Virginia outlawed the death penalty earlier this year. They also pointed out that the 3 executions carried out so far this year in the United States are the fewest since 2008, when the U.S. Supreme Court was reviewing lethal injection.

Newton said the bill wasn’t the place to debate the morality of executions.

“This bill doesn’t deal with the merits or the propriety of whether we should have a death penalty in South Carolina,” Newton said.

(source: WVIR news)

UTAH:

Utah Capital Defense Lawyer Who Lost County Contract After Criticizing Underpayment in Death Penalty Cases Gets $250,000 Settlement

A former Utah defense lawyer has received a $250,000 settlement after suing Weber County for allegedly firing him in retaliation for his public criticism of the county’s refusal to properly fund a death-row prisoner’s capital appeal and its interference in the case.

Samuel Newton, now a law professor at the University of Idaho, reached a settlement with county officials in a longstanding dispute over the Weber County Commissioners’ termination of his contract to provide criminal defense representation to indigent prisoners in their appeals of Weber County convictions. The settlement, announced on April 22, 2021, comes in the wake of a September 2020 ruling by a Utah federal judge that denied the county’s motion to dismiss Newton’s retaliatory firing claim.

In its September ruling, Judge Howard C. Nielson allowed Newton’s case to proceed to trial, rejecting the county’s contention that Newton’s criticism of its actions constituted speech about contractual matters that was not protected by the First Amendment. “To the contrary,” Judge Nielson wrote, “these communications implicated matters such as whether the County was underfunding the defense in a high-profile capital case, whether the County was seeking to limit Mr. Newton’s communications with his client, and whether the County was second guessing and undermining Mr. Newton’s ‘exercise of independent judgment on behalf of the client,’” which constituted protected speech regarding matters of public concern.

In a joint statement, Newton and the county wrote: “Both parties were confident in the strength of their respective positions and the case was headed to trial. After considering the anticipated costs and potential risks of going to trial, the parties decided to mediate. Among other things, the settlement amount took into account the costs of protracted litigation, attorney fees, and the amount Mr. Newton would have received under his appellate contract if it were not terminated early.” The full details of the settlement remain confidential.

The dispute came to a head while Newton was representing Utah death-row prisoner Douglas Lovell on appeal. Newton had obtained an order from the Utah Supreme Court returning the case to the county courts for an evidentiary hearing on alleged investigative failures by Lovell’s trial lawyer and the possible interference by the Church of Latter-Day Saints with the testimony of bishops who had worked with Lovell in prison. Newton requested additional funding for the representation, estimating that the case would take an additional 500-750 hours. The county said it would authorize no more than $15,000 and publicly accused Newton of overbilling, unnecessarily interviewing witnesses the county claimed were irrelevant, and meeting too frequently with his client. Newton then withdrew from the case, claiming that the county had placed him in a “terrible catch-22” in which he could either “represent Mr. Lovell zealously and lose his livelihood or compromise Mr. Lovell’s case and save his practice.”

In an October 2017 commentary in the Salt Lake Tribune, Newton wrote: “Our capital punishment system is a charade. We provide a ‘defense lawyer’ but either give someone with no experience or refuse to give the necessary resources to experienced attorneys. In Utah, a state with one of the lowest death penalty populations in the United States, which has not executed a defendant since 2010, almost every attorney to take a death penalty case has suffered extreme personal loss. The result is a crisis-level lack of qualified attorneys willing or able to take on capital cases.” Several weeks later, Weber County terminated Newton’s public defense contract, after Newton continued to criticize the county for refusing to provide the funding he believed was necessary to pursue Lovell’s appeals.

Utah has created a trust fund administered by the Utah Indigent Defense Commission to help counties defray the costs of capital-defense representation. Most of the state’s counties make an annual payment to the trust to ensure funding is available in the event of a capital prosecution or appeal in their county. Weber County does not contribute to the fund, leaving the county responsible for the entire cost of indigent capital defense at trial and throughout the state appeal process.

In February 2021, the trial court denied Lovell’s petition to overturn his death sentence. That ruling is being appealed to the Utah Supreme Court.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

NEVADA:

Prison officials: Discussions about execution protocol should be secret

As prosecutors push to execute Zane Floyd, Nevada Department of Corrections officials hope to keep secret their discussions about what drugs could be mixed in the lethal injection cocktail, citing in part concerns about “cancel culture.”

With Floyd’s death potentially about a month away, prison director Charles Daniels and the state’s chief medical officer, Ihsan Azzam, are tasked with obtaining the fatal prescription.

“Providing information as to what was discussed to arrive at the final execution protocol does not benefit the public,” wrote Chief Deputy Attorney General Randall Gilmer, who represents the prison system. “Indeed, given copycats and cancel culture, sharing information not relevant to the final execution protocol — including what drugs may or may not have been considered — would harm the public.”

Floyd was sentenced to die for killing four people inside a Las Vegas Albertsons in June 1999. His federal appeals of his conviction exhausted in November after the U.S. Supreme Court denied his request for a review of his case.

That set in motion a push for his execution, as Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson asked a state court judge to sign a death warrant next week, seeking Floyd’s lethal injection for the week of June 7.

Gilmer asked for an order from U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware to protect the identity of the drug manufacturers, arguing that publicizing those companies would “allow opponents of the death penalty to use the information to place pressure on those manufacturers to not provide such products to correctional institutions. This harms the public by taking medications out of circulation.”

Daniels has said in court documents that he was still deciding what drugs to use, and Gilmer wants those “predecisional decisions” shielded from the public.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which is critical of the administration of capital punishment but takes no stance on executions, said the process should be open.

“With a policy that is this important, this intrusive and this final, it is even more important that what the government does is transparent,” Dunham said. “The question here is: Why would the Department of Corrections want the secrecy? And the obvious second question is: What are they trying to hide? If everything they have done is appropriate, there would be nothing to hide. So one can only assume that there is something they don’t want the public to know.”

On Monday, Boulware called for testimony from Daniels and Azzam about what drugs are available for the state’s lethal injection cocktail.

That hearing is scheduled for Thursday morning. But separately, the state attorney general’s office asked to postpone at least part of the testimony because of a conflict of interest between Azzam and prison officials that came about “in the course of conversation.” Details of the conflict were not disclosed.

Gilmer also suggested in court briefs that prison officials could provide some of the information about the drug companies to Floyd and his lawyers confidentially, if the judge found that necessary, “while at the same time protecting the public and manufacturers from the media sideshow.”

The Las Vegas Review-Journal was the only media outlet present at Monday’s hearing, when Boulware said he wanted to know why the execution protocol still had not been finalized.

One of Floyd’s lawyers, Assistant Federal Public Defender Brad Levenson, said questions about the protocol should be asked in open court.

On Wednesday, Levenson called the state’s motion “overly broad” and said his office intends to file a response.

The court battle over Floyd’s execution comes as the Nevada Senate considers a bill that would abolish the death penalty.

Wolfson has pointed to the 1999 massacre as an example of the state’s need for capital punishment.

Floyd used a 12-gauge shotgun to fatally shoot four employees — Lucy Tarantino, 60, Thomas Darnell, 40, Chuck Leos, 40, and Dennis “Troy” Sargent, 31. Zachar Emenegger, 21, was shot twice but survived after playing dead inside the store.

Floyd also was found guilty of repeatedly raping a woman in a guesthouse at his parents’ home before the shooting.

(source: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

COUNCIL OF EUROPE:

The Council of Europe participated in the International Conference on Death Penalty

As part of Portugal's presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Permanent Representation of Portugal to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) held an online International Conference on the Death Penalty on 4 May.

Christos GIAKOUMOPOULOS, Director General of Human Rights and Rule of Law addressed the conference, where he recalled the Organisation's commitment to abolition worldwide, the way it achieved it in its 47 member States, and how it supports other countries on their path to abolition. The conference was an opportunity to emphasise that abolition of the death penalty is not an end in itself, it must be accompanied by reforms to move from punitive justice to restorative justice.

The two-decade support which the Council of Europe provided to Belarus towards abolition of the death penalty was also presented by Tatiana Termacic, Head of the Coordination and International Cooperation Division.

The event aimed to ensure that this subject matter remains on national and multilateral agendas and to promote the strategic priorities and initiatives of the EU, the OSCE/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Council of Europe.

(source: coe.int)

BELARUS:

Why the death penalty should be abolished ---- Supreme Court confirms death sentence for Viktar Skrundzik

The Judicial Chamber on Criminal Case of the Supreme Court of Belarus has dismissed an appeal filed by death row prisoner Viktar Skrundzik. The convict will be executed, unless pardoned by Aliaksandr Lukashenka.

Skrundzik was initially sentenced to death on March 6, 2020, after the Minsk Regional Court found him and three other men from the city of Sluck guilty of killing two elderly men and attempting to murder an 85-year-old woman.

Three defendants in the trial, Valiantsin Bushnin, Siarhei Zakharchanka and Vital Miatsezh, were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.

The verdict was appealed to the Supreme Court, which revoked the death sentence on June 30, 2020.

The case was returned for a re-trial at the Minsk Regional Court. On January 15, 2021, Skrundzik was again sentenced to death.

(source: dp.spring96.org)

UGANDA:

Death penalty for human sacrifice

Whoever will be found guilty of sacrificing a person for ritual purposes faces a maximum punishment of death following the passing of a law on human sacrifice.

The Human Sacrifice Bill (2020), once assented to by the President, will also see those who finance acts of human sacrifice facing death.

Clause 1 of the Bill defines human sacrifice as killing, mutilation, removal of organs or body parts of a person for sale or witchcraft, rituals or any harmful human practices.

While presenting the Private Member’s Bill yesterday, which was overwhelmingly supported, Ayivu MP Benard Atiku argued that the current law does not provide for the offence of human sacrifice and that the human sacrifice related cases are prosecuted as murder or related offences under the Penal Code Act.

Human sacrifice is a widespread phenomenon involving people who seek quick means of amassing wealth or power.

A renowned case is that of 2008 involving Joseph Kasirye, a boy (then aged 12 years) whose torso was found in a swamp, headless and with no genitals.

Businessman Kato Kajubi was found guilty of murder and was handed life imprisonment on conviction.

A section of MPs welcomed the passing of the Bill.

“It is long overdue. Human sacrifice is not only inhumane but it is evil,” Mbale Woman MP Connie Galiwango said.

Ms Betty Aol Ocan, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LoP) and Gulu Woman MP, said she did not understand why people were sacrificing children.

“You go to a witchdoctor expecting to give you riches, yet that witchdoctor stays in a grass-thatched hut?” Ms Ocan wondered.

Kasese Municipality MP Robert Centenary commended the passing of the Bill after reasoning that adults are victims too.

Previously, the perpetrators of human sacrifice have targeted people with specific features, including albinos, those without body piercings, big umbilical cords, a gap in their front teeth, among other features.

Authorities, including police and religious leaders, have repeatedly highlighted that there is no connection between human sacrifice and riches.

Meanwhile, Mr Emmanuel Jor Ongiertho, the Jonam County MP, had earlier recommended a harsher punishment for human sacrifice culprits.

“I suggest that the people involved in the practice should be tried by the military and if found guilty, be put on firing squad because we want to deter people from this practice.”

Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga stated that Parliament had now provided an opportunity for justice to all the victims of human sacrifice.

“On a number of occasions, when children delegations come to visit me at Parliament, they ask me: ‘where is justice for Kasirye’. I think today (yesterday), we can answer that question and say that Parliament has now provided an avenue for justice for Kasirye and other victims like him,” Ms Kadaga said.

Children often the most victims of human sacrifice.

More on the Bill

-- Clause 5 says whoever encourages or advises any person to use human body parts in any ritual or their use in any treatment or other forms of healing would be liable to life imprisonment.

-- Under Clause 6, whoever is found in possession of human body parts and instruments of human sacrifice is liable to life imprisonment.

-- Clause 9 provides for psychosocial support to survivors of human sacrifice.

-- Clause 10 provides for compensation, rehabilitation or restitution to be made by court in certain cases.

(source: ntv.co.ug)

INDIA:

A Reflection on the Death Penalty for Rape in India

Reflecting on the recent spate of the award of the death penalty to offenders in seven different rape cases across the country, MD. TASNIMUL HASSAN argues for the abolition of capital punishment from the Indian criminal justice system, by pointing out the absurdity of the ‘rarest of rare cases’ doctrine and the extraordinary discretion given to judges to decide whether a particular case fits within that category and the lack of any empirical evidence that the death penalty functions as an effective deterrent.

The idea of punishing an offender finds its roots in the theory of retributive justice. As per the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, while rape is wrong, the death penalty is not the answer to it.

However, India continues to administer the same for certain kinds of rapes (see sections 376A, 376AB, 376DB, and 376E of the Indian Penal Code, 1872). It is joined by only 6 other countries where rape is punishable by death, those being Bangladesh, China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Only in March 2021, at least seven trial courts in India (in Azamgarh, Bulandshahr, Jaunpur, Jhunjhunu, Nanded, Paravur, and US Nagar) awarded the death sentence to convicts for rape and murder, with the victims being minors in most cases. The general justification for all the sentences was that the acts of the accused were “most brutal and inhumane which is beyond description” and that it was the “rarest of the rare cases.”

Why does India, a liberal democracy, impede an individual’s right to life, even if the said individual is guilty of committing a heinous offence, by administering the death penalty?

The ‘rarest of rare’ doctrine

After India’s independence, a crucial change in its criminal law was made in 1955, when the Parliament repealed section 367(5) of the-then Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1898. Until then, the provision had mandated the courts to record reasons where it decided not to impose capital punishment for offences where the death penalty was an option.

A fresh CrPC was re-enacted in 1973 which differed from the 1898 CrPc in several ways. Notably, section 354(3) mandates judges to provide special reasons for choosing to impose the death sentence.

A 5-judge Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court restricted the scope of the imposition of the death penalty in its landmark judgment in the case of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab (1982) 3 SCC 24, requiring it to be imposed only in the “rarest of rare cases”, where the option of life imprisonment has been “unquestionably foreclosed.” Justice P.N. Bhagwati dissented from the majority view in the judgment, rejecting the contention that the death penalty serves any social purpose of retribution, reformation or deterrence while holding the death penalty to be violative of Articles 14 and 20 of the Indian Constitution.

The judgment went on to lay down a list of aggravating and mitigating factors to follow while deciding between life and death. The sentencing courts have been granted extraordinary discretion in this regard, which makes the sentencing policy vague, ambiguous and arbitrary.

Also read: Death penalty is premeditated murder in the name of society’s ‘collective conscience’

Extraordinary judicial discretion

Every imposition of the death sentence traditionally concludes that it is ‘the rarest of rare case.” How does one, then, distinguish between an ‘ordinary rape’ and a ‘rare rape’, in order to apply this principle?

A recent study by the legal research and advocacy group Article 39A shows that judges penalise offenders depending on their own sensitivity, and the absence of an underlying normative understanding of mitigation leaves the field open for arbitrariness. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court asked a man accused of molesting a woman to get a rakhi tied by, and give Rs. 11,000 to, the victim as part of the customary offering made by brothers to sisters on the occasion of rakshabandhan, as a condition for his bail; this was later scrapped by the Supreme Court.

There are also ample instances of such a sentence being awarded without any basis in conclusive evidence. For instance, the Bombay High Court recently acquitted a 34-year-old man handed the death sentence for a minor’s rape and murder, while slamming the prosecution for the “most insensitive manner” of investigation.

The death penalty also has a severely disproportionate impact on socio-economically vulnerable groups, as another report by Article 39A suggests.

A mode of punishment that is administered arbitrarily, that is, imposed on some individuals but not on others, and with no valid justification, is simply barbaric. The administration of justice cannot be based on the notion that all murders are brutal, but some murders are more brutal than others.

This subjectivity undermines the essence of justice and arguably encourages an inadvertent reliance on personal leanings, rather than any concrete judicial principles. Unfortunately, the harm done to those who have been executed until now, due to the vengeance of society, cannot be reversed.

The failed idea of deterrence

A common justification for the death penalty is that the revulsion felt by society against the murderer can be satisfied only by the offender’s death. Thus, death penalty is awarded to create a deterrent effect on society, so that people fear the consequences of the offence. However, studies show no link between the death penalty and crime rates; hence, the argument of deterrence holds no water.

In its judgment in the case of Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584 (1977), the U.S. Supreme Court had held that the death penalty for rape of an adult woman was grossly disproportionate and excessive, and therefore violative of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Further, in the more recent case of Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407 (2008), the U.S. Supreme Court’s judgment ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional, except for in cases of homicide or crimes against the State (22 of the 50 American states have completely abolished the death penalty as of 2020).

An Amnesty International report revealed that at the end of 2020, 108 countries had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes, and 144 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

The Law Commission of India also noted in its Report No. 262, published in 2015, on the death penalty, that, “[t]he notion of “an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” has no place in our constitutionally mediated criminal justice system. Capital punishment fails to achieve any constitutionally valid penological goals.”

This reflects what the late Canadian parliamentarian and journalist George Perry Graham had argued, more than a century back, in 1914 before the Canadian House of Commons, that, “if in this present age we were to go back to the old-time of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ there would be very few gentlemen in this House who would not, metaphorically speaking, be blind and toothless.”

The death penalty is “doomed to failure”

Legendary American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. had posited:

“Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert.”

Though victims of criminal offences are represented in court by the State, what does the victim get from it in terms of real value? The death penalty seeks to offer justice to the victims, but killing the accused might never serve the purpose.

As Justice Harry A. Blackmun of the U.S. Supreme Court opined in the court’s judgment in the case of Callins v. Collins, 510 U.S. 1141 (1994), courts must realize that the aim of administering the death penalty fairly is “doomed to failure”. Justice Blackman remarked, at the conclusion of his dissenting opinion, that he had faith that the death penalty would eventually be abandoned, even if he may not live to see that day.

(source: Md. Tasnimul Hassan is a law student at Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, and a part of Students For Liberty’s Fellowship For Freedom in India. The views expressed are personal----theleaflet.in)

PAKISTAN/SAUDI ARABIA:

‘2,500 Pakistanis still imprisoned in Saudi jails’----Activists ask authorities to repatriate them

2 years ago, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman promised to return over 2,000 Pakistanis imprisoned in Saudi jails back to their homeland. This promise, however, remains yet to be fulfilled, said human rights organisations in a joint statement on Wednesday.

Only 89 prisoners had returned by late 2019 since the promise was made, according to Justice Project Pakistan.

The foreign ministry submitted a list in the Lahore High Court in December 2019 which showed that less than 5% of those who had returned had come back after February 2019. The number of Pakistani still imprisoned in Saudi jails is nearly 2,500.

Human rights organisations have said that Ramazan is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the principles of forgiveness, mercy, and compassion enshrined in Islam. “These Pakistani citizens have spent a long time imprisoned in a foreign country, away from their homes, families, and loved ones,” they said.

Death sentence

Pakistanis convicted for drug offences are particularly vulnerable to being sentenced to death and likely to be executed in countries that carry out the death penalty.

An analysis of 97 executions of Pakistanis carried out in Saudi Arabia and Iran shows that, since January 2016, every nine out of 10 executions have been in relation to drug offences. There has been an increase in the number of Pakistanis on death row abroad and the number of executions carried out globally between 2014 and 2019. Pakistani citizens accounted for 57% of the reported Saudi death-row population and 35% of the foreign nationals executed by the Kingdom in 2019.

More Pakistanis are executed in the Kingdom than any other foreign nationals, reports Caught in a Web: Treatment of Pakistanis in the Saudi Criminal Justice System (2018). The research was conducted by the Justice Project Pakistan and Human Rights Watch.

However, according to a recent report by Harm Reduction International (HRI), confirmed executions for drug offences in Saudi Arabia dropped 94% between 2019 and 2020.

The statement has been published by Justice Project Pakistan, Harm Reduction International, Anti Death Penalty Asia Network, Digital Rights Foundation, Capital Punishment Justice Project, Eleos Justice, and Monash University Equidem.

(source: samaa.tv)

IRAN:

Dozens of Women Executed in MENA in 2020; Iran Tops the List ---- Human rights organization: Iran leads the MENA region for executing 9 women in 2020.

Amnesty International has released a report revealing that 16 women out of 483 people were executed in 2020 in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA region).

The human rights organization also added that Iran has topped the list as it had executed 9 women last year only. Tehran was accountable for 56% of all recorded executions in the MENA region.

Shocking! All of the executions of #women recorded worldwide in 2020 took place in our region. Time to abolish the #deathpenalty!

Read and share our new report: https://t.co/FJ4rgzsezS pic.twitter.com/hwtGL2KDK2 — Amnesty MENA (@AmnestyMENA) April 25, 2021

Not only Iran, but also Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Oman were included in Amnesty’s report. Egypt performed 4 executions on women; Saudi Arabia came in after Egypt with 2 death penalties, while Oman reported 1 case.

4 MENA regions have topped the world in number of executions accounting for both genders ‘males and females’; Iran had executed over 246 people, Egypt more than 107, Iraq’s total death penalties hit over 45 while Saudi Arabia’s number of executions hit 27.

As always, the criminal regime of #Iran ranks 1st in the execution of women!

I still wonder on what criteria the @UN has elected this regime as a member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women!@mbachelet @javaidRehman @amnesty@UNHumanRights @RahaBahreini @amnestyiran https://t.co/5qfrQ2ChAd — Mitra Motamed (@MitraMotamed) April 25, 2021

A human rights activist stated that Iran, who leads the region in the number of executions, is believed to have handed 4300 death penalties during Rouhani’s 7-year tenure; 115 cases of which were women.

Iran is a well known country for cracking down on human rights and political activists; Especially after extending the detention of Iranian-British Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who has been jailed since 2016.

Furthermore, Many other female human rights activists held in Iranaian jails are facing increased prison terms and transfers to other jails with “dangerous and alarming” conditions; including Nasrin Sotoudeh, Zeynab Jalalian, as well as Saba Kordafshari.

#Iran is the world’s top executioner of #women. The executions are grossly unfair.

More than 4300 people have been executed in Iran during Rouhani’s 7-year tenure. They include 115 women.

Where are the US feminists!? #StopExecutionsInIran @JoyceBruns https://t.co/UJvajeDO2a https://t.co/I16hlYDpiD pic.twitter.com/DAWxzef7So — ALI (@AliSalari1965) May 4, 2021

Despite women’s deteriorating situation in the Islamic republic, Iran was chosen by the UN to its Commission on the Status of Women; a decision which was backlashed by most human rights organizations and activists.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has been elected by the UN to its Commission on the Status of Women. This is a mockery. It is akin to electing apartheid South Africa to a commission on the elimination of racism.“ —Iranian human rights activist @memarsadeghi https://t.co/5EpSjRgvHB — UN Watch (@UNWatch) May 3, 2021

According to the organization's report, half of the world’s countries have so far completely banned death penalties in general. It has also encouraged other countries who didn’t abolish execution to do so as soon as possible.

The Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Heba Morayef, said: “Throughout 2020 countries from the Middle East and North Africa displayed a ruthless and chilling persistence in carrying out plans to put people to death even during a year when most of the world was focused on protecting people’s lives from a deadly virus.”

In 2020, we recorded the lowest number of executions in over a decade. The world is getting closer to abolishing death penalty. 2021 cannot be a year of regression.

Our Annual Report on the Death Penalty in 2020: https://t.co/LpbCOUD6cV pic.twitter.com/p8LSB2BJGF — Amnesty International USA (@amnestyusa) April 29, 2021

Nevertheless, China leads the world in the number of death penalties. However, the true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown as this data is classified as a state secret; the global figure of at least 483 excludes the thousands of executions believed to have been carried out in China.

