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

APRIL 22, 2021:

TEXAS:

Death Watch: After 45 Years on Death Row, Sentence Overturned----Appeals court rules mentally ill inmate can't be executed

The sentence of the longest-serving death row inmate in the United States, Raymond Riles, was overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on April 14. The court ruled that jurors at his trial nearly half a century ago should have considered Riles' mental illness when deciding how to punish him.

Riles has lasted 45 years on death row because he's too psychotic to legally execute. He has described his killing of a Houston used car salesman in 1974, as well as setting himself on fire in 1985, as acts of God. He has referred to himself as the Lord Almighty and the Messiah, as well as "King Moto – Cherry Velt – Love and Justice." He believes officials at the Texas Depart­ment of Criminal Justice want him dead because he knows about "satanic secret societies of the TDC shadow government e-system."

The Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that the mentally ill can be executed as long as they understand why it's occurring. Accordingly, prison administrators have administered large doses of Thorazine and other drugs to Riles, hoping to get him sane enough to legally kill. "But," as his lawyers wrote in a 2020 writ, "despite four decades of treatment with heavy antipsychotic medications and periodic evaluations by State doctors, he has been declared incompetent for execution every time."

In its ruling, the CCA ordered Harris County to resentence Riles; if he receives life in prison, he could be released. But in a bit of perverse mental gymnastics demonstrating that insanity appears in many guises, Judge Michelle Slaughter in her dissent suggested death row is the best place for Riles. "If he is released on parole, his mental illness could result in homelessness and/or joblessness," the judge wrote.

The CCA also overturned the death sentence of Humberto Garza on April 14, deciding that his trial attorneys had done an impermissibly bad job by not presenting an adequate mitigation case to jurors during the punishment phase of his trial. Garza was sent to death row for his role in a botched robbery that left 6 dead in 2003. His mother hired the lawyers for his trial, neither of whom had ever handled a death penalty case. She also coordinated the attorneys' mitigation defense, finding the witnesses and choosing what testimony to present. As a result, jurors never learned that Garza had been born into a deeply dysfunctional family, that he'd been sexually abused at an early age, that he'd been abandoned by his mother and father, and that he'd become addicted to cocaine and alcohol at the age of 14.

Not addressed in the CCA ruling is the fact that Garza is one of the few death row inmates who didn't actually kill anyone. As the planner and getaway driver for the robbery – but not one of the gunmen – Garza was convicted under Texas' law of parties, which holds those who plan crimes responsible for anything that happens in their execution. Reps. Harold Dutton, D-Hous­ton, and Jeff Leach, R-Plano, have filed House Bill 688, currently stuck in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, to exempt people like Garza from the death penalty.

(source: Austin Chronicle)

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Grand Jury Indicts Allen Brewery Owner on Capital Murder Charge ---- Keith T. Ashley is accused of staging a James "Jim" Seegan's death to look like a suicide

A North Texas brewery owner and financial advisor is accused of murder and running a ponzi-type scheme. Keith Ashley is the owner of Nine Band Brewing. He's now facing local and federal charges. NBC 5's Vince Sims walks us through the details.

A North Texas brewery owner and financial advisor is accused of murder and running a ponzi-type scheme. Keith Ashley is the owner of Nine Band Brewing. He’s now facing local and federal charges. NBC 5’s Vince Sims walks us through the details.

A Dallas County grand jury indicted Keith Ashley, the owner of Nine Band Brewing Company in Allen, on a capital murder charge Wednesday.

Investigators said last fall that Ashley cooked up a plan to steal money through fraud and murder by staging the death of 62-year-old James "Jim" Seegan to look like a suicide.

According to the grand jury's indictment, Ashley fatally shot Seegan in the course of attempting to rob him. The addition of the robbery offense to the murder makes it a capital crime. If convicted of capital murder in Texas, Ashely will either face life in prison without parole or the death penalty.

The investigation started on Feb. 19, 2020, when police were called to Seegan's Carrollton home for an apparent suicide.

Seegan's wife called police after finding her husband dead of a gunshot wound to the head after she returned home, police said.

"There were some things, in evidence from the scene, that instantly had our detectives say let's take a closer look at this one," Carrollton Police Information Manager Jolene DeVito said.

A typed suicide note was found nearby and an arrest warrant said police found a gun in Seegan's left hand resting on his left thigh. But his wife told police he was right-handed and didn't own a gun.

(source: nbcdfw.com)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

Firing squad still on table as South Carolina House panel advances execution bill

South Carolina is poised to make significant changes this year to the way it executes death row inmates, giving the state an avenue to use electrocution and adding firing squads as an option.

A state House panel opted Wednesday to keep death by firing squad as an option for executions when it took up a Senate proposal that cleared the upper chamber last month. The Senate measure, sponsored by former solicitor and state Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, would make the electric chair the state’s new default method of execution but give death row inmates whose appeals have been exhausted the option to die by firing squad.

Right now, death row inmates have the choice between death by lethal injection or electrocution. However, the state cannot currently carry out lethal injection deaths because it doesn’t have and cannot obtain the necessary chemicals. At the same time, the state cannot force someone to die by electrocution.

“I’ve come before you and the Senate for several years now, 5 or 6 years, saying that we could not carry out execution by lethal injection because we could not obtain the drugs,” Bryan Stirling, head of the state Department of Corrections, testified Wednesday.

The legislation does not spell out how death by firing squad would work.

Only 3 states — Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah — allow death by firing squad, with lethal injection as the primary execution method, according to nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center. But firing squads have not been used in the country in more than a decade. The last reported use was in Utah in 2010.

“We can carry out death by firing squad if the law is passed,” Stirling said.

The state has been unable to carry out executions by lethal injections because of a nationwide shortage in the required drugs, a dilemma that was raised in 2017 when the state lacked the necessary chemical cocktail to carry out its first execution in 6 years.

South Carolina has not carried out an execution by lethal injection since 2011 and an execution by electrocution since 2008.

As of Wednesday, South Carolina has 37 people listed as death row inmates who have been sentenced to death.

Three of those inmates have exhausted their court appeals, the third just this week, Stirling testified.

“This is not an oddity,” testified Melody Brown, senior assistant deputy attorney general with the state Attorney General’s Office. “And this isn’t going to be the only three coming up.”

State Rep. Russell Fry, R-Horry, said Wednesday the legislation will give the state and the prisons system more flexibility.

“Certainly, I think all three of those methods have not been successfully challenged at this point, so if any one of them was successfully challenged and it was a result of a U.S. Supreme Court case that considered cruel and unusual in any which way, which we don’t anticipate at this point, but if it happened, you’ve still got the other things in place,” Fry said.

The Senate added the firing squad option after an hourslong debate that included two former solicitors — Senate Education Committee Chairman Hembree and state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, both of whom have tried capital cases — joining together.

On one hand, Hembree argued that a firing squad is more humane than the electric chair, though ultimately, he said, the lethal injection method is more humane. Harpootlian, who is against the death penalty in general but has tried and won capital cases against inmates that included notorious South Carolina serial killer Pee Wee Gaskins, said the death penalty should be reserved for the worst.

But most Democrats have argued the legislation is racially unfair, targeting more Black inmates than white, pointing to one of the more egregious examples of when South Carolina carried out the 1944 execution on George Stinney, a 14-year-old Black teenager.

Of the state’s current death row population, 19 are Black and 18 are white. And of the 282 executions carried out by the state since August 1912, almost 3 out of 4, or 208, were Black people, according to the state Department of Corrections.

By focusing simply on race, critics of the death penalty changes are overlooking the crime committed and that the victims are many times the same race as the inmate, said 11th Circuit Court Solicitor Rick Hubbard.

“What concerns me sometimes when we focus on the race of the defendant, we forget the victim. And it concerns me that if you happen to be an African American victim and you have been brutally murdered by a Black male, an African American male, somehow the justice that should be afforded you should be less than that of a white victim because you have the misfortune of being murdered by somebody of your own race,” testified Hubbard, whose work covers Edgefield, Lexington, McCormick and Saluda counties.

The state’s death row cases, in general, Hubbard said stand out.

“These leave you haunted at night,” Hubbard said. “You close your eyes, you still see the images. You can almost hear the sounds of the incidents. These cases are different.”

Gov. Henry McMaster has signaled support for the legislation.

“I think it’s a good bill,” McMaster said Monday when asked his opinion on the firing squad option. “I will sign it.”

(source: The State)

FLORIDA:

Man charged in death of Fort Myers police officer plans to use insanity defense

The man charged with shooting and killing a Fort Myers police officer 3 years ago plans to use the insanity defense.

Officer Adam Jobbers-Miller was killed outside a gas station in 2018.

The lawyer for suspect Wisner Desmaret filed a motion to continue on Tuesday and said extra time is needed for a series of depositions planned for next month.

The attorneys said both sides have agreed upon a mutually acceptable juror questionnaire.

Desmaret faces the death penalty if he’s found guilty.

The next hearing in the case is set for June 29.

(source: WINK News)

MISSOURI:

Another positive COVID-19 test reported during jury selection for St. Louis death penalty trial

Another prospective juror in a St. Louis death penalty trial has tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said Wednesday.

A woman who took part in jury selection last week in the triple murder trial of Eric Lawson told court staff Monday that she had tested positive for COVID-19, said Thom Gross, a spokesman for the St. Louis Circuit Court.

The woman was part of a group of about 30 jurors who reported for duty at 8 a.m. April 14, Gross said. She said she tested positive 2 days later.

Joanne Martin, jury supervisor, said the court dismissed her and seven other people from her group who had been asked to return for further questioning this week. The court also sent letters to all of the people in the woman's group to notify them of the positive case.

It's at least the second known positive COVID-19 case among prospective jurors. On Friday, a woman who reported for jury duty notified court staff she had tested positive, resulting in the immediate dismissal of about 30 people from jury service.