The report shows 483 executions in 18 countries during the past year, a decrease of 26% from 657 recorded in 2019. This figure represents the lowest number of executions that Amnesty International has ever recorded in the past 10 years.

(source: albawaba.com)

EGYPT:

Man gets death sentence for slaying dentist ---- Convict claimed to have sought to avenge the victim’s harassment of his wife

An Egyptian court has convicted a man on fatally stabbing a dentist and sentenced to him to death, legal sources said.

The convicted man, identified only by his first name Walid, was accused of killing the 70-year-old dentist inside his house in the Cairo area of Road Al Farag and stealing money from the place last year, they added. He was charged with premeditated murder and theft.

In investigations, the killer admitted to have sneaked into the victim’s apartment and attacked him with a knife out of revenge allegedly for having verbally harassed his wife, who used to work as his domestic helper.

Evidence retrieved from surveillance cameras in the place showed the defendant, wearing a face mask, while entering the victim’s apartment in an attempt to his facial features. After killing him, he made off with an unspecified sum of money before he was arrested.

The death ruling can be appealed.

(source: Gulf News)

MAY 5, 2021:

TEXAS:

Texas House votes to end 'law of parties' in death penalty cases----A Republican state lawmaker says it's time for Texas to have a "broader and deeper conversation on the very existence of the death penalty."

The Texas House in an overwhelming vote Tuesday said people who are present when a capital murder is committed but who did not realize that someone might be killed should no longer be subject to the death penalty.

The author of House Bill 1340, which requires a final House vote before advancing to the Senate, said the measure should be part of a "broader and deeper conversation on the very existence of the death penalty."

Under what is commonly called the "law of parties," all conspirators are equally guilty if they take part in the commission of a felony. But under state Rep. Jeff Leach's legislation, a jury must find that a conspirator who did not actually do the killing actually intended to kill the victim to be condemned to death.

"We want to reserve the death penalty ... for cases in which there is intent," the Plano Republican said.

The bill, which passed 139-4, also would require the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to determine how many inmates presently are on death row under the law of parties and to initiate efforts to have their sentences commuted.

According to the online publication the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, Texas has executed at least six people who were convicted under the law of parties.

When he presented his bill to the House Jurisprudence Committee in early April, Leach noted said he has "struggled" with the way the death penalty is administered in Texas, which leads the nation with 570 executions since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed them to resume in 1976.

"It is not a comfortable position for a Republican to be in – to be talking about limiting the use of the death penalty in Texas," Leach said.

For much of his political career, Leach said he was a proponent of capital punishment, as are nearly all Republican lawmakers in Texas. However, a visit to Texas death row a few years ago initiated what he said was a change of heart.

Leach said after meeting an inmate condemned to death under the law of parties, his conscience is troubled that they face execution.

"I have trouble sleeping at night knowing that there is, not an innocent man on death row, but there is a man, and perhaps many men and women, on death row right now who could be put to death any day by the state when they didn't kill anybody," Leach said.

(source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times)

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Trial Court Recommends New Trial for Death-Row Prisoner Whose Prosecutor Secretly Also Served as the Court’s Law Clerk

Finding “brazen misconduct” by a prosecutor who withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense and then secretly served as the trial judge’s law clerk in the case, a Midland County, Texas judge has recommended that death-row prisoner Clinton Young be granted a new trial.

In a 30-page factfinding order issued on April 26, 2021, Senior Judge Sid Harle excoriated former assistant district attorney Ralph Petty and the Midland County District Attorney’s office for “shocking prosecutorial misconduct that destroyed any semblance of a fair trial” in Young’s case. That conduct, which Harle said was known to at least 2 senior members of the District Attorney’s office, included serving as part of the prosecution team that tried Young for murder and defended his conviction and death sentence on appeal while simultaneously acting as judicial clerk and legal adviser for the judge who was presiding over the trial and subsequent appeals in the trial court.

Harle said that Petty violated Young’s due process rights by failing to disclose his dual role in the case and that trial judge John Hyde should have recused himself or been disqualified as a result of the conflict. “[T]he bias created by [Judge Hyde’s] employment of Mr. Petty … deprived Mr. Young [of] due process of law” and required Hyde’s disqualification from the case as a matter of law, Harle wrote. “The appearance of impropriety in Mr. Young’s ease is clear[:] … the court’s law clerk was also the prosecutor for the State.” As a result, Harle recommended to the appeals court that all judgments entered against Young at trial be declared “null and void.”

Harle also sharply criticized the conduct of the Midland DA’s office, which he said should have withdrawn or been disqualified from the case because of Petty’s conflict. Instead, “[t]he Midland DA’s [office] violated its statutory and constitutional obligations to protect Mr. Young’s due process right to a fair trial by failing to disclose Mr. Petty’s dual role to Mr. Young or his counsel during trial, and by keeping secret Mr. Petty’s dual role through Mr. Young’s new-trial proceeding, direct appeal, and initial postconviction proceeding.” The unconstitutional failure to disclose Petty’s clear conflict, Harle wrote, was, “unfortunately, part of a larger pattern of prosecutorial misconduct” in the case.

Young, who has long maintained his innocence, claimed that prosecutors had presented false testimony against him from their key witness, David Page. In 2017, after the federal courts had denied Young’s federal habeas corpus petition, Petty filed a motion before Judge Robert Moore — for whom Petty was also clerking — seeking a death warrant for Young’s execution. Judge Moore set Young’s execution date for October 26, 2017. Young moved to withdraw the warrant based upon allegations that prosecutors had obtained his conviction and death sentence with false or perjured testimony from Page.

Young alleged that gunshot residue on Page’s gloves and affidavits from 4 prisoners that Page had bragged about committing the killing and framing Young would show that Page was the actual killer. While Young faced an active death warrant and without notifying the defense, Petty filed a motion to grant use immunity to Page. Midland County District Attorney Laura Nodolf then secretly interviewed Page, who admitted to falsely implicating Young. While Petty argued in court that Young should be executed, Nodolf withheld the information about Page’s admissions. “Ms. Nodolf knew that the interview needed to be disclosed,” Harle wrote. “Yet, neither Mr. Petty nor anyone in the office disclosed that interview until after the Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Mr. Young’s execution when it authorized [review of] Mr. Young’s claim that Mr. Page testified falsely at his trial.”

The trial court’s recommendation will now go to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which will issue a final ruling on whether Young will receive a new trial.

Petty’s undisclosed conflict extends far beyond Clinton Young’s case and taints a generation of Midland County trials. For at least 19 years, Petty worked part-time as a law clerk for several judges while also working full-time as a Midland County prosecutor. A USA Today investigation of available records, which covered the period from 2000 to 2019, when Petty retired from the prosecutor’s office, uncovered at least 355 cases in which Petty prosecuted a defendant while also performing legal work for the judge trying the case. Seventy-three of those defendants, including Clinton Young, remain in prison, with 21 serving sentences of 50 years or more. Records show that Petty was paid at least $1,500 by the judge for postconviction work in Young’s case while also working as a prosecutor opposing Young’s appeals. In an act of judicial “rubberstamping,” Judge Hyde issued an order dismissing Young’s claims that was virtually identical to the findings and order Petty had submitted on behalf of the prosecution.

In an unusual turn of events, with the Midland County District Attorney’s office recused from the case, the state of Texas filed briefs supporting Young’s request for a new trial. “The State did not easily arrive at the conclusion that it must join Applicant in urging this Court to authorize [Young’s] Writ Application,” it stated. “But the factual allegations in the writ application, combined with the independent documents and records confirming them, amount to an extraordinary, if not unprecedented situation which potentially undermined the structural and procedural due process rights of Applicant at his capital trial proceeding.”

Elsa Alcala, a former judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, told USA Today “[i]t is a breach of ethical conduct by both [Petty and the judge]. I don’t know what they were thinking,” she said.

Petty, who was declared an unavailable witness in the recent hearings after his lawyer sent a letter to the court saying he would invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination if questioned about his actions, insists that his work did not violate legal ethics. “There was no unfair advantage for anyone. None whatsoever. The court was there to determine the truth, and that’s the only information I gave them was the truth,” he said.

Shortly after Petty retired in 2019, Nodolf came across records of Petty’s actions while looking into billing matters. Her predecessor had not informed her of Petty’s arrangement with the courts. Nodolf described her discovery as “infuriating” and immediately recused her office from Young’s case, calling Petty’s work a “direct violation” of ethics standards.

Prosecutors who break ethical rules rarely suffer any consequences for their misconduct. Since 2013, 400 complaints against prosecutors have been filed with the Texas state bar, and just 11 prosecutors have been publicly disciplined. “The State Bar has largely given prosecutors a pass,” said Mike Ware, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas. “That sends a strong message to prosecutors that they do not need to concern themselves with ethics or playing by the rules.”

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

ARKANSAS:

Genetic material from 1993 killing revealed years after another man executed for crime, groups say

DNA testing has revealed genetic material from an unknown male in the evidence collected from an Arkansas murder scene years after another man was executed for the crime, civil rights groups say.

Ledell Lee was executed in 2017 after being convicted of killing his neighbor Debra Reese in 1993. Lee's family sought additional testing in the case last year, and lawyers for his family and the city of Jacksonville recently received new DNA reports, according to the Innocence Project and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The groups, which have released a summary of the additional testing and fingerprint analysis, said DNA from a male who was not Lee was identified on the handle of the apparent murder weapon — a wooden club — as well as on a shirt wrapped around the weapon, saying the DNA "appears to be the same on both items."

Nina Morrison, senior litigation counsel at the Innocence Project, a group that seeks to exonerate wrongly convicted people, said that Lee sought to have the DNA testing and fingerprint analysis conducted before his execution. Lee had maintained his innocence while incarcerated.

“While the results obtained twenty-nine years after the evidence was collected proved to be incomplete and partial, it is notable that there are now new DNA profiles that were not available during the trial or post-conviction proceedings in Mr. Lee’s case,” Morrison said in a statement.

Morrison said an investigation into the case “remains open due to the possibility of a future database ‘hit’ to the unknown male DNA or unknown fingerprints from the crime scene.”

“We are hopeful that one or more of these forensic law enforcement databases will generate additional information in the future,” she added.

Lee, who was Black, was the 1st inmate in Arkansas to be executed in more than a decade when he was put to death in 2017, NBC News reported at the time. He was 1 of 4 inmates executed in the state that year.

According to a local CBS affiliate, police arrested Lee roughly an hour after Reese had been killed in her residence. Police arrested Lee after witnesses said they saw him walking down the street.

The ACLU and Innocence Project said in their summary that "5 interpretable fingerprints from the crime scene were examined by investigators in 1993 and it was determined that none of the prints came from" Lee.

“Mitochondrial DNA profiles suitable for interpretation or exclusion were obtained from 6 of the hairs/hair fragments on the 2 slides. Ledell Lee was excluded as the source of 5 of these 6 hairs. For one hair, Mr. Lee could not be excluded as a potential source,” the groups said.

The findings have drawn scrutiny to the case’s handling and spurred calls among critics to abolish the death penalty.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), who introduced legislation last year seeking to abolish the federal death penalty, renewed her advocacy this week on Twitter.

Pressley was one of more than 40 lawmakers who signed on to a letter earlier this year urging Attorney General Merrick Garland to make abolishing the death penalty a priority, noting that the death penalty had a "disproportionate imposition on Black and brown Americans."

Abolish the death penalty. https://t.co/YjV6jGJq9B — Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) May 4, 2021

Still, state officials have defended Lee's conviction, with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) on Tuesday calling the new findings inconclusive and noting that the jury in the case found Lee guilty based on the "information that they had."

"Whenever you make tough decisions, whenever you have to carry out the decision of a jury, you realize that it's been reviewed by the Supreme Court at every level," said Hutchinson, who 4 years ago set the date for Lee's execution, local ABC affiliate KTBS reported.

"They affirmed the convictions, and it's my duty to carry out the law. The evidence obviously that's been uncovered is inconclusive, and the fact is that the jury found him guilty based upon the information that they had," the governor added.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) also maintained in a statement that Lee was guilty of Reese’s murder.

“The courts consistently rejected Ledell Lee's frivolous claims because the evidence demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that he murdered Debra Reese by beating her to death inside her home with a tire thumper,” she told a local CBS affiliate.

“After 20 years, I am prayerful that Debra's family has had closure following his lawful execution in 2017,” she added.

(source: thehill.com)

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4 years after a man’s execution, lawyers say DNA from the murder weapon points to someone else

Ledell Lee was executed for murder in a flurry of lethal injections that divided the Supreme Court and proceeded despite lawyers’ calls for DNA testing.

“No one should be executed when there is a possibility that person is innocent,” attorney Nina Morrison said in April 2017, just after Lee — convicted in the 1990s — became the first person put to death in Arkansas in more than a decade. The state drew national scrutiny for moving aggressively through capital cases before one of its drugs used in executions expired.

4 years later, attorneys say genetic material from the murder weapon in Lee’s case points to someone else.

New testing found DNA from an unknown man on the handle of the bloody club apparently used to bludgeon Debra Reese to death, according to lawyers who sued the city of Jacksonville, Ark., to have old evidence analyzed. The Innocence Project, the American Civil Liberties Union and Lee’s family sought the testing last year in an unusual effort to exonerate someone with DNA testing even after the person’s execution. The results obtained nearly 3 decades after the crime “proved to be incomplete and partial,” acknowledged Morrison, a lawyer with the Innocence Project. But she framed the discovery as significant and leaving the door open for more findings down the road in a case that relied largely on eyewitness testimony.

“We are glad there is new evidence in the national DNA database and remain hopeful that there will be further information uncovered in the future,” Patricia Young, Lee’s sister, said in a statement.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) defended Lee’s execution at a news conference Tuesday, saying that the new evidence is “inconclusive” and noting that “the jury found him guilty based upon the information that they had.”

“Whenever you make tough decisions, whenever you have to carry out the decision of a jury, you realize that it’s been reviewed by the Supreme Court at every level,” said Hutchinson, who scheduled Lee’s among a wave of executions in 2017. “They affirm the convictions, and it’s my duty to carry out the law.”

In a statement, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) dismissed criticisms of the case against Lee.

“The courts consistently rejected Ledell Lee’s frivolous claims because the evidence demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that he murdered Debra Reese by beating her to death inside her home with a tire thumper,” Rutledge said, adding that she hopes the victim’s family got closure after Lee’s execution.

The Washington Post could not reach the lead prosecutor on Lee’s case on Tuesday. Now a judge, she has expressed confidence that authorities took a serial predator off the streets, and Lee was convicted of two rapes in the early ’90s after his arrest for the Reese murder.

“I think what makes Ledell Lee particularly deserving — and no other penalty but the death penalty would be proportional to the crimes that he has committed — would be this pattern of being a serial rapist and a killer,” the prosecutor, Holly Lodge Meyer, previously told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

After his arrest in the 1993 killing of Reese, authorities linked Lee to four other crimes with DNA — three sexual assaults and one homicide, according to the Democrat-Gazette, though the homicide and one of the assault cases were dropped.

In Reese’s case, one neighbor testified that he saw Lee enter and leave the victim’s home the day of the killing, according to the Democrat-Gazette. Another said that Lee came to his door once asking for tools — what prosecutors suggested was Lee’s tactic for seeking out women home alone. Authorities said a shoe print and human blood found in Lee’s sneakers also bolstered their case.

Yet lawyers advocating for Lee said a review uncovered flaws in the evidence, including a “shocking[ly]” biased photo lineup. Lee’s appellate attorney acknowledged in an affidavit that he had struggled with substance abuse and didn’t have the resources to mount a proper defense. Now, there is also the new testing.

No match was found for the unknown man’s genetic profile in a national database of DNA, but it will now be automatically compared against any new additions, according to lawyers with the Innocence Project, the ACLU and two law firms that represent Lee’s sister. DNA that appears to be from the same person was also discovered on a bloody white shirt wrapped around the weapon, they said.

Testing could not rule out Lee as the possible source of one of multiple hairs and hair fragments recovered from the scene, they added, but the kind of mitochondrial DNA profiles analyzed “may be shared by thousands of individuals in a given population.”

A lawyer for Jacksonville — which also received the new reports, according to the lawyers who sued the city — did not immediately respond Tuesday evening to a request for comment. Lee died maintaining his innocence, and attorneys appealed his case right up to his lethal injection. The Supreme Court eventually cleared the way to execute Lee and others on Arkansas’ death row — splitting 5 to 4 at one point, with the court’s liberal justices saying the state should not proceed.

“I have previously noted the arbitrariness with which executions are carried out in this country,” wrote Justice Stephen G. Breyer. “And I have pointed out how the arbitrary nature of the death penalty system, as presently administered, runs contrary to the very purpose of a ‘rule of law.’”

Lee died just before midnight, after making some last calls and sharing up his possessions, a lawyer said, among them chips that he gave to a fellow prisoner. That man’s execution had just been called off, and he remains on death row.

(source: Washington Post)

KANSAS:

Neo-Nazi who shot dead 3 at Kansas Jewish sites dies on death row----Founder of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Frazier Glenn Miller, 80, had testified at trial that he wanted to kill Jews before he died

An avowed US antisemite who testified that he wanted to kill Jews and was sentenced to death after he shot and killed 3 people at Jewish sites in suburban Kansas City in 2014 has died in prison, the Kansas Department of Corrections said Tuesday.

Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., 80, died Monday at the El Dorado Correctional Facility, where he was serving a sentence for capital murder, attempted murder, assault and firearms convictions.

An autopsy will be performed to determine a cause of death, but preliminary indications were that Miller died of natural causes, Carol Pitts, a spokeswoman for the corrections department, said in a news release. She declined to comment further on Miller’s death or medical condition.

In March, Miller’s attorneys argued before the Kansas Supreme Court that his death sentence should be overturned, in part because they said he should not have been allowed to represent himself at trial.

Miller drove from his home in Aurora, Missouri, determined to kill Jews. On April 13, 2014, he ambushed William Corporon, 69; and his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Underwood, at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas. He then drove to the nearby Village Shalom care center and killed Terri LaManno. None of the victims were Jewish.

On Tuesday, Mindy Corporon, the mother of Underwood and daughter to Corporon, published her account of their lives and her counseling of other families who have been victims of violence. “Healing a Shattered Soul: My Faithful Journey of Courageous Kindness after the Trauma and Grief of Domestic Terrorism” does not mention Miller’s name.

Her publicist released a statement that also omits his name.

“The murderer took the lives of two Methodists and a Catholic while intending to murder Jews,” Corporon said in the statement. “No one should have lost their lives at his hands. We are neither happy nor sad. He stole so much from our family, but he didn’t steal our hearts or our dignity. He did not steal our memories, the love that sustains us or the ability to offer forgiveness and kindness in the face of such tragedy.

Miller, also known as Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., testified at trial that he wanted to kill Jewish people before he died. He said he didn’t expect to live long because he had chronic emphysema.

During his trial and at his sentencing, Miller frequently interrupted the proceedings to give rambling statements about his belief that Jewish people were running the government, media and the Federal Reserve.

During his closing arguments at trial, Miller said he had been “floating on a cloud” since the killings. When he was convicted and when he was sentenced to death, Miller raised his arm in the Nazi salute.

Miller was a Vietnam War veteran who founded the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in his native North Carolina and later the White Patriot Party. He also ran on a white power platform during campaigns for the US House in 2006 and the US Senate in 2010 in Missouri.

In arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court in March appealing his death sentence, Miller’s attorneys argued that he was incapable of understanding the legal intricacies of a complicated death penalty case and should not have been allowed to represent himself, even though he insisted on being his own attorney.

Attorney Reid Nelson said Miller’s standby attorneys should have been allowed to intervene during the penalty phase.

(source: The Times of Israel)

UTAH:

Judge questions effort to strike Utah's death penalty due to 'evolved' public attitudes

An Ogden judge has expressed skepticism about a defense motion seeking to nullify Utah’s death penalty law on the grounds that a public consensus against capital punishment has evolved.

While prosecutors today have become more selective in pushing for capital punishment and jurors “aren’t eager to do it,” Utah lawmakers over the years have added more legal factors justifying execution verdicts, defense attorney Randall Marshall said in a recent hearing.

“With this knee-jerk Legislature we have in Utah,” Marshall said, stricter criminal laws are politically desirable, “so they do things they know will get them reelected.”

Marshall and another defense attorney, Jason Widdison, argued in the April 23 hearing to strike the death penalty from the case against Miller Costello, 29, and Brenda Emile, 26, in the July 2017 death of their 3-year-old daughter, Angelina Costello.

They also asked the court to prohibit juries from considering aggravating factors during sentencing that already were considered during the trial phase.

But 2nd District judge Michael DiReda said the U.S. and Utah supreme courts “have made clear that the clear and most reliable objective evidence of contemporary values is legislation enacted” by state legislatures.

Of hundreds of homicide cases in Utah in the past two decades, only a handful have ended with death sentences.

“That tells you our society is just not eager, interested in imposing the death penalty,” Marshall said, according to an audio recording of the hearing. “There’s the consensus.”

The Utah Sentencing Commission, a body authorized by the Legislature, has recommended against the “double counting” of aggravating factors, he added.

Higher courts already have decided the issues, DiReda said.

“I think that’s a dangerous sort of request to make of a trial court,” DiReda said. “Should I pick and choose, following my own philosophy? That makes me an activist judge, and I’m certainly not going to be one.”

Marshall said “the law evolves” and new precedents are possible, but DiReda said it would be more appropriate to raise such issues on appeal, not in pretrial.

Widdison said prior decisions have pointed to trends in prosecution decisions and jury sentencing practices as factors to consider, in addition to legislation.

“The court can resolve this and find that the beliefs of the citizens of Utah have evolved and the citizenry no longer supports the death penalty based on the objective indicia of juries and prosecutors,” Widdison said.

DiReda noted that of five Utah death penalty cases in the past 22 years, 3 resulted in death sentences, including the 2015 verdict against Douglas Lovell, convicted of kidnapping and murdering Joyce Yost of South Ogden in 1985.

“I’m not minimizing the egregiousness of the (Lovell) case, but on the spectrum of aggravated murder you can clearly find evidence of cases that were much more egregious in terms of torture, and yet the jury returned a verdict of death” against Lovell, the judge said.

Marshall called death penalty verdicts “bloodthirsty.”

“We don’t know how many potential jurors have been disqualified because they don’t have the stomach for the death penalty,” Marshall said. “Those folks don’t get on the jury in the first place, so we already have a skewed jury.”

DiReda responded that Marshall’s argument “is a little bit offensive to me” because “there are many fair-minded people who are willing to consider (the death penalty) as an option.”

Letitia Toombs, a deputy Weber County attorney prosecuting the Costello and Emile cases, said few homicide cases are charged as aggravated murder with a possible death penalty because of a deliberate screening process.

Many homicides do not include aggravating factors as listed in state law, such as vehicular homicides “and fights over girlfriends,” as examples, she said. Still more are excluded because of a defendant’s mental health issues, she said.

The standard for seeking the death penalty is whether prosecutors believe there is a “reasonable likelihood of a conviction and a 12-person jury voting unanimously” for a death sentence, Toombs said.

“If we’re talking about the consensus of the community,” she said, more than half of the time Utah juries “are voting for the death penalty.”

DiReda took the arguments under consideration and said he would issue a written decision in several weeks.

Costello and Emile have been held without bail in the Weber County Jail for almost 4 years.

According to previous coverage, police said the couple’s daughter was malnourished and had burns, cuts and bruises when her body was found in their home.

(source: Daily Herald)

ARIZONA:

Arizona Court Lets Stand Man's Death Sentences for 5 Murders

An Arizona Supreme Court decision denies a request for a new sentencing for a death row inmate convicted of murdering 5 people, including 2 police informants and their relatives.

The ruling Tuesday acknowledged that the penalty phase of Robert Craig Miller's trial included an incorrect but widely used jury instruction but said there was no reasonable probability that the jury otherwise would have sentenced Miller to life instead of death.

According to the ruling, the failure of the Scottsdale man's lawyers to object to the jury instruction didn't warrant conducting a new penalty phase and sentencing.

Those killed in a Mesa home on Sept. 22, 2011, included 30-year-old Steven Duffy and 32—year-old Tammy Lovell, former employees of Miller who were informants against him in an arson case.

Also killed were Duffy’s brother, 18-year-old Shane Duffy, and Lovell’s children — 15-year-old Cassandra and 10-year-old Jacob.

Prosecutors said elimination of witnesses was the motive for the killings.

(source: Associated Press)

HAWAII:

Prosecutors seek maximum sentence for former death row inmate found guilty of robbery

Prosecutors plan to ask for the maximum sentence for former death row inmate Isaiah McCoy, who was found guilty of robbery on Monday.

Jurors deliberated for only about 30 minutes before reaching the guilty verdict in the 2019 crime.

“The violent, the dangerous, the ones who won't stop stealing, this office is going to focus on sending them to prison,” city Prosecutor Steve Alm said.

“Mr. McCoy is the perfect example. He checks all 3 boxes. He needs to be locked up.”

McCoy is known for beating criminal charges at the state and federal levels. In 2016, his death penalty murder conviction in Delaware was thrown out due to prosecutorial misconduct.

He moved to Hawaii upon his release because he has family here.

And ever since, he has had numerous run ins with local law enforcement.

In September 2017, McCoy was arrested in a Honolulu police raid in connection with a Waikiki murder. McCoy was never charged in that murder but was held on a warrant.

In January 2018, McCoy was arrested on federal prostitution and trafficking charges.

In November 2018, the federal charges were thrown out and he was freed again after a judge determined the government withheld evidence.

The Waikiki robbery that McCoy was found guilty of happened in September 2019. He and an accomplice stole a watch from a man, cash and credit cards from others in the car.

The month before, McCoy was arrested for an alleged armed robbery in Manoa.

And in November 2019, deputy sheriffs arrested McCoy at the airport for trying to get through security without proper identification.

McCoy represented himself in all his cases and has had several courtroom outbursts.

Sentencing in the robbery case is set for July 27.

“We will certainly be asking the judge for the maximum prison term and then going in front of the paroling authority to get the highest minimum possible because people like Mr. McCoy are preying on people,” Alm said.

(source: Hawaii News Now)

FIJI:

Death penalty abolished

The House of Representatives in Fiji voted to abolish hanging and made life imprisonment the only punishment for murder in 1979, and this change in the law was published in The Fiji Times on March 1 of that year.

About 36 of the 51 members of the House were present for the death penalty vote just before noon.

7 had urged the retention of the gallows, but there was only one audible “no” from Alliance MP S Reddy when the Speaker asked members to express dissent or support for a Bill to amend the Penal Code and abolish hanging.

The Bill originally proposed that hanging should be the only punishment for murder.

But an amendment from the Minister for Labour, Ratu David Toganivalu, moved in his absence by Minister for Agriculture Jonati Mavoa, substituted life imprisonment as the only penalty.

Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and the Leader of Opposition, Jai Ram Reddy, were among those supporting abolition.

But recalling that he had once supported hanging, Ratu Sir Kamisese said that at the time he would have done the hangman’s job himself, if required. “I usually do what I say,” he said.

Speaking against hanging, Mr Reddy said the act itself was “grotesque”, “repulsive” and “true cold-blooded killing”.

He said there was “not a share of evidence that it served any useful social service”.

“In an interview earlier with the Controller of Prisons, Wally Smith, he had made comments that leave no doubt as to the feeling of those who will be expected to do this dreadful act,” he said.

Mr Reddy said as a prosecutor, he had prosecuted in 40 or 50 murder cases, and in private practice had defended murderers.

“The one thing that struck me the most throughout my career is the thin wedge that often exists between a conviction and an acquittal and the enormous scope for error that exists.”

He said the law was an imperfect system administered by imperfect men who heard evidence from people who had a faulty recollection of facts, who were biased and who had a motive to lie.

Government backbencher K. S Reddy said to abolish hanging would be “disastrous” and would alarm the public.

Of 27 MPs who spoke in the debate, 18 supported abolition, 7 supported hanging, and 2 did not commit themselves.

Supporters of abolition on this motion were: the Prime Minister (Ratu Mara), the Leader of Opposition, Minister for Youth Vivekanand Sharma, Minister for Health Ted Beddoes and P. K. Bhindi.

Eqbal Mohammed was wrongly listed in a report as supporting abolition. But earlier in the week in Parliament he spoke in favour of keeping capital punishment.

Opposition member R. S Gounder was inadvertently omitted from a list of members who supported hanging.

(source: The Fiji Times)

MALAYSIA:

Unemployed man charged with killing mother

An unemployed man was charged at the Magistrate’s Court here today with murdering his own mother last week.

Mohd Fairul Ahmadiah, 39, only nodded in understanding after the charge was read before Magistrate Nur Syafiqah Noorinda.

However, no plea was recorded as a murder case is under the High Court’s jurisdiction.

According to the charge sheet, the man was alleged to have killed his mother, Meriani Ismail, 55, at home in Kampung Pesagi, Chenor, between 1.30am and 2.10am on April 29.

He was charged under Section 302 of the Penal Code, which carries the mandatory death penalty if convicted.

During the proceedings, deputy public prosecutor Anasuha Atiqah Mat Saidi informed the court that the accused may have mental issues and was said to have visual hallucinations during the incident.

The magistrate then ordered the accused to be taken to Permai Hospital in Johor for mental examination and sent June 2 for remention of the case.

It was reported on April 29 that the woman was found slashed to death, believed by her own son who was just released from prison a month earlier.

(source: thesundaily.my)

NORTH KOREA:

KIM JONG UN 'HAS OFFICIAL EXECUTED FOR IMPORTING CHEAP CHINESE MEDICAL EQUIPMENT’

North Korea has executed a party official after he defied Kim Jong-un in the hope of getting an empty showpiece hospital opened to patients, South Korea's Daily NK newspaper reported on 23 April 2021.

Kim personally broke ground on Pyongyang General Hospital in March last year, demanding that the facility be built in just over 6 months.

But his deadline came and went without a grand opening, amid rumours that the finished building was an empty shell, lacking basic medical equipment.

Now a party official has paid the ultimate price, after a workaround was proposed that clashed with Kim Jong-un's vision for the hospital.

Kim wanted the facility kitted out with medical equipment from Europe, according to Daily NK.

But an alternative plan was made to use Chinese equipment instead – and the official was blamed when an 'outraged' Kim Jong-un found out.

The condemned man was a deputy director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who was aged in his early 50s, and was responsible for importing and exporting.

An executive at the Ministry of Health was also dismissed, the newspaper said.

Kim Jong-un, who spent part of his boyhood in Switzerland, reportedly believes European-made equipment to be of the highest quality.

The party therefore allocated a large budget to furnish the hospital in line with his wishes.

But officials allegedly struggled to overcome European sanctions against North Korea and, due to the pandemic, also had difficulty bringing the items into neutral third countries.

It was then that a plan was made to use cheaper Chinese equipment that could be more easily imported.

(source: Daily NK)

IRAN:

Executions in Iran: From Arrest to Proof of Guilt

IHR's Annual Report of the Death Penalty in Iran sets out the procedures in the issuance of death sentences by Iran’s judicial system.

Access to lawyer

Article 35 of the Iranian Constitution grants access to lawyers. The Criminal Procedure Code drafted in 2013 and the 2015 amendments address, among others, a suspect’s right to access a lawyer in the pre-trial phase.[1] Article 48 of the Criminal Procedure Code states: “When a suspect is arrested, he or she can request the presence of a lawyer. The lawyer, observing the secret nature of the investigation and the negotiations between the parties, should meet with the suspect. At the end of the meeting, which should not last more than one hour, the lawyer may submit his or her written notes to be included in the case file.”

However, a note added in the final draft places limitations on the suspect’s rights to choose a lawyer. The amended note says: “In cases of crimes against internal or external security, and in cases involving organized crime, where Article 302 of this code is applicable, during the investigation phase, the parties to the dispute are to select their attorneys from a list approved by the Head of Judiciary. The names of the approved attorneys will be announced by the Head of Judiciary.”

The note effectively states that in serious criminal cases and those involving charges commonly used against political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, during the pre-trial investigation phase, defendants may only select lawyers from a list approved by the Head of Judiciary. In June 2018, the judiciary announced a list of 20 lawyers approved to defend citizens with security and political cases.[2]

Following objections from lawyers,[3] the Iranian Parliament’s Judiciary Committee tried to propose a bill to change the law. The proposed bill removes the phrase “To select their lawyers from a list approved by the Head of Judiciary.” However, it imposes new limitations, including the possibility of limiting the right to access legal counsel for 20 days (which can be extended by order of the judge for an indefinite period) for defenders subject to Article 302 of the Code. Several lawyers expressed their concern regarding this limitation. Some of these concerns are published in interviews with the IHR bi-weekly Farsi law journal, Hoghoghe-ma (“Our Rights”).[4] However, none of the people sentenced to death, regardless of charges, which IHR has acquired information about, have had access to a lawyer in the initial phase after their arrest.

Torture in detention

Article 38 of the Iranian Constitution bans all forms of torture and forced confessions. However, reports gathered by IHR and other human rights organisations indicate that torture is widely used against the suspects after their arrest and in the pre-trial phase in order to extract a confession. All death row prisoners IHR has been in contact with have testified that they were subjected to torture in order to confess to the crime they were charged with. This is not limited only to those with political or security-related charges. Almost all prisoners who were arrested for drug-related offences have been kept in solitary confinement and subjected to physical torture in the investigation phase following their detention, while being denied access to a lawyer. In many cases, confessions extracted in detention have been the only evidence available for the judge to base his verdict upon. Torture is also used in other criminal cases involving rape or murder where there is not enough evidence against the suspect.

On 28 August 2020, IHR published court document evidence that protester Navid Afkari had been sentenced to death after confessing under torture.[5] In response, the judiciary issued a statement denying all evidence of torture and judicial injustices, which was rejected and refuted by IHR.[6] Recordings of his phone conversations with his family where he describes the torture were later released and court recordings were also later obtained by IHR, in which Navid can be heard stating in court that he had been tortured to obtain a confession. He vehemently denied the charges and spoke out against his forced confessions being used against him as evidence, until the day of his execution on 12 September.

Courts and Trials

Among the charges punishable by death, murder and rape charges are tried by the Criminal Courts, while moharebeh, efsad-fil-arz, baghy and drug-related offences fall under the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Courts.

Revolutionary Courts

Established in 1979 on the orders of Ayatollah Khomeini to try former officials of the Pahlavi Government, Iran’s Revolutionary Courts have continued to operate and are responsible for issuing heavy sentences to human rights defenders, journalists, dissidents and all those criticising the authorities. Additionally, they are responsible for the vast majority of all death sentences issued in the last 40 years.[7] The Revolutionary Courts are not transparent, and its judges are known for greater abuse of their legal powers than any other judges.[8] Revolutionary Court judges routinely deny lawyers access to individuals who are subjected to extensive interrogations under severe conditions. According to the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, who interviewed 133 people facing trial in the country for a 2014 report focused on Iran’s judicial system, 45% of those interviewed reported that they were not permitted to present a defence; in 43% of cases, trials lasted only minutes and 70% of interviewees reported that coerced information or confessions had been reportedly used by the judge or made up at least part of the evidence presented by the prosecution; some 65% of interviewees reported that the judge displayed signs of bias such as by reproaching or interrogating defendants and limiting their ability to speak and present a defence.[9] A Resolution presented at the European Parliament in 2020 set out that Iranian courts regularly fail to ensure fair trials, with the denial of access to legal counsel and denial of visits by representatives from consulates, the UN or humanitarian organisations, and allow the use of confessions obtained under torture as evidence; whereas there are no independent mechanisms for ensuring accountability within the judiciary, and serious concerns remain over the politicisation of judges, particularly those presiding over Revolutionary Courts.[10]

In a series of interviews with Hoghogh-e-ma,[11] several prominent Iranian lawyers and jurists in the country questioned the constitutionality of Iran’s Revolutionary Courts and called for their dissolution.[12]

All cases regarded as security-related, such as cases involving political and civil activists and others allegedly involved in corruption and drug-related charges, are processed by the Revolutionary Courts.

Methods of proving guilt

Confessions are the most common way of proving guilt in death penalty cases. As previously mentioned, confessions are often extracted under torture. In security-related cases mainly used against political dissidents, televised confessions are aired even before a final judgement is determined.[13] Other ways of proving guilt include testimony by eyewitnesses (only by two men; a woman’s testimony is worth half of a man’s).

Witness testimonies are also used to prove guilt in the absence of a confession. In addition, according to the Islamic Penal Code, when there is no confession or witness testimony in a case, the judge can make a decision based on his exclusive opinion, without any reference to laws and codes.[14] This is known as “knowledge of the judge”, or elm-e-qazi.[15] The law requires that rulings based on a judge’s “knowledge” derive from evidence, including circumstantial evidence, and not merely personal belief that the defendant is guilty of the crime.[16] However, there have been cases where elm-e-qazi has been arbitrarily applied. For instance, in December 2007, Makwan Moloudzadeh was executed for sodomy charges based on the “knowledge of the judge”.[17]

Qassameh, or a sworn oath is another way to prove guilt of a crime (murder or injury) in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) which is practiced in Iran.[18] Qassameh is based on swearing an oath on the Quran by a certain number of people and is performed when the judge decides that there is not enough evidence proving guilt of a crime, but the judge still thinks that the defendant is most probably guilty. It should be noted that the people who swear in qassameh ceremonies are not usually direct witnesses to the crime. In 2017, at least 2 people were executed for murder without any hard evidence or a confession. They were sentenced to death only based on qassameh by members of the plaintiff’s family. In one case, the defendant insisted that he was innocent and that he could prove that he was in another city at the time of the offence. However, 50 male members of the plaintiff’s family gave a qassameh that the defendant was guilty. He was sentenced to death and executed in Mashhad on 23 May 2017.[19]

In 2017, IHR dedicated a full issue of Hoghogh-e-ma to qassameh and interviewed several lawyers and religious scholars on the issue. Since then, there have been increasing debate around the issue of qassameh inside Iran[20] and in the Farsi media outside the country.[21] In 2020, there was one case of qassameh.[22]

References:

[1] https://iranhrdc.org/amendments-to-the-islamic-republic-of-irans-code-of-criminal-procedure-part-1/

[2] https://www.rferl.org/a/lowering-the-bar-tehran-white-list-excludes-most-lawyers-from-politically-charged-cases/29276192.html

[3] https://iranhr.net/media/files/HoghoheMa-No79.pdf

[4] https://iranhr.net/media/files/101.pdf

[5] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/4404/

[6] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/4406/

[7] https://www.theglobepost.com/2018/02/22/iran-revolutionary-courts/

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/31/six-judges-iran-crackdown-journalists-activists

[9] https://undocs.org/A/HRC/25/61

[10] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2019-0112_EN.pdf

[11] https://iranhr.net/media/files/93.pdf

[12] https://iranhr.net/fa/journals/57/

[13] https://eaworldview.com/2016/07/iran-daily-terrorist-confessions-on-state-tv/

[14] https://fpc.org.uk/publications/ihrrdueprocess/

[15] A. Asghari, S.A. Ashgar Mosavi Rokni, “Changes in Personal Knowledge of the Judge with Emphasis on Islamic Punishment Law”, International Journal of Social Sciences and Education, Volume 5, Issue 2, 2015 https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fijsse.com%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2Fissues%2F2015%2Fv5i2%2FPaper-22.pdf

[16] New Islamic Penal Code, Article 211

[17] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/57/

[18] New Islamic Penal Code, Articles 313 and 336.

[19] https://www.iranhr.net/fa/articles/2897/

[20] Tabnak, September 15, 2018

[21] http://www.bbc.com/persian/iran-43185108

[22] See section “Executions in practice: qisas”

(source: iranhr.net)

ZAMBIA:

Police officer sentenced to death

A police officer has been sentenced to death by hanging for shooting dead a Zambia Air Force employee at Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) offices in Chipata in 2019.

Matondo Mangolwa, 42, a sergeant at Chipata Central Police Station, yesterday appeared before Lusaka-based High Court judge Sharon Newa charged with one count of murder.

Facts before the court were that while armed with an AK47 rifle on August 4, 2019, Mangolwa shot dead 42-year-old James Chishimba at ZRA offices, where the officer was guarding the premises around 02:40 hours.

The State called four witnesses to testify against Mangolwa, who only managed to organise two eye-witnesses to defend his case.

It was learnt during trial that Mangolwa shot Mr Chishimba 3 times after a misunderstanding.

(source: Zambia Daily Mail)

MAY 4, 2021:

PENNSYLVANIA:

A judge of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas has overturned the death sentence imposed on Patrick Stollar in 2007 after the trial court failed to instruct the sentencing jury that it must find that Stollar’s lack of a prior criminal record is a mitigating circumstance and consider it as a reason to spare his life.

Pennsylvania law includes as its first statutorily enumerated mitigating circumstance “The defendant has no significant history of prior criminal convictions.” Stollar had no prior criminal record, establishing the mitigating circumstance as a matter of law. Nonetheless, his trial prosecutor argued to the jury that it should not treat his lack of a criminal record as mitigating, and the court failed to provide any jury instruction on the issue. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has reversed several death sentences in virtually identical circumstances, and the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office conceded during Stollar’s post-conviction proceedings that the jury should have been instructed to find the “no significant history” mitigating circumstance.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

GEORGIA:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has issued opinion in 2 Georgia death penalty cases.

On April 27, a unanimous three-judge panel reversed a federal district court’s denial of sentencing relief to death-row prisoner Willie James Pye. In an unpublished opinion, the appeals court held that Pye’s court-appointed lawyer, Johnny B. Mostiler, failed to investigate and present a broad range of available mitigating evidence, as well as court records that rebutted the prosecution’s argument that he would pose a future danger in prison if the jury sentenced him to life.

Billing records indicated that Mostiler spent only 150 hours on Pye’s representation, including jury selection and the trial itself. He has been the subject of allegations of ineffective representation and/or racial bias against Black clients in at least four capital case.

On April 26, a different circuit panel denied habeas corpus relief to Askia Mustafa Raheem. The court denied Raheem’s claim that his court-appointed lawyer provided ineffective representation in the penalty-phase of trial, saying that the Georgia state courts had not unreasonably applied U.S. Supreme Court ineffectiveness caselaw. It also ruled that Raheem’s state-court lawyers had procedurally defaulted claims that he had been unconstitutionally forced to wear a stun belt at trial, that the prosecution improperly commented on his exercise of his constitutional privilege not to testify, and that the prosecution made impermissible arguments concerning his alleged future dangerousness, including telling the jurors that Raheem would kill them if he was not sentenced to death. The circuit also denied Raheem’s claim that the state court had unconstitutionally denied him a competency hearing and that he had been tried while incompetent.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

FLORIDA:

Aramis Ayala: ‘I am exploring a run for the United States Senate’

Her tenure as State Attorney was both historic and controversial.

Orlando’s former State Attorney Aramis Ayala, whose 1st term in office was historic yet so controversial that she did not seek reelection, has released a video declaring she is exploring a run for the U.S. Senate.

Last week, Florida Politics first reported that Ayala, who left office after the 2020 elections, was testing waters for a run against Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in the 2022 election.

She had opened a campaign website, but it is only generic, without any specific indications for which office she might seek. She also appears to be trial-ballooning a generic slogan, “A Fresh Start for Florida” on her Twitter account.

Any mystery was set aside, however, with a campaign-style video she posted Monday on Twitter.

“I am exploring a run for the United States Senate, and if I do I will be prepared to win,” she declares.

So far, the Democratic competition is tentative.

U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando has acknowledged interest in running for either the U.S. Senate or Governor.

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park is clearly exploratory a campaign for the U.S. Senate, but has not confirmed anything publicly, nor filed.

Former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Windermere has filed to open a U.S. Senate campaign account, but said he has not decided yet to run. Former congressional candidate Allen Ellison of Wauchula has filed and declared his intention to run, but he has lost both his congressional elections by wide margins.

Ayala was a big underdog who won an upset election in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit in 2016, to serve Orange and Osceola Counties. She became the first Black State Attorney in Florida’s history.

Her election was due in no small part due to independent campaigning backed by billionaire George Soros, who poured $1.4 million into political committees supporting her and attacking then-incumbent State Attorney Jeff Ashton. Soros has gone to great lengths to back Black female Democrats in elections throughout the country.

Ayala ran for State Attorney as a reformer and then, weeks into her tenure, stunned the state with a reform no one had expected: banning prosecutions seeking the death penalty in her district. That made her a national hero of the anti-death penalty movement. It also made her a lightning rod of criticism in Florida, particularly from but not limited to Republicans. Eventually, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in a landmark Florida Supreme Court decision in August 2017 that she could not refuse to seek the death penalty in capital murder cases, and she relented.

Many of her other criminal justice reforms were lost in the hyper-political outcry to her death penalty position. But there were several, involving issues of juvenile justice, bail, non-violent crimes, and domestic violence, among others.

She also found in the 2018 election cycle that she was a popular get for progressive Democrats seeking office. Among her work on behalf of other candidates, she drew a champion’s ovation when she gave a warm-up speech during former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum‘s run for Governor.

Still, facing strong opposition heading into the 2020 election, she announced she would not seek reelection. Another reform candidate, Monique Worrell, won, succeeding her.

The video she released Monday begins with Ayala briefly reminding people of her tenure as State Attorney, showing her in pictures with her husband, voting rights activist David Ayala, and their children, and with others, including the late Democratic Rep. and Civil Rights icon John Lewis.

“You may know me as a colleague, as a friend, family, and a former state attorney here in Florida,” she says in the video. “You know me as a lover of truth and justice, a principled fighter for what is right, someone who bases decisions on facts and evidence, one who values and respects science.”

(source: Florida Politics)

ALABAMA:

Robber convicted for 2016 killing of Alabaster store clerk, jury recommends death sentence

The man charged with killing an Alabaster gas station clerk execution-style during a 2016 robbery was convicted of capital murder.

A Shelby County jury also recommended Michael Anthony Powell face the death penalty for killing of Tracy Algar.

The body of the 54-year-old woman was found inside the bathroom of the Kirkland Chevron on Highway 31 on October 30, 2016. Alabaster Police said Powell dragged Algar into the bathroom where he shot her through the top of her head.

Powell has a history of violent felonies according to the Shelby County District Attorney's Office including 2nd degree Assault and two counts of 3rd degree Robbery.

Judge Bill Bostick is scheduled to announce his sentence on May 24th.

(source: Alabama News Leader)

LOUISIANA:

Louisiana Supreme Court to hear Lafourche death penalty case----On Nov. 4, 2012, David Brown, 41, of Houma, stabbed 29-year-old Jacqueline, 7-year-old Gabriela and 1-year-old Izabela Nieves, raped Jacquelin and Gabriella and set the family’s apartment on fire.

The Louisiana Supreme Court will hear arguments next week in the case of a Houma man sentenced to death in the killings of a Lockport woman and her two children.

On Nov. 4, 2012, David Brown, 41, of Houma, stabbed 29-year-old Jacqueline, 7-year-old Gabriela and 1-year-old Izabela Nieves, raped Jacquelin and Gabriella and set the family’s apartment on fire.

After unanimously convicting Brown on three counts of first-degree murder Oct. 30, 2016, a Lafourche Parish jury decided two days later he should receive the death penalty.

District Judge John LeBlanc of Thibodaux formally sentenced Brown to death June 22, 2018, which marked the 1st death sentence handed down in Lafourche in over 40 years.

Attorneys representing Brown are now asking the state Supreme Court to overturn their client’s conviction and sentence. The court will hear arguments from both sides May 10 in New Orleans.

Lawyers will be given 40 minutes to argue their cases before a panel of justices. The hearing will be live-streamed 2 p.m. on the state Supreme Court website.

Cecelia Trenticosta Kappel, an attorney with the Capital Appeals Project in New Orleans, argues her client’s conviction and sentence violate his constitutional rights because he didn’t have an attorney when he was sentenced.

They also contend Brown was not mentally equipped to represent himself during the sentencing phase after he waived his right to an attorney. He was not informed how the penalty phase functioned or that he could have re-invoked his right to counsel at any time, the defense argued.

Kappel said Brown’s mother was not allowed to be present in the courtroom during the trial to offer emotional support because she was under sequestration as a witness.

“This case is like no other in the state of Louisiana,” Kappel wrote in court papers. “No capital defendant in this state has faced the sentencing phase without the assistance, and advocacy, of counsel. David Brown did not seek the death penalty; he did not object to mitigating evidence to explain to the jury who he was and how he got there. Mr. Brown simply wanted to protect his mother from the shame and trauma of recalling the horrific abuse that rampaged their family for generations.”

Due to the stressful nature of the trial, including a six-week jury-selection process, Brown was not in a lucid state of mind to represent himself during such a crucial phase, Kappel said.

“Throughout these proceedings, the trial court committed a constellation of errors that struck at the very heart of Mr. Brown’s core Sixth Amendment rights,” Kappel wrote. “The trial court admitted state’s evidence which ought to have been excluded and excluded defense evidence which ought to have been admitted.

"In so doing, the court removed Mr. Brown’s defense from consideration by the jury. After gutting Mr. Brown’s defense at culpability phase, the court then forced Mr. Brown to either permit his counsel at penalty phase to introduce evidence which was contrary to Mr. Brown’s clearly stated goals, or forgo counsel completely. This ruling denied Mr. Brown the right to the assistance of counsel intended and guaranteed by the Constitution.

"In the end, due to these rulings of the trial court, the jury heard no cogent defense at culpability phase and no mitigation whatsoever at penalty phase. Taken together or considered individually, these errors, among the others, cast a dark cloud over the legitimacy of these proceedings.”

Due to the heinous nature of Brown’s crimes, justice should outweigh mercy, prosecutors said.

“If the state of Louisiana is allowed to seek the death penalty, it must have the opportunity to stand before the sentencing jury and unequivocally ask the jury to reject the concept of mercy,” Lafourche Parish Assistant District Attorney Heather Hendrix wrote in court papers. “This is what the prosecution did in its closing arguments, and nothing more.”

In a written statement presented to the District Attorney’s Office during Brown’s sentencing, Jane Bascle, Jacqueline Nieves' mother, said Nov. 4, 2012, changed her family forever.

“Words like shocked, angry, desperate, lost and confused just do not pack the power necessary to describe the impact this event has had on my family,” Bascle wrote. “The once-close, loving family that needed very little to make us happy no longer exists. We are now to this day still searching for what has been lost. I personally was not finished talking to my daughter and grandgirls. We were given a life sentence of pain and suffering the day a stranger brutally attacked those three beautiful girls.”

The last time a defendant was sentenced to death in Lafourche was Aug. 14, 1977. A jury decided David Dene Martin should die for shooting and killing his wife’s lover and three other people in a Bayou Blue trailer.

Martin was electrocuted Jan. 4, 1985. Now, execution is done by lethal injection.

There are 67 death row inmates in Louisiana, but only one has been executed in the last 11 years. Gerald Bordelon, convicted in 2002 for killing his 12-year-old stepdaughter in Livingston Parish, was executed in 2010 after waiving his appeals.

(source: Houma Today)

OHIO:

Ohio Sen. Sandra Williams announces run for Cleveland mayor

Ohio State Senator Sandra Williams announced Monday morning she’s running for Cleveland mayor.

Williams, a Democrat, is currently in her second term representing Cleveland and other parts of Cuyahoga County in the Ohio Senate.

During her time in state Senate, Williams has introduced legislation aimed at declaring racism a public health crisis, ending the death penalty in Ohio, and pushing back start times for schools.

She also sponsored legislation named after Alianna DeFreeze, a 14-year-old from Cleveland who was kidnapped and murdered on her way to school in January 2017. The bill would require schools to notify parents within 2 hours of their child failing to show up to school.

Previously, Williams served in the U.S. Army Reserve before she was honorably discharged in 1995. She’s also served as a corrections officer, mediator, and legislative aide.

Williams is a Cleveland native who was born in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. She graduated from John Hay High School before attending Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland State, and Tiffin University.

She joins former City Councilman Zack Reed, City Council President Kevin Kelley, and nonprofit executive Justin Bibb in announcing their candidacy for mayor.

Incumbent Mayor Frank Jackson has not yet officially said whether he’ll run for a 5th term.

The primary election for the mayoral race in Cleveland is this September. The two people who win the highest percentage of the vote will advance to the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

(source: WOIO news)

KENTUCKY:

Kentucky Prosecutors Drop Death Penalty in Cases That Raised Constitutionality of Capital Punishment for Offenders Aged 18 – 21

Kentucky prosecutors have dropped capital charges against 2 defendants who had challenged the constitutionality of the death penalty for crimes committed by offenders younger than 21 years old. On April 21, 2021, prosecutors announced that they will no longer seek the death penalty against Efrain Diaz, Jr. and Justin Delone Smith, 2 of the 3 adolescents accused of the 2015 killing University of Kentucky student Jonathan Krueger in 2015. A third co-defendant, Roman Gonzalez, is not eligible for the death penalty because he was under 18 at the time of the crime.

Diaz and Smith were 20 and 18, respectively, at the time of the crime. When Fayette County prosecutors indicated they would seek the death penalty, the defendants’ lawyers sought to bar its use against them because of their age. In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Thompson v. Oklahoma that imposing the death penalty on offenders who were younger than age 16 at the time of the offense constituted cruel and unusual punishment. 16 years later, in Roper v. Simmons, the Court extended that prohibition to individuals younger than age 18 at the time of the offense, pointing to an evolving national consensus against executing juvenile offenders.

Citing new neuroscience research that critical portions of the late adolescent brains of 18- to 21-year-olds function much more like those of teenagers than adults, Fayette County Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone said it would be unconstitutional to apply the death penalty to an offender younger than age 21. He entered a similar ruling in the case of 18-year-old offender Travis Bredhold. Prosecutors appealed his rulings to the Kentucky Supreme Court, which sidestepped the issue on March 26, 2020, holding that the issue was not ripe to be decided because none of the defendants had been convicted or sentenced to death.

The prosecution’s appeals of the trial court’s rulings pushed back the trial for Diaz and Smith by nearly 3 years, concluding just as the COVID-19 pandemic was shutting down courts across the country. Now, because of the continuing effects of the pandemic, the trial has been delayed an additional year to April 4, 2022, less than 2 weeks before the 7th anniversary of Krueger’s death.

The Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky student newspaper where Krueger worked as a photographer, interviewed Krueger’s mother about her experiences in the 6 years since her son died. “I never dreamed that 6 years later we’d still be waiting for all this to have a resolution,” said Mary Krueger, Jonathan’s mother. “I’m frankly stunned that it’s taken this long, but I kind of realized as time marched on these cases take on a life of their own, and they’re sort of out of our hands. … I have the sense that when it’s all done it’s still going to be frustrating, just because of what happened, how senseless the whole thing was.”

Friends remembered Krueger as fun-loving, friendly, and kind. They recounted how he welcomed newcomers and went out of his way to cheer up friends or fix a crisis. His mother told the Kernel that she tries to live life to the fullest to honor Jonathan’s memory, but she also spoke of how the pending trial casts a shadow on her family’s efforts to heal. “The trial part of it, I know that impacts the lives of 3 other people and their families. But it just is kind of out there as something that’s part of our lives, but it’s all the other things that I think we wrap ourselves around in the way of memories and trying to live or practice what he did more so than focusing on the outcome of that, because it’ll never give us what we want back,” she said.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

TENNESSEE:

History of death penalty in Tennessee to be discussed today

The history of the death penalty in Tennessee will be discussed in a lunchtime meeting today (Tuesday, May 4).

The meeting is hosted by the League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge. It will be virtual (online). The speaker will be University of Tennessee Lecturer Hemant Sharma.

Along with John M. Scheb, head of the Political Science Department at the University of Tennessee/Knoxville, and others, Sharma authored the 2013 study “Race and the Death Penalty: An Empirical Assessment of First Degree Murder Convictions in Tennessee after Gregg v. Georgia,” a press release said. Published in the Tennessee Journal of Race, Gender and Social Justice, the study analyzed 1,068 1st-degree murder convictions in the state following the 1976 Supreme Court decision that ended the 4-year court moratorium on the death penalty across the nation.

Sharma has a bachelor’s degree in English from Cornell University and a doctorate in political science from the University of Tennessee. He currently serves as a lecturer in the University of Tennessee’s Political Science Department. He has co-authored two textbooks with Department Head John Scheb and has published numerous peer-reviewed articles, the press release said. He also serves as director of soccer operations for the university’s women’s soccer team.

“Lunch with the League welcomes League members and nonmembers alike to this informative presentation,” the press release said. Members will automatically receive a link to the live presentation. Nonmembers should contact lwvoakridge@gmail.com to request the link. A couple of days after the presentation, the recorded presentation may be viewed on the League’s website at https://my.lwv.org/tennessee/oak-ridge.

(source: Oak Ridge Today)

OKLAHOMA:

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has vacated the convictions and death sentences of 2 more death-row prisoners who, the court found, had committed their offenses against Native Americans on tribal lands. Applying the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark tribal sovereignty ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, the court found that the murders for which Benjamin Robert Cole Sr. and James Chandler Ryder had been convicted occurred in “Indian country” within the historical boundaries of the Cherokee Nation reservation and that the victims were enrolled members of the Cherokee tribe.

Previously, the U.S. Supreme Court had voided the conviction of Muscogee (Creek) citizen, Patrick Murphy for murders that had occurred within the historical borders of the Creek Reservation. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals also voided the conviction of Shaun Bosse for murders of members of the Chickasaw Nation within the borders of the Chickasaw Reservation.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

SOUTH DAKOTA:

4th, final murder suspect arrested in Rapid City motel shooting

The 4th and final suspect in a fatal motel shooting, assault and kidnapping was arrested Monday morning in Rapid City after evading authorities for nearly a month.

Tracy Laughlin was taken into custody during an 11:40 a.m. traffic stop near Eglin and East North streets, according to a news release from the police department.

Laughlin was not found during a chance traffic stop, according to police spokesman Brendyn Medina. The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office Warrants Task Force was in the area and made the stop after learning where Laughlin might be hiding out.

Laughlin, Travis Nelson, William Long and Gilbert Reyna are all charged with aiding and abetting 1st-degree murder for allegedly killing Jesus Vance while committing a kidnapping on April 9, according to their indictment.

Vance, a 20-year-old from Rapid City, was found shot dead inside a room at the South Dakota Rose Inn on East Boulevard North but the weapon has not yet been found, Medina said.

The 4 defendants will face the death penalty or life in prison without parole if they are convicted of their murder charge. Before Laughlin was found, there were multiple social media posts saying she had died by suicide. It's unclear if those posts originated from someone who truly thought Laughlin had died, or if Laughlin and/or a friend started the rumor to try to avoid police detection, Medina said.

"Rumors are hard to trace back to their source," he said. "Not knowing where it started, we really don't know what the motivation is."

It's unclear if the kidnapping mentioned in the murder charge relates to the alleged kidnapping of a surviving victim or Vance as well.

The 4 defendants are also charged with aggravated assault and 2nd-degree kidnapping against Jake Williams.

They allegedly used a "cutting instrument" against Williams, a 37-year-old from Rapid City who was found outside the motel with cuts to his face that required staples to heal, according to police reports.

Williams was allegedly found with methamphetamine, a gun holster, a gun magazine and 9 mm rounds, according to police reports and a federal indictment.

He is charged in state court with meth possession and in federal court with illegally possessing the ammunition since he has been convicted of a felony.

The 4 murder suspects were identified after police detained and sought interviews with everyone inside two cars that were pulled over April 9 after surveillance footage captured the vehicles fleeing the motel shortly after the shooting.

Reyna and Long were arrested while everyone else from the cars were released. Laughlin and Nelson were also charged but had escaped before police pulled over the vehicles, Medina said.

Nelson was arrested last Thursday after officers learned he was in Box Elder and a police dog found him hiding in a culvert on Bennington Drive. He made his initial court appearance on Monday morning but no new details about the incident were revealed. His bond was already set at $500,000 cash-only.

Witness interviews lead police to believe there is a “drug distributing component” to the shooting, Medina previously said. Police also believe Vance and the 5 defendants knew each other.

It’s unclear how the alleged kidnapping and assault of Williams are related to the shooting of Vance and what preceded both incidents. Most police reports are sealed and police and prosecutors are declining to comment due to the ongoing investigation.

Vance, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, is from Takini on the reservation but grew up in Rapid City, several states outside of South Dakota and in Germany while living with his aunt, who is in the Army. He had been living in Rapid City since May 2020.

(source: Rapid City Journal)

UTAH:

Judge questions effort to strike Utah's death penalty due to 'evolved' public attitudes

An Ogden judge has expressed skepticism about a defense motion seeking to nullify Utah's death penalty law on the grounds that a public consensus against capital punishment has evolved.

While prosecutors today have become more selective in pushing for capital punishment and jurors "aren't eager to do it," Utah lawmakers over the years have added more legal factors justifying execution verdicts, defense attorney Randall Marshall said in a recent hearing.

"With this knee-jerk Legislature we have in Utah," Marshall said, stricter criminal laws are politically desirable, "so they do things they know will get them reelected."

Marshall and another defense attorney, Jason Widdison, argued in the April 23 hearing to strike the death penalty from the case against Miller Costello, 29, and Brenda Emile, 26, in the July 2017 death of their 3-year-old daughter, Angelina Costello.

They also asked the court to prohibit juries from considering aggravating factors during sentencing that already were considered during the trial phase.

But 2nd District Michael DiReda said the U.S. and Utah supreme courts "have made clear that the clear and most reliable objective evidence of contemporary values is legislation enacted" by state legislatures.

Of hundreds of homicide cases in Utah in the past 2 decades, only a handful have ended with death sentences.

"That tells you our society is just not eager, interested in imposing the death penalty," Marshall said, according to an audio recording of the hearing. "There's the consensus."

The Utah Sentencing Commission, a body authorized by the Legislature, has recommended against the "double counting" of aggravating factors, he added.

Higher courts already have decided the issues, DiReda said.

"I think that’s a dangerous sort of request to make of a trial court," DiReda said. "Should I pick and choose, following my own philosophy? That makes me an activist judge, and I’m certainly not going to be one."

Marshall said "the law evolves" and new precedents are possible, but DiReda said it would be more appropriate to raise such issues on appeal, not in pretrial.

Widdison said prior decisions have pointed to trends in prosecution decisions and jury sentencing practices as factors to consider, in addition to legislation.

"The court can resolve this and find that the beliefs of the citizens of Utah have evolved and the citizenry no longer supports the death penalty based on the objective indicia of juries and prosecutors," Widdison said.

DiReda noted that of 5 Utah death penalty cases in the past 22 years, 3 resulted in death sentences, including the 2015 verdict against Douglas Lovell, convicted of kidnapping and murdering Joyce Yost of South Ogden in 1985.

"I'm not minimizing the egregiousness of the (Lovell) case, but on the spectrum of aggravated murder you can clearly find evidence of cases that were much more egregious in terms of torture, and yet the jury returned a verdict of death" against Lovell, the judge said.

Marshall called death penalty verdicts "bloodthirsty."

"We don't know how many potential jurors have been disqualified because they don't have the stomach for the death penalty," Marshall said. "Those folks don't get on the jury in the first place, so we already have a skewed jury."

DiReda responded that Marshall's argument "is a little bit offensive to me" because "there are many fair-minded people who are willing to consider (the death penalty) as an option."

Letitia Toombs, a deputy Weber County attorney prosecuting the Costello and Emile cases, said few homicide cases are charged as aggravated murder with a possible death penalty because of a deliberate screening process.

Many homicides do not include aggravating factors as listed in state law, such as vehicular homicides "and fights over girlfriends," as examples, she said. Still more are excluded because of a defendant's mental health issues, she said.

The standard for seeking the death penalty is whether prosecutors believe there is a "reasonable likelihood of a conviction and a 12-person jury voting unanimously" for a death sentence, Toombs said.

"If we're talking about the consensus of the community," she said, more than 1/2 of the time Utah juries "are voting for the death penalty."

DiReda took the arguments under consideration and said he would issue a written decision in several weeks.

Costello and Emile have been held without bail in the Weber County Jail for almost 4 years.

According to previous coverage, police said the couple's daughter was malnourished and had burns, cuts and bruises when her body was found in their home.

(source: Staqndard-Examiner)

ARIZONA----female may face death penalty

Woman Charged With Murder In Phoenix Man's Death----Stephanie Whitney was charged with 1st-degree murder in connection with the death of a man in north Phoenix, police said.

A woman was charged in connection with the Thursday death of a man inside a north Phoenix business, Phoenix police said.

Herbert Cox died at a nearby hospital after he was found by police at 10:30 p.m. with head injuries inside a business near 27th and Northern avenues, according to police.

Stephanie Whitney was charged with 1st-degree murder, aggravated assault and aggravated robbery Monday in connection with Cox's death, police said.

Whitney is being held at Maricopa County's Lower Buckeye Jail on $1 million bail, according to police.

If convicted on the 1st-degree murder charge, Whitney faces life in prison, with or without the chance for parole, or the death penalty.

(source: Associated Press)

NEVADA:

Rep. Dina Titus denies she is aiming for ambassadorship, signals support for death penalty repeal

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) on Monday denied reports that she is interested in leaving her House seat to become an ambassador in the Biden administration, calling them "rumors" and saying she is focusing on serving the needs of her constituents.

Titus’ remarks came during a press conference after she addressed the Legislature in a virtual speech promoting President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan and touting several pending Carson City bills, including ones pushing for criminal justice reform and greater voting access.

"I have the best district in the country. We've got the airport, the Strip, Downtown, it's ethnically diverse, racially diverse; we just want to be sure that we come back stronger than ever," Titus said. "So that's what I'm doing, not packing my bags."

Her statements come almost a week after progressive activist Amy Vilela announced plans to run against Titus in a primary election. Titus declined to comment on Vilela’s announcement and said that she is instead concentrating on the immediate needs of her constituents, not the 2022 election.

"I've walked this district many times and I will do it again. So right now it's a year and a half ‘til the next election," Titus said. "Bringing back health care, getting shots in arms, children in school, people in jobs, money in pockets — those are my priorities right now."

During the press conference, Titus also declined to take a position on a pending bill that would repeal the death penalty in Nevada. She expressed general support for abolishing capital punishment but said it is not her role to dictate the Legislature’s actions.

“I'm generally opposed to the death penalty because there have been too many accidents and it's more expensive to issue the death penalty than to keep somebody in for life,” Titus said. “But that's up to the Assembly and the governor to decide.”

Contrasting with Titus’ early support for Biden during the 2020 presidential primary, one of her likely primary opponents, Vilela, served as a state co-chair for Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) presidential campaign. In 2018 Vilela ran for Nevada's 4th Congressional District, finishing third in the primary behind now-Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) and state Sen. Pat Spearman (D-Las Vegas). Vilela centered her campaign on a push for Medicare for All — a quest inspired by the death of her 22-year-old daughter, who Vilela believes did not receive adequate care because a hospital did not think she was insured.

The Netflix documentary "Knock Down the House'' featured Vilela's campaign alongside those of 3 other progressive women running for Congress, including current Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO).

"From Covid to climate change, politics-as-usual simply isn't working for regular people," Vilela said in a press release. "It's time to elect leadership that will fight like lives depend on it."

Nevada's 1st Congressional District covers the heart of the Las Vegas Valley, and is considered a safe Democratic seat given the overwhelming majority of registered Democrats relative to Republicans, though district boundaries are likely to change after the redistricting process later this year.

Titus said that Nevada’s population is rapidly growing and that regardless of how lawmakers choose to draw boundaries in other districts, she hopes hers remains intact.

“You don't ever want to break up certain ethnic communities or geographical jurisdictions, but the Legislature will take all that into consideration,” Titus said.

Titus, who served more than 20 years in the Legislature and was the longtime state Senate minority leader, has represented the 1st Congressional District since 2012.

(source: The Nevada Independent)

CALIFORNIA----female death sentence overturned

Court Overturns Death Penalty In Notorious Quadruple Murder----The state's supreme court found the trial judge's behavior improper in the trial of a Santa Clarita mother who murdered 4 of her children

The California Supreme Court Monday reversed a Santa Clarita woman's death sentence for murdering her 4 young daughters in an arson fire at the family's home more than 2 decades ago.

The state's highest court upheld Sandi Dawn Nieves' conviction for the killings, but cited the "trial court's misconduct" in overturning the 57- year-old woman's death sentence for the July 1, 1998, killings of Jaqlene Marie Folden, 5, Kristl Dawn Folden, 7, Rashel Hollie Nieves, 11, and Nikolet Amber Nieves, 12, who died from inhaling soot, smoke and carbon monoxide.

"Although we conclude that the court's misconduct could not have altered the jury's guilt determination, we are unable to reach that conclusion regarding the penalty trial, thus finding prejudicial misconduct that requires reversal of the penalty judgment," Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye wrote on behalf of the panel in its unanimous ruling.

Superior Court Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt -- who has since died -- made "inappropriately disparaging and sarcastic remarks to defense counsel, impugning his performance, chastising him for improper behavior, and sanctioning and citing him for contempt in front of the jury," according to the panel's 143-page ruling.

"The trial judge also directed improper comments and questions to witnesses, openly doubting the credibility of one defense expert by asking argumentative and hostile questions and remarking on the possibility that another defense expert `just doesn't know what he's talking about.' ... In the penalty phase, the trial judge needlessly reprimanded and belittled a lay witness who testified for the defense," according to the ruling.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office could not be reached for immediate comment on the reversal of the death sentence or whether the trial's penalty phase would be retried.

But District Attorney George Gascon -- who has said he has a "mandate from the public -- issued a directive shortly after he was sworn into office last December that says a death sentence is "never an appropriate resolution in any case." One of three men who had been on death row for the 1998 rape and beating death of a woman in Long Beach before his death sentence was reversed by the California Supreme Court was re-sentenced in March to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Jurors convicted Nieves of 1st-degree murder for the deaths of her daughters, along with 1 count each of arson and the attempted murder of her son, David, who testified against her.

The jury also found true the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders, murder while lying in wait and murder during an arson.

"The evidence that defendant deliberately set a fire to kill her family included testimony that she planned ahead to compel her children (to) sleep together on the kitchen floor, wrote letters indicating that she intended to kill herself and her children, drove to the post office to mail her letters, and intentionally poured and lit gasoline throughout the house," according to the California Supreme Court's ruling.

"It is not difficult to imagine the horror a jury might feel in response to defendant's actions. Nonetheless, a juror could regard the stunning enormity of the crime, and the fact that defendant intended to take her own life, as a sign of significant mental instability," according to the ruling. "Absent the trial judge's persistent, disparaging remarks, a juror might have viewed these circumstances with greater sympathy and concluded the crime was a tragedy lacking the moral culpability to warrant death. A juror might also have given greater weight to defendant's remorse and evidence she had been a loving mother to conclude that life in prison, confronted each day with what she had done to her children, was a fitting punishment."

Shortly before her death sentence was handed down in 2000, Nieves vowed that she loved her son.

"If I could take back time, if I could do things better, if I was smarter, if I had time before everyone passed out, we would have gotten out of that house," she said then.

The judge was unswayed, saying the woman "betrayed the trust of her children by convincing them they were to have a family slumber party."

Wiatt noted then that the woman set a series of fires with gasoline throughout the house and that her children begged to be allowed to go outside, adding that she ignored one daughter's plea to go to the bathroom to vomit and told her instead to be sick in the kitchen.

"The defendant very clearly had in mind that her children would die," the judge said. "She was staging this multiple murder as her final act of revenge to the men in her life."

Nieves' appellate attorney, Amitai Schwartz, told the state's highest court during a Feb. 2 hearing that his client didn't get a fair trial.

Calling it "an extreme case," the woman's appellate attorney argued that the trial court "aligned itself with the prosecution, assisted with the prosecution, it denigrated the defense, it denigrated the defense counsel, it humiliated the defendant," and that the judge "lost control of himself" and the court the more he tried to control the proceedings during Nieves' trial.

Under questioning by some of the Supreme Court justices about the frequent wrangling between the judge and Nieves' trial lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Howard Waco, during the trial, Deputy Attorney General Kristen Inberg countered that there was "no misconduct" and that the judge exercised his authority to control the proceedings to ensure a fair trial for both sides as the defendant's trial attorney "consistently flouted" the court's rules.

The deputy attorney general -- who urged the panel to uphold Nieves' conviction and death sentence -- said the evidence was "overwhelming" that the defendant had carefully planned and intentionally set the fire that killed her daughters, and that the "evidence of appellant's guilt was just too strong to have any of these comments (by the judge) influence the jury."

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

Condemned San Quentin Inmate Dies----Charles Edward Crawford II, 46, was found unresponsive in his single cell at approximately 6:45 p.m. according to the CDCR.

A condemned San Quentin inmate was found dead in his cell Wednesday night, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement.

Charles Edward Crawford II, 46, was found unresponsive in his single cell at approximately 6:45 p.m. according to the CDCR.

Medical staff at the prison started administering life-saving measures and Crawford was later transported to an outside hospital where he was pronounced deceased at 7:52 p.m., the CDCR said.

The Marin County Coroner's Office will determine Crawford's exact cause of death.

Crawford was sentenced to death in Alameda County on June 7, 2002, for the killing of a 16-year-old San Jose girl and a Fremont man, The Associated Press reports.

He was convicted on 2 counts of 1st-degree murder with enhancements for being armed with a firearm, the CDCR said.

There are currently 704 people on California's death row.

(source for both: patch.com)

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

The California Supreme Court upheld the death sentence imposed on Maurice Steskal in his resentencing trial, unanimously rejecting his argument that the execution of severely mentally ill individuals constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Steskal had contended that the evolving standards of decency in the United States no longer found it acceptable to execute those who are severely mentally ill.

Steskal’s first sentencing proceeding ended with the jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of a life sentence. The trial court declared a mistrial and the new jury returned a verdict of death.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

MALAWI:

Legal experts differ on death penalty abolition

Legal experts in the country are giving mixed views on the recent abolition of death sentence, with some saying the abolition is wrong at law because the Supreme Court was not hearing an appeal of a constitutional nature.

On 28, 2021, a panel of seven judges of the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that death sentence is unconstitutional because it abolishes a right to life and that it is against international human rights standards.

This followed an appeal by Charles Khoviwa who was in September 2003 convicted of murder and he was sentenced to death. In his appeal, he argued that he was entitled to a re-sentencing hearing.

The Supreme Court agreed, in an 8-1 decision, and ruled that not only that all prisoners on death row should be re-sentenced, but also that no further death sentences should be imposed to anyone in the country.

Reacting to the development in a Facebook post, commissioner for the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) Dr Sunduzwayo Madise has argued that the Supreme Court of Appeal erred in abolishing the death penalty.

In his argument, Madise said the question whether the death sentence is constitutional or not was not one that was before the Supreme Court and said in any event, that type of question should have been heard by the High Court sitting as a constitutional court and thereafter appealed to the Supreme Court.

He said the Supreme Court in this case was not hearing an appeal of a constitutional nature and added that it is important to state that the Supreme Court is an appellate court, it only decides appeals and has described the Supreme Court judgment as obiter dictum.

“I therefore believe that whatever has been written or said in addition in the Khoviwa case is either obiter dictum (things said by the way – nkhambakamwa) or per incarium (wrong at law).

“The issue of the constitutionality of the death sentence was never before the court at all. It is therefore wrong, in my view, to say the SC has in this case declared the death sentence unconstitutional,” wrote Dr Madise on his Facebook account.

However, responding to Madise’s argument, Social justice activist Alexious Kamangila, who has been advocating against the death penalty, said arguing that the Constitutionality of the Death penalty was never before the Court is absurdity of some gut.

Kamangila who volunteers for the Community of Sant’ Egidio added that first paragraph of Section 16 of the Constitution of Malawi, renders the provisions of the penal code to have no legs to stand on.

He added that as the section and the entire constitution doesn’t provide for the death penalty, no any other law can abolish the mother of all rights and has since urged all in opposition to the abolition, to clearly check the case records again.

“The issue of the constitutionality of death was before the Court. How? The issue Khoviwa brought before the High Court was on seeking rehearing having been sentenced to death, hinges on that he was sentenced to death. I refer anyone in opposition, to go and check the record.

“On the second paragraph of the Section 16, it doesn’t provide for the death penalty. It was just (before this ruling) rendering the imposition of the death penalty constitutional, no any longer of course. So being the supreme law, as the judgment well articulates, a penal code provision cannot abrogate or abolish the mother of all rights,” he said.

Kamangila further said it is important that anyone who challenges the judgment should be giving a summary and should also state what the law is.

(source: malawi24.com)

EGYPT:

Urgent Action: Tortured Monk at Imminent Risk of Execution (Egypt: UA 48.21)

Death row prisoner monk Wael Tawadros, known as Father Isaiah, is at risk of execution. He was subjected to serious human rights violations including enforced disappearance, torture and unfair trial. A court convicted and sentenced him to death in April 2019 on the basis of his torture-tainted “confessions”. The sentence was upheld on appeal. The number of executions more than tripled in Egypt in 2020, compared to the previous year, raising fears that more prisoners on death row are at risk of execution.

TAKE ACTION:

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.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

Office of the President

Al Ittihadia Palace

Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt

Fax +202 2391 1441

Email: p.spokesman@op.gov.eg

Twitter: @AlsisiOfficial

Ambassador Motaz Zahran

Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt

3521 International Ct NW,

Washington DC 20008

Phone: 202 895 5400 // Fax: 202 244 5131

Email: ambassador@egyptembassy.net , embassy@egyptembassy.net

Twitter: @EgyptEmbassyUSA , @MotazZahran

Facebook: @EgyptEmbassyUSA

Salutation: Dear Ambassador

SAMPLE LETTER

Your Excellency,

Monk Wael Tawadros, known as Father Isaiah, is at imminent risk of execution. Wael Tawadros was convicted in April 2019 of killing a Bishop and sentenced to death following a grossly unfair trial; the court relied on his torture-tainted “confessions”, even though he retracted them in court. In July 2020, the Court of Cassation upheld the death sentence, & the Grand Mufti approved it, making the sentence final. Wael Tawadros has no recourse other than a commutation from your Excellency.

Wael Tawadros’ right to a fair trial was violated, including his right to access a lawyer, not to incriminate himself, & to receive a fair hearing before a competent, independent & impartial tribunal. According to his family, following his arrest on August 5, 2018, Wael Tawadros was subjected to an enforced disappearance. Until August 28, 2018, the Ministry of Interior refused to acknowledge his detention & reveal his fate & whereabouts. According to an oral statement given by Wael Tawadros in court on January 27, 2019, a recording of which was reviewed by Amnesty International, during this period, police officers took him to the monastery, where the murder took place, stripped him naked, forced him to wear his monk’s robe, beat him, gave him electric shocks, & then ordered him to act out the alleged murder on camera.

According to Wael Tawadros’s family, the Abaadiya prison administration, in Al-Behira governorate, northern Egypt, where he has been held since August 2018, has been subjecting him to discriminatory & punitive treatment, by preventing him from any written correspondence and denying him regular access to a priest, in violation of international standards & Egyptian law. Others held at the same prison are granted such rights. Furthermore, he is held in a prison hundreds of kilometres from his family’s residence in Asyut governorate, increasing the costs of prison visits & putting an undue financial burden on his family.

I urge you to commute the death sentence against Wael Tawadros , whose conviction should be quashed & who should be retried in accordance with international fair trial standards in proceedings that exclude coerced “confessions” & without recourse to the death penalty. I also urge you to ensure that he has regular access to his family, lawyer & a qualified representative of his religion. Finally, I urge you to immediately establish an official moratorium on executions, as a first step towards abolishing the death penalty.

Sincerely,

[YOUR NAME]

(source: Amnesty International)

IRAN:

IHR Warns of Rise in Drug-related Executions

At least 82 prisoners were executed in the first 4 months of 2021. 22 of the 82 executions were for drug-related charges, a threefold increase compared to the same period in the previous 2 years where 7 (2019) and 9 (2020) people were executed on the same charges. None of the executions were reported by official outlets. The number of Baluch citizens executed has also increased significantly compared to the same period in the last 2 years.

Iran Human Rights expresses its grave concern at the significant increase in the number of drug-related executions and warns of the continuation of this trend.

“The Islamic Republic’s execution machine continues to claim lives to instil fear in society, and drug-related defendants are its least costly victims. If the international community does not raise the political cost of these executions in a timely manner, we will face a new wave of drug-related executions in the coming months,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Iran Human Rights.

According to IHR’s Statistics Department, at least 82 people have been executed on different charges in the first four months of 2021. Only 21 of the 82 executions have been reported by domestic media or officials in Iran.

Of the 82 executions, four were women, eight were executed on political or security charges and 22 on drug-related charges.

There has been a significant rise in the number of drug-related executions compared to the statistics of the past 2 years. 7 and 9 people were executed on drug-related charges during the same period in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

The wave of executions of Baluch citizens which began in late 2020 has continued, with at least 15 Baluch prisoners having been executed so far in 2021.

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

Share of the Revolutionary and Criminal Courts in Executions

A part of the Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran is about the role of Revolutionary Courts in the execution in Iran in 2020.

Revolutionary Courts

Established in 1979 on the orders of Ayatollah Khomeini to try former officials of the Pahlavi Government, Iran’s Revolutionary Courts have continued to operate and are responsible for issuing heavy sentences to human rights defenders, journalists, dissidents and all those criticising the authorities. Additionally, they are responsible for the vast majority of all death sentences issued in the last 40 years.[1] The Revolutionary Courts are not transparent, and its judges are known for greater abuse of their legal powers than any other judges.[2] Revolutionary Court judges routinely deny lawyers access to individuals who are subjected to extensive interrogations under severe conditions. According to the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, who interviewed 133 people facing trial in the country for a 2014 report focused on Iran’s judicial system, 45% of those interviewed reported that they were not permitted to present a defence; in 43% of cases, trials lasted only minutes and 70% of interviewees reported that coerced information or confessions had been reportedly used by the judge or made up at least part of the evidence presented by the prosecution; some 65% of interviewees reported that the judge displayed signs of bias such as by reproaching or interrogating defendants and limiting their ability to speak and present a defence.[3] A Resolution presented at the European Parliament in 2020 set out that Iranian courts regularly fail to ensure fair trials, with the denial of access to legal counsel and denial of visits by representatives from consulates, the UN or humanitarian organisations, and allow the use of confessions obtained under torture as evidence; whereas there are no independent mechanisms for ensuring accountability within the judiciary, and serious concerns remain over the politicisation of judges, particularly those presiding over Revolutionary Courts.[4]

In a series of interviews with Hoghogh-e-ma,[5] several prominent Iranian lawyers and jurists in the country questioned the constitutionality of Iran’s Revolutionary Courts and called for their dissolution.[6]

All cases regarded as security-related, such as cases involving political and civil activists and others allegedly involved in corruption and drug-related charges, are processed by the Revolutionary Courts.

Share of the Revolutionary and Criminal Courts in executions of 2020:

As mentioned in the previous section, rape and murder (qisas) cases fall within the jurisdiction of the Criminal Courts, while cases of moharebeh, efsad-fil-arz and baghy charges, as well as the drug-related charges fall under the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Courts. After the enforcement of the new amendments to the Anti-Narcotics law, the number of implemented death sentences issued by the Revolutionary Courts has seen a significant decrease. The following diagrams show the share of the Revolutionary Courts and the Criminal Courts in the implemented executions of the last 11 years.

At least 38 of the 267 executions in 2020 (14%) were based on death sentences issued by the Revolutionary Courts. Numbers for the previous 11 years are presented in the diagram above. This is a significantly lower percentage than in the years prior to 2018. This is due to the significant reduction in the number of executions for drug-related charges.

The diagram above is based on IHR reports since 2010 and shows that 3,619 of the 6,033 executions (59%) in the last 10 years were based on death sentences issued by the Revolutionary Courts.

The Revolutionary Courts are most infamous for the summary execution of the political opposition during the first decade of establishment of the Islamic Republic in the 1980s. However, data collected by IHR shows that even in the 4 decades following the 1979 revolution, the Revolutionary Courts have been responsible for the majority of the death sentences leading to executions in Iran.

[1] https://www.theglobepost.com/2018/02/22/iran-revolutionary-courts/

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/31/six-judges-iran-crackdown-journalists-activists

[3] https://undocs.org/A/HRC/25/61

[4] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2019-0112_EN.pdf

[5] https://iranhr.net/media/files/93.pdf

[6] https://iranhr.net/fa/journals/57/

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

Juvenile Executions in Iran; 2020

According to the Annual Report of the Death Penalty in Iran, at least four juvenile offenders have been executed in Iran in 2020.

Juvenile executions: Trends and legislative reforms

Iran is one of the last remaining countries to sentence juvenile offenders to death and executes more juvenile offenders than any other country in the world. In violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which Iran has ratified, Iranian authorities executed at least 4 juvenile offenders in 2020. According to IHR’s reports, at least 63 juvenile offenders were executed between 2010 and 2020 in Iran. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani, there are currently at least 84 juveniles on death row in Iranian prisons.[1] However, the actual number is likely to be significantly higher as there is no information about juvenile offenders in many Iranian prisons.

The international pressure on Iran on this matter increased during the 2000-2010 decade. As a consequence of the criticism from the international community and the domestic civil society, Iran made changes regarding juvenile offenders in the Islamic Penal Code (IPC). However, these changes have not led to a decrease in the number of juvenile executions. The new IPC adopted in 2013 explicitly defines the “age of criminal responsibility” for children as the age of maturity under Sharia law, meaning that girls over 9 lunar years of age and boys over 15 lunar years of age are eligible for execution if convicted of “crimes against God” (such as apostasy) or “retribution crimes” (such as murder). Article 91 of the IPC states that juvenile offenders under the age of 18 who commit hudud or qisas offences may not be sentenced to death if the judge determines the offender lacked “adequate mental maturity and the ability to reason” based on forensic evidence.[2] The article allows judges to assess a juvenile offender’s mental maturity at the time of the offence and, potentially, to impose an alternative punishment to the death penalty on the basis of the outcome. In 2014, Iran’s Supreme Court confirmed that all juvenile offenders on death row could apply for retrial.

However, Article 91 is vaguely worded and inconsistently and arbitrarily applied. In the period of 2016-2020, IHR has identified 18 cases where the death sentences of juvenile offenders were converted based on Article 91. In the same period, according to IHR’s reports, at least 24 juvenile offenders were executed and several are at risk of execution. It seems that Article 91 has not led to a decrease in the number of juvenile executions. The Iranian authorities must change the law, unconditionally removing all death sentences for all offences committed under 18 years of age.

According to the report of the UN Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran published in February 2020 in pursuant to General Assembly resolution 74/167: “United Nations human rights mechanisms have highlighted significant deficiencies with Article 91 of the Penal Code and its application.” The report emphasises concerns about “The discretion left to judges in applying Article 91, including whether to request a forensic specialist assessment of the maturity of the accused and when to do so, sometimes requesting it years after the alleged offence, and to use any other method deemed appropriate to assess the mental development of the accused.” The Secretary-General also expressed his worries about the vague term of “mental development” in the Penal Code by stating it “Does not define what constitutes the non-realization of the nature of the crime, nor does it define or provide the criteria for assessing “mental development”, which increases the risk of arbitrary decision-making.”[3]

International human rights mechanisms have repeatedly called on Iran to put an end to the execution of juvenile offenders. In February 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights asked the Iranian authorities “To prohibit the execution of child offenders in all circumstances and to commute their sentences.”[4]

In his annual report of 2020, the Special Rapporteur wrote that “He continues to monitor the situation of child offenders on death row and has received information that there are at present at least 100 individuals who have been sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were under 18 years of age.”[5]

Some facts about juvenile executions in 2020:

•4 juvenile offenders were executed

•All 4 were charged with murder and sentenced to qisas

•1 juvenile offender was suffering from mental illness and was under psychiatric care

•1 had been the victim of child sexual exploitation

Juvenile offenders executed in 2020

Majid Esmaeilzadeh: from sexual exploitation to torture and execution

Born on 1 September 1998, Majid Esmaeilzadeh was arrested on 26 April 2015, on the charge of murdering a 45 year-old man who “Had sexual relations with him” when he was 16 years old. His father told IHR that his son had been tortured in police detention and his entire body was bruised, he told him: “Baba! They kept hitting me with batons!”

Majid was sentenced to death by Branch One of the Ardabil Children’s Court. He was sent to the forensic pathologist twice to determine whether he had reached full maturity to understand the nature of his crime. The results were not reported and it is not clear whether they were relied upon by the judge in making his judgement.

According to Majid’s father: “The 45-year-old victim was paying young boys 5 or 10 Tomans for sex. My son was one of them. The 2 went out of the city, drank alcohol and the victim fell asleep. My son was scared so he left and came home. When he woke up, he had drunkenly got close to the road and been hit by a car. The forensic pathologist verbally told us he was hit by a car but no one gave us anything in writing. I’m a worker, I didn’t have the money for a lawyer and every time I went to court, they told me to get lost. My son had a court appointed lawyer who I called a thousand times, but he never picked up.” Majid was 21 when he was executed in Ardabil Central Prison on 18 April 2020.[6]

Shayan Saeedpour: suffering with mental illness and under medical care

Born on 21 September 1997, Shayan Saeedpour was arrested and sentenced to qisas for committing murder during a street fight on 13 August 2015, when he was under 18 years old. According to relatives, around 2 years after arrest he was referred to the forensic pathologist to determine whether he was mature enough to comprehend the nature of his crime. The pathologist determined he had reached full maturity after asking him just 1 question. This is while, according to relatives, he suffered from mental illness and was under psychiatric care. IHR called for urgent action to stop his scheduled execution on 19 April 2020.[7] He was executed on 21 April 2020 at Saqqez Prison in the Kurdistan region.[8]

Hassan Rezaei: on death row all adult life

Hassan Rezaei was 16 years old when he was arrested and sentenced to death for murder in Rasht, northern Iran. Having spent 12 years on death row, he had managed to escape execution twice, a year before and a fortnight prior to the last time he was to walk to the gallows. When he was transferred to solitary confinement in preparation for his execution once again on 17 December 2020, IHR called for international pressure in the hopes of securing a further stay of execution in the final hours of 2020.[9] However, Hassan was executed in the early hours of 31 December 2020, at Rasht Central Prison.[10]

Abdullah Mohammadi: unable to afford diya

Abdullah Mohammadi was arrested on murder charges in 2015 and spent the first 2 years in the Yazd Juvenile Detention Centre. He was transferred to solitary confinement in anticipation of his execution 2 months before it took place. He was returned to his cell after he managed to buy time from the victim’s family, who had demanded 1 billion Tomans as diya (blood money). Although Abdullah’s family did their best to come up with the money within two months, they were unable to raise the required amount in time and Abdullah was executed on 2 December 2020.[11]

At risk of execution:

Ali Arjang: “I can’t afford the 1b Tomans bail”

Ali Arjangi, a juvenile offender who was arrested 3 years ago for a murder he is accused of committing at 17, is currently on death row in the juvenile ward of Ardabil Central Prison. Informed sources told IHR that Ali and his lawyer had pleaded self-defence in court and believe that he is innocent. According to the sources, Ali was found to be mentally fully mature by the forensic medical examiner and sentenced to death by Branch Three of the Criminal Court, the Child and Youth Court, which was upheld by the Supreme Court.

IHR published an audio file of Ali, who says: “I am Ali Arjangi, son of Papour and being held at Ardabil Central Prison. I was born on 3 February 2000, and was arrested for the murder of Pouya Doayi, son of Hamidreza. This happened on 8 May 2017 and I was sentenced to qisas by hanging. My plaintiff (victim’s family), Mrs Salamat, has asked me for diya. She wants one billion Tomans from me, but I don’t have the means to pay that kind of money. My mother, who is physically unwell herself and also has amputated legs, has to run around with her prosthetic legs to chase my case. My mother has sold our whole lives and come up with 200 million Tomans. I ask Iran Human Rights to help me and not let them execute me.”[12]

Arman Abdolali: on death row for murder

Arman is a juvenile offender who was arrested and sentenced to qisas on murder charges in 2013, without the victim’s body ever being found. Days prior to his execution, Arman’s lawyer found out that Ghazaleh (the victim) had been issued with a leave of absence by her university and her insurance policy had been renewed, and used this as evidence to request a retrial. 2 of the judges who had originally sentenced Arman to qisas opined that further investigations would be required in light of the fact that the letter from her university was dated after the murder allegedly took place. His retrial was originally heard before Branch Five of the Criminal Court but later referred to the Tehran Criminal Court, which found him guilty and re-sentenced him to qisas. The sentence has been upheld by the Supreme Court and he is, once again, at risk of execution.[13]

References:

[1] https://www.voanews.com/middle-east/voa-news-iran/un-rights-chief-condemns-iranian-execution-child-offender

[2] https://undocs.org/A/68/377. See also Iran Penal Code (2013), Art. 91

[3] https://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/43/20

[4] https://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/43/20

[5] https://undocs.org/A/HRC/46/50

[6] https://iranhr.net/en/eng/articles/4233/

[7] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/4201/

[8] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/4204/

[9] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/4557/

[10] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/4558/

[11] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/4517/

[12] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/4593/

[13] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/4648/

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

Women Executed in 2020

According to data gathered by IHR, at least 9 women were executed in 2020. Of the 9 executions, 5 were announced by official sources.

8 of the 9 women executed in 2020 had been sentenced to death on murder charges. There is no information about the 9th woman’s case.

Facts:

•9 executions carried out, 5 announced by the authorities

•An unnamed Afghani national amongst them

•8 were sentenced to qisas for murder

•Of the 8 known cases, 4 were convicted of murdering their husbands (3) and fiancé (1)

•2 were convicted of infanticide

•1 suffered from mental illness and had been hospitalised prior to the murders

•At least 153 women were executed between 2010-2020

Zeinab Khodamoradi

Born in Qorveh, Kurdistan province in 1979, Zeinab Khodamoradi had spent 5 years on death row for infanticide. While exact details of her case are not available due to the lack of transparency in the judicial system, an informed source told IHR that suffering from acute mental illness, Zeinab had been hospitalised in a psychiatric hospital prior to the murders she was accused of. She was discharged by her husband’s consent as is required by Iranian law, against the hospital’s advice and wishes. Some time after her discharge, she was arrested for the murder of her newborn baby and her husband’s child from a previous marriage.

She had been transferred to solitary confinement in preparation for her execution on 15 October 2020 but had managed to buy a 45-day extension to raise the 700 million Tomans diya (blood money).[1] She was executed in the early hours of 27 December 2020 in Sanandaj Central Prison after her family failed to come up with the required amount.[2]

[1] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/4468/

[2] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/4554/

(source for all: iranhr.net)

ISRAEL:

Likud aims to pass bills on direct elections, death penalty, outposts----If the bills pass - and most of them have a majority - they would be brought to a vote in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday.

The Likud will expedite a series of bills supported by the Right on Tuesday and Wednesday, before Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is expected to be given the mandate to form a government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s expires on Tuesday at midnight.

The sweeping legislation, if given final approval, would change the nature of Israel's legal and electoral system as well as expand its footprint in Area C of the West Bank.

The bills include legislation that would initiate direct elections for prime minister, cancel the 2005 Gaza Strip withdrawal, institute the death penalty for terrorists, prevent the entrance of migrant workers, add more judges to and enable the bypassing of the Supreme Court, legalize unauthorized West Bank outposts and cancel Blue and White leader Benny Gantz's rotation with Netanyahu as prime minister.

As a 1st step in the process, the Knesset Arrangements Committee currently headed by Likud Faction chairman Miki Zohar is set to meet at 5:30 p.m. this afternoon to vote on fast-tracking the legislation.

The committee vote must happen immediately because the Likud's control of it is linked to Netanyahu’s possession of a mandate to form a government.

Netanyahu, however, is not expected to meet the midnight deadline for creating a 61-member coalition.

If President Reuven Rivlin hands the mandate over to Lapid, something that could happen as early as Wednesday night, chairmanship of the Arrangements Committee will shift to Yesh Atid MK Karin Elharar.

Before that happens, Zohar wants to advance key legislation, which could be brought to the plenum as early as Wednesday. Most of these bills have majority support.

When it comes to votes, the right-wing parties, including those in the anti-Netanyahu camp, control the Knesset, unless they are reined in by the politics of coalition building.

Expediting the legislation could be largely symbolic, since the bills would still have to pass 3 readings and it’s unclear if there would be enough time for this legislative process to be completed before the Knesset would be dispersed if the country heads to a 5th election.

Should Lapid or another politician succeed in forming a coalition, that government would then take control of the Knesset's legislative agenda. In the interim, however, there is a narrow window of political opportunity for the Israeli right to make substantive legislative changes.

This includes legislation that would set in motion a 2-year process to legalize some 70 West Bank outposts and provide them with de-facto legal standing in the interim.

Another bill would also repeal the 2005 Disengagement Laws under whose terms Israel withdrew from Gaza, destroying 21 settlements there and uprooting four settlements in northern Samaria. Passage of the bill, however, would not mean an Israeli return to Gaza, which is now ruled by Hamas. But it would at least allow Israel to rebuild the 4 northern Samaria communities that were razed in 2005.

(source: The Jerusalem Post)

INDONESIA:

Indonesian woman sends poisoned satay to ex-boyfriend, ends up killing delivery man's son instead

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned — a vengeful 25-year-old in Indonesia recently tried to kill her ex-boyfriend by sending poisoned food to him.

While the cyanide-laced satay never reached him, the delivery man took the food home and shared it with his family on April 25.

His 10-year-old son died from poisoning after consuming the satay.

The woman, identified as Nani Aprilliani, was arrested on April 30 for premeditated murder, Yogyakarta police said at a press conference on Monday (May 3).

"Her motive was heartbreak because the target married someone else, not her," said the police chief.

Nani was found to have purchased potassium cyanide, meant for use in rat poison, 3 months prior to the incident from an e-commerce platform.

On April 25, she bought a packet of chicken satay and sprinkled some cyanide into the accompanying sauce.

The young woman then approached a delivery man named Bandiman and asked him to deliver the food to her ex-boyfriend Tomy, instructing him to tell the recipient that the satay was from a man named Hamid.

As Tomy was out of town, his wife answered the door and refused to accept the delivery as she didn't know anyone named Hamid.

Hence, Bandiman took the food home to break fast with his family.

His wife and son dipped the satay into the sauce and both vomited moments after eating the tainted food.

Speaking with local news outlet Tribun Joga, Bandiman recalled his son saying there was a bitter taste in his mouth. The boy went to the kitchen to fetch some water to drink but collapsed on the way there.

Foaming at the mouth, he was rushed to the hospital but died during treatment.

Nani will be charged with premeditated murder. If convicted, she will face the death penalty or life imprisonment.

The police are also on the hunt for an accomplice who allegedly encouraged her to carry out the act of revenge.

Investigations are still ongoing.

(source: asiaone.com)

MAY 3, 2021:

MISSOURI:

Jury Convicts St. Louis Man In Death Of Ex-Girlfriend, Her Mom And His Boy Baby

On Saturday, a jury convicted a St. Louis man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend, her mom and his baby boy in 2012. Attorneys for a St. Louis man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend, her mom and his baby boy are asking the Missouri Supreme Court to delay his capital murder trial for 2 weeks after 2 potential jurors tested positive for COVID-19.

Jury selection began 2 weeks ago in the trial of Eric Lawson, who is accused of fatally shooting 22-year-old Breiana Ray and 50-year-old Gwendolyn Ray before setting an apartment fire that killed his 10-month-old son, Aiden. Lawson, 32, has been in pretrial detention since his arrest nearly nine years ago. The case is being prosecuted by the Missouri Attorney General's Office.

Jurors made the guilty verdict Saturday and will be back in court on Monday for the penalty phase of the trial.

Elyse Max, executive director of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said that moving ahead with the trial is "blood-thirsty" and creates the risk of a "superspreader" event.

"They're putting everyone at risk in order to move forward," Max said. "It's just concerning."

Investigators say that after shooting the 2 women in Breiana Ray's apartment in May 2012, Lawson set 2 fires and locked the door as he exited, trapping his son and Breiana Ray's 3-year-old daughter, who was critically injured.

This is the 2nd time Lawson's case has come to trial. In 2019, prosecutors and defense lawyers were unable to find enough jurors from a pool of hundreds. Some potential jurors cited scheduling conflicts, but others cited opposition to the death penalty.

(source: patch.com)

CALIFORNIA:

CA Supreme Court to Rule in Case of Mom Convicted of Killing 4 Daughters

The California Supreme Court is set to rule today on an automatic appeal in the case of a Santa Clarita woman who is on death row for murdering her 4 young daughters in an arson fire at the family's home more than 2 decades ago.

Sandi Dawn Nieves, now 57, was convicted of murder for the July 1, 1998, deaths of Jaqlene Marie Folden, 5, Kristl Dawn Folden, 7, Rashel Hollie Nieves, 11, and Nikolet Amber Nieves, 12, who died from inhaling soot, smoke and carbon monoxide.

Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders, murder while lying in wait and murder during an arson, along with convicting her of one count each of arson and the attempted murder of her son, David, who testified against her. She was sentenced to death in 2000.

“I love my son," she said shortly before the death sentence was handed down. “If I could take back time, if I could do things better, if I was smarter, if I had time before everyone passed out, we would have gotten out of that house."

Superior Court Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt was unswayed, saying the woman “betrayed the trust of her children by convincing them they were to have a family slumber party."

At the defendant's October 2000 sentencing, the judge noted that the woman set a series of fires with gasoline throughout the house and that her children begged to be allowed to go outside, adding that she ignored one daughter's plea to go to the bathroom to vomit and told her instead to be sick in the kitchen.

“The defendant very clearly had in mind that her children would die,'' the judge said then. “She was staging this multiple murder as her final act of revenge to the men in her life."

Nieves' appellate attorney, Amitai Schwartz, told the state's highest court during a Feb. 2 hearing that his client didn't get a fair trial.

Calling it “an extreme case," the woman's appellate attorney argued that the trial court “aligned itself with the prosecution, assisted with the prosecution, it denigrated the defense, it denigrated the defense counsel, it humiliated the defendant," and that the judge “lost control of himself" and the court the more he tried to control the proceedings during Nieves' trial.

“I think that what happened here was you had this embroilment between the two and it basically got out of control," Schwartz told the high court, noting that he believed the judge should have granted one of the defense's numerous motions for a mistrial.

Under questioning by some of the Supreme Court justices about the frequent wrangling between the judge and Nieves' trial lawyer during the trial, Deputy Attorney General Kristen Inberg countered that there was “no misconduct" and that the judge exercised his authority to control the proceedings to ensure a fair trial for both sides as the defendant's trial attorney “consistently flouted" the court's rules.

The deputy attorney general -- who urged the panel to uphold Nieves' conviction and death sentence -- said that the evidence was “overwhelming" that the defendant had carefully planned and intentionally set the fire that killed her daughters, and that the “evidence of appellant's guilt was just too strong to have any of these comments (by the judge) influence the jury."

Nieves' trial attorney, Deputy Public Defender Howard Waco, contended that the judge should not have barred him from telling the jury that Nieves allegedly had a brain abnormality that affected her ability to make judgments during periods of stress.

Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman countered that the death penalty was the only appropriate verdict given the magnitude of the crimes.

“She killed 4 children and would have killed a 5th. But by the grace of God he survived," the prosecutor said at the time. “It would be less horrific, less unimaginable, if you had a stranger come into the home in the middle of the night."

Silverman pointed out that Nieves told her children to stay in the house after setting the fires.

Nieves' 2 former husbands attended her sentencing, but did not speak.

(source: KFI Radio news)

IRAN:

Death Penalty According to Iranian Law

Chapter III of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran contains provisions related to the rights of the people. In this Chapter, Article 22 states: “The dignity, life, property, rights, domicile, and occupations of people may not be violated, unless sanctioned by law.”

However, the number of crimes punishable by death in Iran is among the highest in the world.

Charges such as “adultery, incest, rape, sodomy, insulting the Prophet Mohammad and other great Prophets, possessing or selling illicit drugs, theft and alcohol consumption for the 4th time, premeditated murder, moharebeh (waging war against God), efsad-fil-arz (corruption on earth), baghy (armed rebellion), fraud and human trafficking” are capital offences.[1]

Many of the charges punishable by death cannot be considered as “most serious crimes” and do not meet the ICCPR standards.[2] Murder, drug possession and trafficking, rape/sexual assault, moharebeh and efsad-fil-arz and baghy are the most common charges resulting to the death penalty in Iran.

Most of the charges punishable by death are described in the Islamic Penal Code (IPC). Drug-related offences are described in the Anti-Narcotics Law and its amendments.

1. Islamic Penal Code & offences punishable by death

In April 2013, the Iranian Parliament finally passed the new Islamic Penal Code (IPC). On 1 May 2013, the IPC was ratified by the Guardian Council – and was communicated to the Government for enforcement on 29 May 2013.

The new IPC has retained the death penalty in almost all the instances that were already punishable by death under the previous one. Moreover, it appears that its scope has been expanded in some cases. As in the last IPC, the new version explicitly states (Article 220) that Article 167 of the Constitution can be invoked by the judge to pronounce hudud punishments that the law has not addressed: “The judge is bound to endeavor to judge each case on the basis of the codified law”. In case of the absence of such law, he has to deliver his judgment on the basis of authoritative Islamic sources and authentic fatwa that can carry the mandatory death penalty. The judge, on the pretext of the silence or deficiency of law in the matter, or its brevity or contradictory nature, cannot refrain from admitting and examining cases and delivering his judgment.

In February 2019, the UN Secretary-General urged the Iranian Government “To abolish the mandatory death penalty”.[3]

According to the IPC, the following offences are punishable by death penalty:

a) Sexual offences

Incest and fornication

According to Article 224 of the IPC: “A death sentence shall be imposed on the male party in cases of incest, fornication with their stepmother, fornication of a non-Muslim man with a Muslim woman and fornication by force or reluctance. The punishment for the female party shall be decided by other provisions concerning fornication.”

Adultery

Adultery between married parties is punishable by stoning (see below for more details).

Same sex relations

In lavat (penetrative male homosexual sex) cases, a death sentence shall be imposed on the “active party” only if he is married or has forced the sexual act, but the “passive party” shall receive the death penalty regardless of marital status. A non-Muslim “active party” in a sexual act with a Muslim party shall also receive the death sentence (Article 234 of the IPC). The non-Muslim “active party” in same-sex relations not involving penetration shall also be sentenced to death.

Lesbianism shall be punished on the fourth occasion if “offenders” are sentenced and receive the lashing punishment on the first three occasions. This has not been specifically stated in the law, but can be inferred from the provisions of Article 136 of the IPC on Repeat Offenders (see below).

In June 2019, when asked by a journalist “Why are homosexuals executed in Iran because of their sexual orientation?”, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded: “Our society has moral principles. And we live according to these principles. These are moral principles concerning the behavior of people in general. And that means that the law is respected, and the law is obeyed.”[4] According to some human rights activists, many people have been executed for homosexuality since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

b) Moharebeh

Article 279 of the IPC defines moharebeh (a person who wages war against God) as someone who takes up arms in specific cases. This includes bandits, robbers and smugglers who take up arms (Article 281 of the IPC).

Article 282 of the IPC sanctions the death penalty in cases of moharebeh. However, power is granted to judges to impose the alternative punishments of crucifixion, amputation of the right hand and left foot or internal exile away from the defendant’s hometown.

Under the previous IPC, which was in force until 2013, the charge of moharebeh was frequently used against political dissidents and people with connections to opposition groups abroad, even if they were non-violent. The new Penal Code has provided for their punishment under the vague charges of efsad-fil-arz and baghy.

c) Efsad-fil-arz and baghy

The new IPC has introduced a new concept of baghy (armed rebellion) that did not exist in the previous Code. This chapter has also expanded the scope of the death penalty for all those who are convicted of efsad-fil-arz (corruption on Earth).

Article 286 of the IPC defines efsad-fil-arz as the crime committed by a person “On an extensive level against the physical integrity of others, the domestic or external security, spreads lies, disrupts the national economic system, undertakes arson and destruction, disseminates poisonous, microbiological and dangerous substances, establishes corruption and prostitution centres or assists in establishing them.”

However, this article does not provide concrete definitions for the term “crime” and the scope of “extensive”, giving judges more power to interpret the law at their own discretion.

Article 287 of the IPC defines baghy as members of any group that stage armed rebellion against the Islamic Republic of Iran and stipulates that they shall be sentenced to death.

d) Murder and qisas

Qisas refers to retribution in kind. Qisas death sentence has been retained for murder in the new IPC. As in the previous IPC, it exempts the following situations or people from qisas:

- Father and paternal grandfather of the victim (Article 301),

- A man who kills his wife and her lover in the act of adultery (Article 302),

- Muslims, followers of recognised religions, and “protected persons” who kill followers of unrecognised religions or “non-protected persons” (Article 310),

- Killing a person who has committed a hadd offence punishable by death (Article 302),

- Killing a rapist (Article 302).

The law indirectly encourages arbitrary killings by private individuals. Experts believe, for instance, that Articles 301 and 302 might be contributing to the increased number of “honour killings” in Iran.[5] The law also discriminates against followers of “unrecognised” religions. Article 301 says: “Qisas shall be established […] if the victim is sane and has the same religion as the culprit. Note: If the victim is Muslim, the non-Muslim status of the culprit shall not prevent qisas.” This includes in particular members of the Baha'i faith, which is not recognised as a religion according to Iranian law. If a Baha’i follower is murdered, the family does not receive blood money (diya), and the offender is exempted from qisas.[6] In 2013, there were two reported Baha’is murder cases. On 23 April, Saeedollah Aqdasi was murdered in his house in Miandoab (Northwestern Iran)[7] and Ataollah Rezvani was shot in Bandar Abbas (Southern Iran) on 24 August;[8] none of these cases have been properly investigated.[9]

e) Other religious “offences”

Article 262 stipulates the death sentence for cursing the Prophet of Islam or any of the other great prophets, and for accusing the infallible imams and the Prophet Mohammad’s daughter, Fatima Zahra, of sodomy or fornication. Apostasy, sorcery, witchcraft and other such issues have not been explicitly mentioned in the new IPC, although apostasy has been specifically referred to in the Penal Code (Article 26). Under Sharia law, the punishment for apostasy is death, which a judge can impose by invoking Article 167 of the Constitution.

f) Repeat offenders

Article 136 stipulates that repeat offenders who commit an offence punishable by hadd, and who are punished for each offence, shall be sentenced to death on the fourth occasion. This article has failed to specify the hudud offences and only mentions the death sentence for fourth-occasion theft in Article 278. Nevertheless, Articles 220-288 have defined hudud offences as: fornication and adultery, sodomy, lesbianism, pimping, cursing the prophets, theft, drinking alcohol, qadf (false accusation of sodomy or fornication), moharebeh, efsad-fil-arz and baghy.

g) Stoning

The IPC has retained the punishment of stoning for those charged with adultery (Article 225). Nevertheless, the courts have been provided with the alternative to impose the death sentence upon the approval from the Head of Judiciary “If it is not possible to perform stoning”.

h) Juvenile offenders & the death penalty

The new IPC retains the death penalty for juvenile offenders. Although Articles 89-95 suggest corrective measures and alternative punishments for children and juveniles, Article 91 is very clear that the offences punishable by hudud or qisas are exceptions to this rule. It is important to note that almost all juvenile offenders executed in the past 7 years were sentenced to death based on qisas and hudud laws.

Article 91 states: “For offences punishable by hadd or qisas, mature persons younger than 18 shall be sentenced to the punishments stipulated in this chapter (Articles 89-95) if they do not understand the nature of the offence committed or its prohibition or if there are doubts about their maturity or development of their reasoning.”

The article leaves to the discretion of the judge to decide whether a juvenile offender understood the nature of the offence, whether they were mature at the time of committing the offence and whether they should be sentence to death. The Note to Article 91 authorises but does not require the court to seek the opinion of the Forensic Medical Department or to use any other means to reach a verdict.

Moreover, while Article 146 provides that immature persons do not have criminal responsibility, Article 147 repeats the provisions of the previous law and the Civil Code regarding maturity and the age of criminal responsibility. Girls are considered mature at the age of 9 lunar years and boys at the age of 15 lunar years. Therefore, a girl older than 8.7 years and a boy older than 14.6 years can be sentenced to death.

In the framework of the UPR, Iranian authorities wrote in their reply to the recommendations: “Conforming to the recent amendments made in the laws of Iran, the maximum punishment for children shall not exceed five years of detention in correctional facilities. The deprivation of life as a punishment shall be proposed but not enforced in case the culprit with the age of criminal responsibility has not perceived the nature of the crime and therefore lacks mental maturity and perfection, based on the expert assessment and judgement of the competent court.”[10]

The juvenile offenders executed in 2020 were kept in prison or correctional facilities until they reached the age of 18 before being executed.[11]

2. The Anti-Narcotics Law

Iran’s Anti-Narcotics Law was drafted in 1988 and previously amended in 1997 and 2011. Both amendments were aimed at counteracting Iran’s growing drugs problem by expanding the scope of the law and introducing harsher sentences. The 2011 amendments introduced the death penalty for the possession of as little as 30 grams of heroin and included new categories of drugs. Altogether, the Anti-Narcotics Law, including the 1997 and 2011 amendments, imposed the death penalty for 17 drug-related offences,[12] including: a fourth conviction for drug-related offences in several instances; planting opium poppies, coca plants or cannabis seeds with the intent to produce drugs; smuggling more than 5 kilograms of opium or cannabis into Iran; buying, possessing, carrying or hiding more than 5 kilograms of opium and the other aforementioned drugs (punishable upon a 3rd conviction); smuggling into Iran, dealing, producing, distributing and exporting more than 30 grams of heroin, morphine, cocaine or their derivatives.

The new amendment, which was enforced on 14 November 2017, includes a mechanism to limit the use of the death penalty and reduce the sentences of those facing death or life imprisonment. The new amendment increases the minimum amounts of illegal drugs that would subject convicted producers and distributors to a death sentence, raising the level of synthetic substances, such as heroin, cocaine, and amphetamines, from 30 grams to 2 kilograms and that of natural substances, such as opium and marijuana, from 5 kilograms to 50 kilograms (Amendment, Article 45(d).) The punishment for those already sentenced to death or life in prison for drug-related offences should be commuted to up to 30 years in prison and a fine.[13] Death sentences should be restricted to those convicted of carrying (not only using) weapons, acting as the ringleader, providing financial support, or using minors below the age of 18 or the mentally ill in a drug crime, and to those previously sentenced to death, life imprisonment, or imprisonment for more than 15 years for related crimes.[14] [15]

A complete analysis of the new amendments to the Anti-Narcotics Law is available in the 2017 Annual Report on the Death Penalty.[16] The implementation of the 2017 amendment has led to a significant decrease in the total number of executions. However, the number of executions for drug-related charges remains high.

Reference

[1] United Nations, Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report of the Secretary-General, U.N. Doc. A/68/377, 10 Sept. 2013, § 14. See also IHR and ECPM, Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran - 2013, pp.15-18.

[2] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 6.

[3] United Nations, Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report of the Secretary-General, Human Rights Council, 40th session, 8 February 2019 (GE.19-01989(E)).

[4] https://www.dw.com/en/iran-defends-execution-of-gay-people/a-49144899

[5] Kazeminia Samaneh, Bagheri Mostafa, “The continuation of the legal provisions prescribing honour killings in the new IPC ”, 2015 https://civilica.com/doc/388532/

[6] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/2918/

[7] HRANA: Lack of investigation in murder case of a Bahai citizen

[8] http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/2013/08/130819_u04_bahai_rezvani_killing.shtml

[9] http://www.radiozamaneh.com/125291

[10] https://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/43/12/Add.1

[11] See the “Juvenile Offenders” section of this report.

[12] https://www1.essex.ac.uk/hri/documents/research-paper-iran-death-penalty-drug-crimes.pdf

[13] Id. art. 45 ¶ 1.

[14] Id. art. 45(a)-(c).

[15] http://www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/iran-drug-law-amended-to-restrict-use-of-capital-punishment/

[16] IHR and ECPM, Annual Report on the Death Penalty - 2017, pp. 43-44; https://iranhr.net/media/files/Rapport_iran_2018-gb-090318-MD2.pdf

(source: iranhr.net)

SYRIA:

Syria's Assad grants amnesties before presidential election

Syrian President Bashar Assad issued a decree Sunday granting amnesty and reducing sentences for several categories of crime committed before May 2, state news agency SANA said.

SANA did not give a reason for the amnesty but it came days before Muslims celebrate Eid el-Fitr, the feast that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It also comes ahead of the May 26 presidential elections, which Assad will most likely win for a 4th, 7-year term in office.

Since Syria's conflict began in 2011, Assad has issued similar amnesties, the latest of which came in September 2019. The conflict has killed half a million people and displaced half the country's prewar population including more than 5 millions who are refugees abroad.

SANA described Sunday's presidential decree as "the most comprehensive amnesty decree for perpetrators of crimes, misdemeanors and felonies."

The decree granted a complete pardon for the punishment for crimes and felonies including smuggling, drug abuse, and foreign currency trading.

It also covers kidnappings, provided that the kidnapped person was released before the date of the amnesty safe and sound.

The decree also allowed a general amnesty for military deserters who turn themselves in within 3 months for those inside the country, and 6 months for those outside the country.

The decree reduced the death penalty to life imprisonment with hard labor, and life imprisonment with hard labor to temporary hard labor for a period of 20 years.

The decree did not include an amnesty for the crimes of weapons smuggling, treason, espionage, consorting with the enemy, and terrorism crimes resulting in deaths.

(source: Associated Press)

MAY 2, 2021:

TEXAS:

Commentary: With death penalty, Texas clinging to a relic of the past

“The death penalty is unjust, racially biased, and ineffective at deterring crime.”

From a letter by 12 Virginia prosecutors urging abolition of the death penalty in the state

In March, Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia did something Texas Gov. Greg Abbott would consider unthinkable. He signed a bill abolishing the death penalty, making Virginia the first Southern state to stop executions.

It was a significant step for Virginia, the 1st European colony in what is now the United States to have an execution in 1608. Going back to colonial times, Virginia has carried out more executions — 1,390 — than any U.S. jurisdiction. Since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court, Virginia’s 113 executions trails only Texas’s 570.

But the death penalty landscape is changing.

Last year, there were 17 total executions in the U.S., the fewest in 30 years. 10 of those were federal executions, including 1 lame duck execution in Donald Trump’s final days as president. States are losing enthusiasm for executions, and President Joe Biden has signaled his attorney general there will be no more federal executions.

Colorado abolished the death penalty last year, and 2 states with inglorious death penalty histories — Louisiana and Utah — have gone 10 years without an execution. Texas had 3 executions last year, a far cry from 2000, when it had 40 executions. Fewer death penalty sentences were handed down nationwide last year than any year since 1977, the year executions resumed in the nation. Texas had only 2 new death sentences last year.

The pandemic contributed to the slowdown, but the nationwide protests for justice have raised awareness about the injustices in the death penalty. As the capital sentencing system has slowed, it might be impossible for it to climb back to the days when death sentences were common and the death chamber busy.

3 factors drive a growing concern about the death penalty — innocence, money, and race.

No one wants to execute an innocent person, but a close look at history in Texas tells us we have. Cameron Todd Willingham, Ruben Cantu and Carlos De Luna were executed by Texas, and it now appears they were innocent. Texas has had 16 exonerations since 1973. The nation has seen a total of 185 exonerations. The death penalty system abounds with mistakes, and with 2,553 people nationwide on death row as of October, there are most certainly innocent individuals among them.

Money plays a central role in the death penalty assessment. It costs a bundle to get to an execution. The costs for a capital trial over a noncapital murder trial, the appellate costs, the years on death row and even the expenses for an execution are vastly greater than noncapital murder cases. One Texas newspaper tallied up these costs in 1992 and concluded that getting to an execution cost $2.3 million a case. Today, that figure translates to $4.3 million.

Puro Politics

A 2019 study of taxes and crime in Texas found that the expense of capital trials led to increased property taxes and reduced spending for public safety. Not surprisingly, many fiscal conservatives see the death penalty as a waste of money. Life in prison without parole is a much cheaper alternative.

Then there is race. “The modern death penalty is the direct descendant of slavery, lynching, and Jim Crow segregation,” observes Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. “Racial Disparities are present at every stage of a capital case and get magnified as a case moves through the legal process,” he adds.

One consequence of the racial bias is seen in who gets sentenced to death. Numerous studies point in a consistent direction: Those who kill whites are more likely to get a death sentence than those who kill Blacks. Racial bias is seen not in who the killer is but who the victim is.

Texas is holding on to a relic of the past with the death penalty. If Virginia can let it go, so can Texas. It is time for voices of conscience in this state — including the Express-News Editorial Board — to make that case loud and clear.

(source: Commentary; Roger C. Barnes chairs the Department of Sociology at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio----San Antonio Express-News)

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

Tarrant County Medical Examiner Announces Retirement Amid Controversy

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner is retiring after 42 years on the job.

Nizam Peerwani’s retirement announcement comes amid controversy.

Tarrant county defense lawyers are calling for an independent investigation into the medical examiner’s office after autopsy mistakes were found in dozens of cases. Peerwani is accused of giving misleading testimony in a death penalty case in 2006.

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said Friday that Peerwani has been a contracted employee, but the next medical examiner may not be.

“We may, and probably will, bring the individuals and make them in-house,” Judge Whitley said. “That is a finial decision that we still have got to make.”

Peerwani plans to officially retire in late September.

(source WBAP/KLIF news)

NEVADA:

Time to abolish Nevada’s expensive, ineffective death penalty

The Assembly voted last month to abolish the state’s ineffective and fiscally reckless death penalty. As a fiscal conservative who is committed to protecting taxpayers from government mismanagement, I couldn’t be happier.

Assembly Bill 395 is now before the state Senate. For the sake of state taxpayers, it should follow the Assembly’s lead.

The cost of executions has skyrocketed nationwide. This is due in part to the exorbitant cost of capital prosecutions, as well as the choice of lethal injection as a method of execution.

Although legislators first sold lethal injection to the public as a cost-effective execution method, it turned out to be a huge boondoggle for taxpayers. A new report by the Guardian US reveals that Arizona recently spent $1.5 million to obtain the ingredients for lethal injection drugs.

Lethal injection drugs break the bank because they are not available on the open market. Every company that makes FDA-approved drugs listed in execution protocols has contracts in place that prevent their drugs from being used to put inmates to death. This is the free market in action: The right to choose with whom and how to do business is one of the ideals on which our Republic was founded.

When states circumvent contracts to buy drugs on the gray market at jacked-up prices, they put taxpayers on the hook for costly litigation by drug companies enforcing their rights.

The Silver State’s own experience bears this out. Just a few years ago, state officials subverted corporate contracts to acquire midazolam with the intent to use it as part of a three-drug lethal injection cocktail. Alvogen, the drug’s maker, sued the state to prevent the government from using their product to kill people. The suit was later joined by two other companies that learned their medicines had also been illegally obtained by Nevada.

A state judge blocked the state from using the midazolam in an execution because it did not procure the drug “in good faith, and it did so knowing that it violated Alvogen’s property rights.” After more than two years of litigation that cost Nevada taxpayers more than $100,000, the state eventually returned the medicines.

In addition to the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on lethal injection drugs, capital prosecutions themselves are hugely wasteful. According to a legislative audit in 2014, the death penalty in Nevada adds more than $500,000 to each prosecution.

That cost is particularly steep here in Clark County, where most of the state’s death penalty cases are prosecuted. Local residents shell out about $5 million a year to pay for death penalty trials and appeals and to house inmates on death row rather than with the regular prison population.

For years, some death penalty supporters claimed the exorbitant cost of capital punishment was justified because it prevented violent crime. But it doesn’t.

The National Research Council reviewed all available studies and data pertaining to the death penalty in America and determined that it does not deter murder or violent crimes. States with the death penalty actually have more murders and higher violent crime rates than non-death penalty states.

In fact, 7 of the 10 states with the highest per capita murder rates have the death penalty. But seven of the 10 states with the lowest per capita murder rates do not.

Every dollar saved by abolishing this ineffective and wasteful system could be better spent on programs that actually protect Nevadans or returned to taxpayers still struggling to make ends meet in the wake of the pandemic and economic shutdowns.

The death penalty is an emotional subject with peoples’ view on the issue rooted in religion, pain, vengeance and forgiveness. But it’s also public policy — a badly failed one.

Nevada’s state senators owe it to the state’s residents to examine the death penalty like any other government program. The death penalty wastes taxpayer money, threatens to undermine private contracts and endangers the public health. There is no good reason to continue Nevada’s death penalty, but there are millions of reasons that taxpayers should want it to end.

(source: Opinion; Drew Johnson is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and a senior scholar at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. He writes from Las Vegas----Las Vegas Review-Journal)

CALIFORNIA:

Will Scott Peterson, convicted of killing wife Laci and unborn child, get a new trial?----After California man's death sentence is overturned, there's a renewed push to clear him

In a California courtroom this week, there was a hearing in a sensational murder case that most think ended nearly 20 years ago.

In 2004, Scott Peterson was convicted and later sentenced to death for killing his pregnant wife Laci and dumping her body in the San Francisco Bay. But now there's a new twist in the case.

California's highest court overturned Peterson's death sentence last summer, meaning he will get a new sentencing trial. His supporters want him to be retried on all charges, saying they have new evidence that could exonerate him.

"Scott did not get a fair trial," Peterson's sister-in-law, Janey Peterson, tells CBS News correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti.

Janey Peterson maintains police did not look hard enough at others or consider a connection to Laci's death and a burglary that happened across the street from the Peterson's home. "The wrong person's in prison," she says.

Authorities are not commenting, but Jon Buehler, one of the original detectives on the case, disagrees.

"There's nothing that's come out that's made me change my view that Scott got a fair trial and that Scott is the one who killed Laci," he tells Vigliotti.

"20 years later, this case still holds a lot of interest," says Jack Leonard, senior editor of investigations at the Los Angeles Times. "Mostly because it remains an enduring mystery.

CHRISTMAS EVE 2002

The infamous San Quentin prison is the last stop for men on death row in California, and where our story begins. Because that's where Scott Peterson remains behind bars.  

For years, the Peterson murder mystery captivated America.

SHARON ROCHA | LACI PETERSON'S MOTHER [at press conference]: Laci and her unborn child did not deserve to die. 

Peterson was ultimately convicted of murdering his pregnant wife Laci and their unborn child Conner. He was sentenced to death.  

But Scott Peterson's death sentence has since been thrown out and several questions still remain. Some people believe he is innocent – that he was railroaded, even framed.  Others say there is no question he is guilty.

It was just on the other side of the same bay nearly 20 years ago, the bodies of Laci Peterson and her unborn child washed up on shore. 

On Christmas Eve 2002, Laci Peterson was first reported missing by her family. 

GRETCHEN CARLSON [CBS News report]: Police in Modesto, California, have a mystery on their hands. A woman who is eight months pregnant has been missing since Tuesday when she left home to take her dog for a walk.  

It happened in the city of Modesto, in California's Central Valley. Scott and Laci Peterson lived here on a quiet residential street. 

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: Christmas Day morning, about 9 o'clock, I get a call … I was a police detective at Modesto Police Department. 

Detective Jon Buehler worked the case from the beginning. 

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: Laci was as about as pure a victim as you can get.

She was about 8 months pregnant when she disappeared.

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler:  We went over to the Peterson house, which is when I first met Scott. 

And the detective remembers noticing something odd about Scott's behavior.  

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler:  He was a little bit – he just didn't seem interested.  

Before the sun rose on Christmas Day, police interviewed Peterson:

POLICE: You have no idea where Laci is?

SCOTT PETERSON: I do not.

POLICE: You guys didn't have any problems? Marriage problems?

SCOTT PETERSON: No.

POLICE: Everything's good? 

SCOTT PETERSON: Mm-hmm. 

Scott told police that Christmas Eve day he left Laci alone and went off a fishing trip. He said when he got home Laci wasn't there – only their dog McKenzie. 

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler:  McKenzie's there in the front yard area, the street area with a leash on that's kind of muddy. And he's thinking that this is kind of strange. Why would that be? His theory was that she had gone down into the park and had been walking the dog and something happened down there, abduction or something like that. 

Police immediately started a search. 

NEWS REPORT: Officers returned in force this morning combing the park and creek bank on foot and on horseback. Relatives, friends, and neighbors joined in distributing fliers and searching the park.

But Buehler saw no sense of urgency from Scott Peterson:

POLICE: You have any questions?

SCOTT PETERSON: No, I mean I've asked you a couple times what to do, um, so I have the answers to that.

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: Oftentimes, a victim who's left behind is firing tons of questions at us. … And we didn't get any of that from him.

The response from everyone else close to Laci was very different.

SUSAN CAUDILLO | SCOTT PETERSON'S SISTER: We're searching we're looking and we're going to find you.

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: Everybody was going crazy. Everybody was impatient. 

SHARON ROCHA: Whoever has her, please, please, please, let her go.  Bring her back to us…"

DENNIS ROCHA | LACI PETERSON'S FATHER [sobbing]: Please … let us have her back.

Family, friends – the whole community mobilized immediately to join the search for Laci. 

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler:  Sharon Rocha, Laci's mom, her stepdad, Ron Grantski, her friends … her brother Brent, her sister Amy. They just saw this whole world coming down. They were always struggling to hold back tears. 

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: But when it came to Scott, he always would hold back a little bit. He wouldn't show you all of his cards.  

LOCAL NEWS REPORT: Officers began a search of the couple's home late last night … 

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: We knew we had to focus on him from the start … because that's the way you work a homicide.

DOUG RIDENOUR | MODESTO P.D. [at press conference]: Nobody's been ruled out. That's what we're trying to do right now. 

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: Because generally, there's going to be somebody with motive and generally, the motive is going to be somebody close. 

On the morning of Laci's disappearance Scott told police he drove to a boat launch about 90 miles away from his home. He said he wanted to take his brand-new boat out on the water to go fishing for sturgeon, but he never caught a single fish. As he drove home, he called Laci and left a message on her phone:

SCOTT PETERSON [voicemail]:  Hey, beautiful. I just left a message at home 2:15. I'm leaving Berkeley.  I won't be able to get to Vella Farms to get the basket for Papa.  I was hoping you would get this message and go on out there.  I'll see you in a bit, sweetie.  Love you. Bye. 

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler:  it seemed like a very scripted message. … It just it seemed phony to me. 

Skeptical detectives also wondered why Scott would have gone fishing in the first place. It was Christmas Eve and his wife was 8 months pregnant. Peterson told investigators he had originally planned to golf that day but decided to go fishing because of the chilly weather.

SCOTT PETERSON [police interview]: It seemed too cold to go play golf at the club, so ...

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: You got a guy who … said it was too cold to golf, but it ain't too cold to go fishing. Are you kidding me?

Day after day, the search widened, and the story spread.

DENNIS ROCHA :  Whoever has Laci. The reward is 500 thousand. Take the money, bring my daughter back safe … and take the money and go get away free. 

Jack Leonard:  First of all, you had an attractive looking couple. Why would – a pregnant woman suddenly disappear when she's got plans to be with her family?  And it was Christmas Eve, so there's nothing else going on in the news. So, this attracted attention, first of all, from local news, and then national, and then it went global. 

But hopes for finding Laci Peterson alive were fading. 

DOUG RIDENOUR | MODESTO P.D. [at press conference]: We still don't have any significant lead into finding Laci Peterson … 

SHARON ROCHA: Please don't give up on us. 

JACKIE PETERSON | SCOTT'S MOTHER: Please send Laci back to us.  

And police continued to play close attention to Scott Peterson.  

DOUG RIDENOUR | MODESTO P.D. [to reporter]: Our discoveries during the investigation have resuscitated the revisiting of the Peterson residence with a second search warrant.  

They also asked him to take a polygraph. He refused.

Ret. Jon Buehler: Scott told us that he wouldn't take the polygraph … And so that arched our eyebrows a little bit that he wouldn't take this thing.

GLORIA GOMEZ |NEWS REPORT]: Recently authorities released photos of Peterson's pickup and boat, hoping someone could back up his story.

Both Scott and Laci's family stood with him.

LEE PETERSON | SCOTT'S FATHER: There is no way in god's green earth that he is, you know, even remotely involved in this thing.  

SHARON ROCHA: We feel Scott has nothing to do with it.  

LEE PETERSON: We're looking for Laci, and we're gonna find her. 

Then it looked like there was a break in the case.

POLICE PRESS CONFERENCE: We're received a tip yesterday … 

Detectives discovered there had been a burglary just across the street from the Peterson home. One witness told police she believed that burglary happened the same morning Laci disappeared.

Police quickly put that clue to rest.

DOUG RIDENOUR | MODESTO P.D. [at press conference]: We're confident that we have the people in custody for the burglary and they are not connected with the missing of Laci Peterson.

Then, about a month after Laci went missing …

DOUG RIDENOUR | MODESTO P.D. [at press conference]: She is prepared to give a statement.

This case took a dramatic turn.

Ret. Jon Buehler: The first big break we got in the case was of course Amber coming forward. 

AMBER FREY [at press conference]: We did have a romantic relationship.

THE OTHER WOMAN

SCOTT PETERSON [phone recording]: I wanted to call you.

AMBER FREY: Thank you.

Amber Frey had no idea her boyfriend Scott Peterson was married with a pregnant wife. In 2005 she told "Inside Edition" all about their love affair.

AMBER FREY ["Inside Edition"]: He was looking for someone to be with, someone to spend the rest of his life with. … You know, I was at a point in my life that I was ready to meet someone, too. 

Amber was 27 years old when she met Peterson. It was November 2002 – a month before Laci went missing. Amber says Scott told her he was a widower. They dined on strawberries and champagne and she was beginning to fall for him.

AMBER FREY ["Inside Edition"]: It was real for me. And it felt real for him, too.

But after a friend saw the Peterson story in the news, he told Amber. And Amber called the police.

Detective Buehler and his partner raced down to Amber's home.

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: Her recall was fantastic. It was almost like it was a script from a Hallmark TV show or something. She could remember restaurants they went to and what they ate. … She could remember what Scott was wearing. She would remember what she was wearing.

And Amber had pictures.

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: You know, Scott's in a tux and Ambers in that red dress they're getting ready for the Christmas party.

That Christmas party was just a week-and-a-half before Laci would go missing. The detectives were stunned.

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: We had a guy who looked like the guy you want to marry your younger sister. … But now we found that there was that chink in the armor.

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: It doesn't mean that he killed Laci. But what it meant to us is there was another side to him that had not been exposed before.

Investigators saw an opportunity. Maybe Amber could help them find out what happened to Laci.

AMBER FREY ["Inside Edition"]: They asked how I felt about tape-recording conversation with Scott … And I said "yes." 

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: She had an investment, an emotional and a budding romantic investment in this guy … I think she saw it crumbling in front of her.

The recordings would become part of a damning case against Scott, but first, Amber addressed the questions about her relationship.

AMBER FREY [at press conference]: Scott told me he was not married.

AMBER FREY [at press conference]: I am very sorry for Laci's family and the pain that this has caused them.

Laci's family turned on him.

BRENT ROCHA | LACI'S BROTHER [addressing reporters]: I would like Scott to know that I trusted him. However, Scott has not been forthcoming with information regarding my sister's disappearance and I am only left to question what else he may be hiding.

The story sparked a media frenzy.

Jack Leonard: It was huge. It was wild. And it made the case even bigger. … You really had the rise of the 24-hour cable news. … You had Larry King on there interviewing legal experts, including Nancy Grace.

Jack Leonard: Almost from the beginning, she was zeroing in on Scott.

NANCY GRACE ["Larry King Live"]: Why did he leave his wife alone, 8 months pregnant, on Christmas Eve?

Scott Peterson gave an interview to ABC's Diane Sawyer while Laci was still missing. When asked about the marriage, he appeared to refer to Laci in the past tense:

SCOTT PETERSON: We took care of each other very well. She was amazing – is amazing.

NANCY GRACE ["Larry King Live"]: Ever heard the phase a slip of the tongue?

And there was another interview Scott gave with then-CBS reporter Gloria Gomez:

GLORIA GOMEZ: Why would you leave Laci … alone to go fishing on Christmas Eve?

SCOTT PETERSON: OK.

Scott explains that as a couple they had different interests:

SCOTT PETERSON: We have separate pursuits. … and being, you know, 7 1/2 months pregnant she's not going to want to go out in a boat.

But critics of Scott say the most surprising moment may be what happened when Scott's phone began to ring during the interview. Laci was missing and Scott doesn't pick up the phone.

SCOTT PETERSON: Want me to turn that off?

GLORIA GOMEZ: Yeah, what is that?

SCOTT PETERSON: That's my phone, unfortunately. I thought it was off. [Scott gets up] … Yeah, it's kind of going crazy isn't it.

Gloria Gomez: He didn't hesitate to turn it off and some would say that why, if you're a concerned husband, if your wife is missing, you know, you would have that cell phone clinging to you and every call would be an urgent call.

And then, more than three months after Laci disappeared, in San Francisco Bay the bodies of Laci and Conner washed up only a few miles away from where Scott Peterson said he was fishing.

With the discovery of the bodies, detectives decided to move quickly.

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: Our concern was maybe he's going to head for the border.

Authorities finally caught up with Scott at a San Diego golf course. He told them he was supposed to play a round with his father. He also had about $15,000 in cash and his hair was dyed blond.

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: He had his brother's driver's license … in the car with him, 2 or 3 cell phones. And so, you know, not the normal stuff you have if you're going down to the local Winn-Dixie to get groceries.

POLICE PRESS CONFERENCE: Scott Peterson has been arrested. He is in the custody of Modesto Police Department detectives.

Just over a year later in Redwood City, California, Scott Peterson went on trial. The trial had been moved about 90 miles from Modesto because of the huge amount of publicity.

Peterson had a high-priced Hollywood dream team of attorneys led by Marc Geragos, famous for defending celebrities like Michael Jackson.

MARC GERAGOS [at trial]: This is a capital case. I'm worried about my client's life.

Jonathan Vigliotti: What did the state say they believed happened?

Michael Cardoza: Which part of the trial? [laughs] They changed their story a couple times.

Attorney Michael Cardoza also worked on Scott Peterson's case. And though he was not part of the court room defense team he says the prosecutors' theory of what Scott did to Laci was confusing.

Michael Cardoza: First, it was he killed her the night before, put her in the rug, put her in the truck, took her to the warehouse. Took her to – Berkeley and dumped her in the bay. Then later it was, "Yeah, I guess we really don't know when she was killed, where she was killed. But we do know he did it." Well, come on, guys. Make up your mind.

But the case against Scott would get a lot clearer when prosecutors started playing recordings – the ones Amber Frey managed to secretly make.

AMBER FREY [phone recording]: Hello.

SCOTT PETERSON: Baby?

AMBER FREY: Yes.

SCOTT PETERSON: Hey.

AMBER FREY: Oh, my goodness.

THE DAMNING PHONE CALLS

SCOTT PETERSON [phone recording]: Amber are your there?

AMBER FREY: I'm here.

SCOTT PETERSON: Amber.

AMBER FREY: I wish you could hear me. … Happy New Year.

Just about everyone who was inside the courthouse at the time agrees it was the tape- recorded phone calls between Amber Frey and Scott Peterson that really grabbed the jury:

SCOTT PETERSON [phone recording]: … I'm near the Eiffel Tower, the New Years' celebration is unreal.

That's Scott Peterson – one week after Laci went missing – on the phone with Amber Frey pretending he's calling from Paris when authorities say he was really in Modesto while the search for Laci was still going on.

Michael Cardoza: Amber Frey. Simply. That's what turned that trial … It was the pretext phone calls that Amber Frey made to Scott Peterson.

Jonathan Vigliotti: They were pretty damning.

Michael Cardoza: There's no question. … That's what changed this trial.

As jurors listened, Amber confronts Peterson about Laci:

AMBER FREY [phone recording]: I deserve to understand an explanation of why you told me you lost your wife, and this was the first holidays you'd spend without her? That was December 9th – you told me this and how all- of-a sudden your wife's missing? Are you kidding me? …

SCOTT PETERSON: I never cheated on you – I never did.

AMBER FREY: You're married. How do you figure you never cheated on me? Explain that one to me.

After the jury heard those calls with Amber, attorney Cardoza says everything changed.

Jonathan Vigliotti: So, you're saying the emotion, the high emotion here drowned out the facts that were introduced by the defense?

Michael Cardoza: That emotion was so loud, they could hear nothing else.

And then, with crowds gathered outside and no cameras allowed in court, on November 12, 2004, a verdict: We the jury, in the above entitled cause, find the defendant, Scott Lee Peterson, guilty of the crime of murder of Laci Denise Peterson.

Michael Cardoza: When the guilty verdict came back, you could hear the crowd outside – when you were in the courtroom – cheering. Cheering. You don't think the jurors heard that? What kind of effect did that have on the next phase of the trial, the death.

4 months later, sentenced to death, the applause was even louder.

But inside the courtroom, it seemed to Laci's family that Scott hardly responded.

Harvey Kemple | Laci's Uncle: It was just like always, no emotion. No nothing. The man is a definite psychopath. He is getting exactly what he deserves.

After sentencing, some of the jurors lashed out at Peterson:

RICHELLE NICE |JUROR [to reporters]: He is a jerk and I have one comment for Scott: You look somebody in the face when they're talking to you.

MIKE BELMESSIERI |JUROR [to reporters]: Well, Scott came in with a great big smile on his face, laughing. It was just another day in paradise for Scott, another day that he had to go through emotions. But – he's on his way home, Scott figures. Well, guess what, Scotty…

RICHELLE NICE:  …San Quentin's your new home.

MIKE BELMESSIERI: …And it's illegal to kill your wife and child in California.

Michael Cardoza: Juror number seven – Miss Nice. … Listen to what she says. … You've just sentenced a man to death and you're that bold in your statements? You'd think you'd be a little introspective about that because there's nothing worse, nothing more ultimate, nothing more final than taking someone's life.

Michael Cardoza: Scott Peterson, I have no opinion on whether he's guilty or not guilty. But I do know Scott did not get a fair trial. He absolutely did not.

Scott Peterson's attorneys filed appeals and nearly 16 years after his conviction, a decision.

Last summer, as Scott sat behind bars in San Quentin, the California Supreme Court threw out his death sentence.

Pat Harris: … The Supreme Court said, "He is going to get a new trial on the death penalty phase."

Pat Harris was part of Scott's defense team in the original trial and he continues to represent him.

Pat Harris: They determined that the judge had made a mistake in how the jurors were selected based on the death penalty part of the trial.

The result of that mistake, Scott supporters say, was that the jury was stacked against him with pro death penalty jurors.

Peterson's team is also arguing that it's not just his death sentence that was all wrong. They say Scott deserves a completely new trial to determine guilt. The reason: that juror number 7 – Richelle Nice.

Pat Harris: According to one of the jurors who was interviewed, he said that … she walked into the jury room and said, "What are we waitin' for? Let's get rid of this guy."

Nice declined "48 Hours"' request for an interview. Harris maintains that Nice was biased from the beginning and when they were picking the original jury Nice was not forthcoming about her own history.

Pat Harris: It's pretty clear … that she lied to us straight to our face about her own situation.

Prospective jurors filled out a questionnaire asking if they had in the past been in a lawsuit and if they had been crime victims. And Nice checked "no".

Pat Harris: And we've come to learn that in fact … there were issues in her own – circle of people. And there were restraining orders.

In fact, Nice was involved in two domestic disputes in the past. But prosecutors say when Nice filled out that questionnaire she didn't lie, she just didn't think her past experiences were relevant to the questions and didn't see herself as a victim. Now a lower court will consider if Peterson will get a complete retrial. And his defenders are ready.

Janey Peterson: Every piece of information we find out about this day further confirms that Scott is innocent.

Scott's sister-in-law Janey Peterson says there are witnesses who claim they saw Laci very much alive after Scott had already left for his fishing trip that day.

Jonathan Vigliotti: And you think this is enough to prove his innocence?

Janey Peterson: Absolutely.

SUPPORT FOR SCOTT

Jonathan Vigliotti: Where are we right now?

Janey Peterson: This is our family business … we have a back office here that we've dedicated to the case files –

Jonathan Vigliotti: Oh, wow.

Janey Peterson – for Scott's case.

Jonathan Vigliotti: So, this is really the war room, here?

Janey Peterson: Yeah. Yeah.

And Scott's sister-in-law Janey Peterson has been at war for almost 20 years now. Even though Scott has only been granted a new trial on the death penalty, Janey is gearing up to prove his innocence.

Pat Harris: Janey is the heart and soul of the – the case.

Janey Peterson: I'm not talking about emotions. I'm talking about evidence. Everything on this board is a fact. … there's no scenario of guilt for Scott.

The Scott Peterson case: New evidence?

Much of the case for Scott, she says, comes down to the timeline – what happened the morning Laci disappeared.

Janey Peterson: If Scott Peterson is guilty, what time did he commit this crime? … He's on death row for the murder of his wife and child. And no one has ever said what time he did this crime, how he did this crime, or the series of events of how he carried out this crime that fits the evidence.

Janey Peterson [pointing to evidence board]: Basically, the day starts on the left side…

According to Scott, that morning he and Laci had breakfast and watched Martha Stewart.

POLICE: You remember what part you saw?

SCOTT PETERSON: … cookies of some sort – they were talking about what to do with meringues.

Scott told police Laci told him she was going to clean the house and then walk their dog, McKenzie. He told them that he left the house around 9:30 a.m. He said he went to a nearby warehouse where he had an office and sent an email from his computer, before setting off with his boat to the Berkeley Marina.

The prosecution argued that Scott had killed Laci sometime before he left the house that morning.

Janey Peterson: The state asserts that – Scott murdered Laci and that he loaded her body in his pickup, drove it to his warehouse.

But if Laci was seen alive after Scott left the house, Janey says the prosecution's case falls apart.

Janey Peterson: There's an abundance of evidence that shows that Laci was alive when he left for the day.

Jonathan Vigliotti [pointing at evidence board]: What does this show here?

Janey Peterson: The pink squares are all the people in the neighborhood who reported seeing Laci or McKenzie that morning.

Janey says most of these witnesses reported the sightings between 9:45 and 10:30 in the morning – after Scott said he left the house. She says so much depends on these witnesses, but the defense never called them to defend Scott at his trial.

Jonathan Vigliotti: If so many people saw Laci, claim to have seen Laci after that point … Why didn't the defense bring them to the stand so that we could hear from their mouth what they saw?

Janey Peterson: I think there were – multiple factors that played into it. … you had people who, as time went by, thought that maybe what they saw wasn't relevant to the case.

Pat Harris: There's been a lot of criticism because we didn't call some witnesses who saw Laci that day.

Scott Peterson's attorney Pat Harris.

Pat Harris: The original thought process at the time was … a number of the witnesses who saw her didn't have great – memories or had contra – were contradicting each other.

Police Detective Jon Buehler says none of the witnesses were actually sure if they did in fact see Laci.

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: There were three girls in the neighborhood, two of which were pregnant at the time … and 2 of them having dogs walking in the neighborhood … So, it would be real easy for somebody to mistakenly see one of those three girls as being Laci.

Still, Janey Peterson says there is a witness who helps prove Laci was alive after Scott left that morning. It was the mailman.

Janey Peterson: What the mailman said is that, when I went by the Peterson house the morning of December 24th, I went by there between 10:30 and 10:50. … the gate was open, and McKenzie was not on the property.

Janey says that's because Laci was out walking McKenzie. If McKenzie had been home, she argues, he would have barked at the mailman – because he always did.

Janey Peterson: … this dog, in particular, barked at that mailman every single day, whether he was behind the gate or in the house.

Jonathan Vigliotti: So, what you are saying is during this time, Laci had McKenzie and they were –

Janey Peterson: On a walk.< P> And according to Janey, if Laci was out walking her dog, then Scott – who was in his office sending an email – could not have killed her. But when it came time to testify, the mailman didn't have a clear recollection and said "nothing out of the ordinary" happened that day.

Maybe more importantly to a new defense case though, is what Janey believes actually happened to Laci. Instead of Scott killing his pregnant wife, she says it's more likely it was those burglars who robbed the house just across the street.

Janey Peterson: There's too many unanswered questions about that burglary to set it aside.

The day Laci disappeared, December 24, the homeowners left to go on a trip around 10:30 in the morning. Scott Peterson and his team believe that Laci actually confronted the burglars and something bad happened. To prove it, they point to what they call the "Aponte tip."

Janey Peterson [pointing at evidence board]: This is the Aponte tip ... that was the call that was overheard by Lieutenant Aponte at Norco Prison.

Lieutenant Xavier Aponte was a corrections officer. He called in a tip about a phone recording he had heard about a month after Laci disappeared.

Janey Peterson: And he said he had an inmate who was on the phone with his brother in Modesto discussing the fact that Laci had encountered the burglars across the street from her house.

Janey Peterson: When we heard this, we all thought, "Wow, maybe – maybe this'll give us some answers as to what happened to Laci."

But remember, police dismissed the burglary early on:

DOUG RIDENOUR | MODESTO P.D. [at press conference]: We do not believe at this time that there's any connection with the missing of Laci.

Here's why:

Pat Harris: The police figured out who did it. … They asked the culprits, "Well, when did you do this?" And the two gentlemen that were arrested said, "Oh, it was – December 26th, the day after Christmas."

Not on December 24, when Laci went missing, but two days later. Peterson's defense isn't buying it.

Pat Harris: On December 26th, there was a line of media … reporters standing outside the Peterson home up and down that street. There is no way in hell you could burglarize a house with all those people standing out there.

But police say the burglars broke in through a back door on the 26th, out of sight of the street and any reporters who may have been there.

As for the tip about an inmate phone call from prison, prosecutors say the phone call is just hearsay. Still, Peterson's attorney says if Scott gets a chance at a new trial, that burglary will be front and center. And so will their theory of the crime: that Scott Peterson was actually framed for his wife's murder.

Janey Peterson: What better way to get out of trouble than go put the body where the husband was?

WAS SCOTT PETERSON FRAMED?

In a 2017 A&E documentary, Scott Peterson spoke about the moment he heard the word "guilty."

SCOTT PETERSON [phone recording]: I was staggered by it. I had no idea it was coming.

SCOTT PETERSON [phone recording]: … and I just had this weird sensation that I was falling forward.

Those thoughts seem starkly different from courtroom reports that describe Peterson as "emotionless."

JUROR [at press conference]: Scott had no emotion on his face, Scott was being Scott.

And according to his lawyer, that lack of outward emotion hurt Scott from day one.

Pat Harris: I think the biggest problem I have is … what I call the "he didn't act right" evidence. There is no such thing as how to act. There's no playbook on how to act when your wife has been murdered. … No matter what you do, when you've built the narrative in your mind that he's guilty, whatever Scott did was gonna be interpreted through the lens of he's guilty …

Pat Harris: It was a terrible investigation from the first minute.

Harris says authorities had tunnel vision. He claims they never looked at other possibilities, or even the logic of their own theories.

Pat Harris: We did an experiment which we filmed.

The defense team loaded weights into a boat.

Pat Harris: We took the exact weight – We had the boat, similar … We recreated it, did a video. And sure enough, when the body was dumped over, the boat flipped. We had a video of this. The judge refused to let it in.

But the Supreme Court said that the judge was correct not to let it in. They said the defense had used a different boat, a different motor, in different weather, and one of their own employees who stepped on the side of the boat to let in water and allow the boat to swamp. They even pointed out that the original judge offered the defense a chance to redo the experiment with the original boat and someone who was not a defense employee. But the defense declined. Still, Janey says if given a chance, the defense will present other exonerating evidence.

Janey Peterson: We have an ongoing investigation that we don't discuss publicly. But I guarantee you that Scott will never be convicted of capital murder again in a court of law.

Jonathan Vigliotti: Some of the most damning evidence is where Laci and her unborn child were found. They washed up very close to an area where Scott Peterson was fishing. Are you saying that's just coincidence?

Janey Peterson: I'm not saying it's a coincidence. I'm – I would argue it was on purpose.

Jonathan Vigliotti: On purpose?

Janey Peterson: On purpose.

They claim that Peterson was actually framed for the murder, and the real killer or killers held on to Laci's body, eventually dumping it into the San Francisco Bay.

Janey Peterson: Her body wasn't taken to the bay December 24th. The bay wasn't sealed off as a crime scene. …There are multiple points of access directly to the water, 24 hours a day. I think they took Laci, had Laci, realized the national attention that this case was getting, realized they were in trouble. What better way to get outta trouble than go put the body where the husband was?

Jonathan Vigliotti: Who is they in this scenario?

Janey Peterson: Well I – I can't get past the burglary.

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: The two burglars that were involved in that both told consistent stories that were backed up by other independent witnesses.

Laci and Scott Peterson

Detective Jon Buehler, one of the original investigators, says burglars had nothing to do with Laci's murder. And the idea that Laci was kidnapped in broad daylight in that neighborhood just doesn't make sense.

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: Well, how come nobody saw Laci get abducted? … nobody saw an abduction in broad daylight where a girl had a dog, and the dog would be barking, and a girl would be screaming. Tell me how that is going to happen because I don't see it.

As for the idea that Scott was framed …

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: What is the likelihood that somebody is going to abduct Laci, and then all of a sudden, the media has intense scrutiny and attention to it. And then they're going to take her 90 miles to San Francisco Bay, and they're going to put her in the exact same area that Scott said he was fishing in? All the while we're doing searches up there, all the while that the media is camped out over there, that you've got cops and deputies and other agencies over there looking into this.

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: You want to try and make that stretch with me that somebody is going to drive from Modesto to Berkeley to take a body out there in the midst of that? Well, I guess possible. But you know, there's still people that believe the earth is flat, too.

The District Attorney is not commenting on the defense's theories, but at Peterson's trial, contrary to what the defense argued, prosecutors laid out their relatively clear theory of the crime: that Laci had been murdered in the home either the night before or the morning she disappeared. And they focused on all the falsehoods Peterson had told.

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: We knew that he was able to lie fairly easily.

Everything from the big lies he told to Amber Frey …

SCOTT PETERSON [phone recording]: It's pretty awesome, fireworks there at the Eiffel Tower.

SCOTT PETERSON [phone recording]: I have – I've lied to you that I've been traveling.

… to the little lies prosecutors say he told about the morning Laci vanished. Remember he said he left home around 9:30 a.m.:

POLICE INTERVIEW: OK, so then about 9:30 you left?

SCOTT PETERSON: Mm-hmm [affirms].

But that Martha Stewart segment on meringues he talked about watching with Laci?

SCOTT PETERSON: We were watching her favorite show, "Martha Stewart."

That didn't come on until 9:48 a.m.

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: You have to dismiss so much circumstantial evidence in this case to believe that Scott didn't do this.

Ret. Det. Jon Buehler: In a circumstantial evidence case becomes like a big rope. It's got strand after stranded after strand. And when you get so many strands weaved together on this big rope, this rope is very, very strong.

Buehler remains as confident as he ever was in Peterson's guilt. But Scott's defenders are just as confident.

Jonathan Vigliotti: So, are you saying he's innocent?

Pat Harris: Yes.

Jonathan Vigliotti: Or – you are.

Pat Harris: Yes.

Pat Harris: Oh, he's innocent. … I would bet my life on it.

Both sides wait to see if the court will allow Peterson's team a chance to fight not just the death penalty, but for his innocence as well.

Until then, we're left with an almost unspeakable tragedy – the murder of 27-year-old Laci and her unborn baby, Conner … and you have to wonder what's going through Scott Peterson's mind as he sits in prison just a few short miles across the bay from where their bodies washed ashore.

Scott Peterson's next court appearance is expected in June 2021.

(source: CBS News)

USA:

New study explains why a few counties generate most of the death sentences in the United States

New research published in PLOS One sheds light on why the geographic distribution of death sentences in the United States is clustered in just a few jurisdictions. The findings indicate that a county’s legal and racial history plays a more important role than the homicide rate.

“I’m a quantitative social scientist and have been working in the area of the death penalty since publishing a book on how arguments about the death penalty are framed, and the impact of the ‘innocence frame’ on public opinion,” said study author Frank R. Baumgartner, the Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professor of Political Science at UNC Chapel Hill.

His book, “The Decline of the Death Penalty and the Discovery of Innocence,” was published in 2008.

“Since then, I’ve been continuing with various studies of the death penalty, and I constructed a database of everyone executed in the United States, including the county from which the case derived,” Baumgartner explained. “A shocking pattern is an extreme concentration of cases in just a few counties. That was apparent in my data, but is also well known to those who study the matter, so it was not a new discovery.”

For their latest study, Baumgartner and his colleagues examined factors such as population size, number of homicides, violent and property crime rates, poverty rates, the relative share of nonwhite population, and history of lynchings. But they found a surprisingly weak relationship between the number of homicides in a county and the number of death sentences.

Instead, the better predictor of death sentences was the number of death sentences that a county had previously imposed. In other words, each death sentence made another death sentence more likely.

“The data are consistent with a ‘learning’ hypothesis where each time an event occurs, the expected time delay before the next event is shortened,” Baumgartner told PsyPost. “The most common use of such models is in analyzing such things as heart attacks or brain seizures. Given an underlying set of risk factors, having one heart attack makes a second one more likely. We used those statistical techniques and showed that a similar process occurred for U.S. counties.”

The findings are in line with previous research conducted by Baumgartner, which analyzed executions rather than death sentences.

“There have been about 9,000 death sentences in the United States since 1972, and about 1,500 executions,” Baumgartner said. “The findings are very strong with regards to death sentences, even stronger than in the earlier paper. So our point was not to identify something new; the fact of high concentration of use of the death penalty in just a few jurisdictions was already known. Rather, we explored where it comes from: Learning. Some counties get very good at it. Some never do.”

The study provides evidence that the “death penalty is not applied in a consistent manner,” Baumgartner told PsyPost.

“Even within the same state, there are stark differences in the odds that a crime with certain characteristics will lead to a death sentence,” he said. “A key factor is randomness. Just by flukes of their own histories, some counties get good at death sentencing, and others do not. This is not consistent with the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees ‘equal protection of the law.'”

The researchers also found evidence that racial dynamics played a role.

“To the extent that we could discern a pattern to the data beyond the learning aspect, we found two main patterns, one of less interest but one very troubling. The first is population size; larger counties have more death sentences. That’s not that interesting but is an important thing to keep in mind and to have as a statistical control. Once you control for population, homicides have no effect; that’s pretty interesting,” Baumgartner explained.

“The troubling thing is that racial dynamics have an effect. We found that a county’s history with Jim Crow-era lynchings still has a discernable statistical impact on the odds of a crime leading to a death sentence. So: ugly racial history, population size, and a lot of randomness and learning from one’s own history rather than having the penalty applied proportionately across jurisdictions in accordance, for example, with homicides.”

But the study — like all research — includes some caveats.

“I think we did a good job of explaining the concentration of cases in a small number of jurisdictions,” Baumgartner said. “At the same time, there are complicated trends toward and away from use of the death penalty over time, and these affect the entire nation. Death sentences became more common in the period from 1976 through about 1996, and have declined since then.”

“Similarly, progressive District Attorneys have now taken office through election in some of the death penalty ‘hotspots’: Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and in those three counties they have completely suspended the use of the death penalty. So the trends we describe are not written in stone, and there are other factors that matter as well.”

“The legal profession is not typically very concerned with sophisticated statistical models,” Baumgartner added. “For those who are well versed in numbers, I think our repeated events model will be very convincing and show that the numbers cannot be squared with equal protection of the law. Whether the U.S. Supreme Court will understand that is another matter!”

The study, “Learning to kill: Why a small handful of counties generates the bulk of US death sentences“, was authored by Frank R. Baumgartner ,Janet M. Box-Steffensmeier, Benjamin W. Campbell, Christian Caron, and Hailey Sherman.

(source: psypost.org)

PAKISTAN:

EU Parliament move to review trade ties with Pakistan

The European Parliament this week adopted a resolution calling for a review of trade relations with Pakistan and ending its eligibility for the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) status.

The resolution linked the review to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, in particular the case of Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, who have been on death row since 2014 for sending ‘blasphemous’ text messages — a charge they deny.

It was overwhelmingly passed — 662 to 3 — with 26 not voting.

The text called on the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to “immediately review Pakistan’s eligibility for GSP+ status in light of current events”.

It also said there is “sufficient reason” to initiate a procedure for the temporary withdrawal of this status and the benefits that come with it.

Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari reacted to the development. “We have issues to resolve but there has been more movement now on our HR Int Convention commitments than in previous govts. The way forward is dialogue & negotiations, which we have been doing, not extreme public positioning,” she tweeted.

The EU’s GSP allows products to come into the EU market from vulnerable developing countries without import duties. The scheme slashes tariffs to zero per cent for vulnerable low and lower-middle income countries that implement 27 international conventions related to human rights, labour rights, protection of the environment and good governance.

Pakistan was granted GSP+ in 2014 and the EU is one of its biggest trading partners.

The resolution noted that blasphemy cases incite harassment, violence and murder against those being accused. It also mentioned an “alarming increase” in accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan over the past years.

“Judicial procedures in blasphemy cases in Pakistan are highly flawed,” the resolution said, adding that there are low standards of evidence.

It noted that “Pakistan continued to deteriorate in 2020 as the government systematically enforced blasphemy laws and failed to protect religious minorities from abuses”.

The text of the resolution said “repeated and deceptive attacks against the French authorities” by radical groups and statements made by the government on the issue have escalated.

The resolution also noted that a ruling party member tabled a resolution in the National Assembly demanding a debate on the expulsion of the French ambassador and said “violent demonstrations and attacks against France [are] unacceptable”.

“[The European Parliament is] deeply concerned by the anti-French sentiment in Pakistan, which has led French nationals and companies to have to leave the country temporarily,” it said.

Though the resolution in itself is not formally binding, the Council of Ministers may endorse it and commit to policies or actions in the future.

Member of European Parliament (MEP) Charlie Weimers of Sweden co-authored the resolution. He tweeted: “Should Europe reward Pakistan’s mob justice targeting Christians and its Prime Minister relativising the Holocaust? My answer is no.”

In 2018, a member of the European Parliament called on the EU to withdraw Pakistan’s GSP status due to the death penalty. “This position stands in contrast with European trade policy, especially evident in the trade benefit programme GSP+,” Barbara Matera had said.

According to the European Commission, the EU is Pakistan’s most important trading partner. “As a result of GSP+, more than 78% of Pakistan’s exports enter the EU at preferential rates. Around 80% of the textiles and clothing articles imported to the EU from Pakistan enter the EU at a preferential tariff rate. Around a quarter of these imports are bed linen, table linen and toilet and kitchen linen,” a country profile on Pakistan said.

Baqir Sajjad Syed in Islamabad adds: Pakistan’s Foreign Office expressed disappointment over the European Parliament’s resolution.

While reacting to the development, the FO regretted that the discourse in the European Parliament was ill-informed about the context of blasphemy laws and associated religious sensitivities in Pakistan.

The FO statement also rejected the criticism of Pakistan’s judicial system and domestic laws as unwarranted and regrettable.

It noted that Pakistan is a parliamentary democracy with a vibrant civil society, free media and independent judiciary, which remains fully committed to the promotion and protection of human rights for all its citizens without discrimination.

“We are proud of our minorities who enjoy equal rights and complete protection of fundamental freedoms as enshrined in the Constitution. Judicial and administrative mechanisms and remedies are in place to guard against any human rights violations,” the statement said.

It recalled the measures taken by the government for promotion of freedom of religion or belief, tolerance and inter-faith harmony.

The FO urged the international community to show a resolve to fight xenophobia, intolerance and incitement to violence based on religion or belief and work together to strengthen peaceful coexistence.

(source: dawn.com)

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