Jury selection is scheduled to conclude by the end of the week in the triple murder trial for Lawson, 32. Police say in 2012 he fatally shot his ex-girlfriend, Breiana Ray, 22, and her mother, Gwendolyn Ray, 50, and set an apartment fire that killed his 10-month-old son Aiden.

Opening statements are expected to begin next week.

(source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

OKLAHOMA:

Law enforcement, cab driver testify in death penalty trial

A death penalty trial for Texas resident Joseph Alliniece continued Tuesday with testimony from law enforcement officers, a former cab driver who picked up the defendant and one of Alliniece's friends who had recent contact with him.

Alliniece, 32, of Missouri City, Texas, is charged with 1st-degree murder of Norman resident Brittani Young, 27, as well as 2 counts of kidnapping and 1 count of robbery by force or fear.

According to a Norman police affidavit, officers found Young on April 24, 2018, dead inside her Emerald Greens Apartments residence. Alliniece fled the scene but was later arrested that night by Oklahoma City Police Department officers. He was then taken to the Norman Investigations Center for questioning, where he said he couldn't remember anything from that day.

Alliniece is being held on $5 million bond, state records show.

Norman Police Officer Chris Antwine, who worked patrol in 2018, said he was the 1st officer to report on scene around 2:54 p.m.

He testified in Cleveland County District Judge Lori Walkley's courtroom that the call was initially labeled a medical call involving an unconscious woman who was possibly breathing, so he hurried and followed people's directions pointing him to Young's patio door.

He looked inside and saw Young's body, then entered the room and got out his flashlight, since the living room was dark. He also found some burnt papers on a box.

He said he checked Young's femoral artery in her leg for a pulse but found none, and found no suspects inside the apartment after a search. He also looked for any possible weapons inside the apartment.

Antwine said Young's head had been smashed, the scene was bloody and 1 of her ears was lying near her head.

Officer Ashlie Livingston testified that she arrived shortly after Antwine and went inside to check on Young and the apartment unit. When witnesses on scene reported that they saw a man running north from the scene 5 minutes before officers arrived, she passed on information to other officers on the radio and searched for the suspect and anything he may have dropped. She found nothing, but also requested a search be conducted at the nearby University of Oklahoma golf course.

Livingston said she and Antwine asked for medical support to confirm Young's death, because her body still felt warm.

Livingston said she spoke to the victim's friend, who had been pulled inside the apartment with her toddler, and Young's mother, Stacey Raspberry, who arrived on scene while the friend and her child were being held hostage. Both of them had moved inside their vehicles, and the friend was given another shirt to wear after removing her own bloodied shirt.

Norman Lt. Matt Woodard, who was a shift supervisor, testified that he set up a perimeter search around the area, contacted an off-duty K-9 handler and asked the Oklahoma City Police Department for assistance from their helicopter pilot in the search for Alliniece.

Around 4:45 p.m., Woodard said Young's phone, which Alliniece had taken from the scene, pinged around the area of Classen Boulevard and State Highway 9. Her phone was found on a grassy hill near the intersection, where technical investigators were called in to take pictures of the phone and admit it into evidence.

Blaine Davison, a former Norman police detective of over 23 years, said he helped gather video evidence to track Alliniece's movements that night after Young's death. Footage from several locations — including a Yukon Walmart Supercenter, Mustang Quick Junction in Mustang and a Petro Truck Stop in Oklahoma City — shows full or partial views of Alliniece at each store throughout the day.

The state presented surveillance video footage from the locations into evidence.

Defense attorney Mitchell Solomon pointed out that none of the videos show Alliniece purchasing new clothes to replace the ones he was wearing at the time, which were still blood from the crime scene.

Jumaid Arshad, who was a cab driver with his own taxi business in 2018, said Alliniece contacted him, told him to pick him up at the Petro Truck Stop and asked him about fare. Arshad picked Alliniece up behind the gas station, and Alliniece told him he needed to head to a pharmacy. Arshad suggested the Yukon Walmart, and told Alliniece he would have to tally up the extra cost later.

Arshad said Alliniece was in the Walmart for a short period of time, and he next took the suspect to the Mustang Quick Junction. Alliniece kept waiting inside the vehicle; Arshad testified that he heard Alliniece texting on his phone and assumed he was waiting for somebody.

When nobody showed, Alliniece gave Arshad an address in Oklahoma City. Arshad said when they saw an inmate bus on the way, Alliniece became nervous and asked him to drive faster past it.

Once they arrived, Arshad said Alliniece paid him after negotiating over the new price, and he drove away. Alliniece was found later behind a dumpster near that address.

One of Alliniece's friends from Houston, Natasha Jeppers, said Alliniece and Young blew up her phone April 24, 2018, asking her to take Alliniece from Young's apartment. Jeppers said she first met Alliniece around 2016, and met Young on one of Alliniece's later visits to Oklahoma.

Jeppers testified that she said told them she would be able to later. She offered to call some friends who were closer, as she was heading to Tulsa soon to visit another friend.

Jeppers said she was at Riverwind Casino when she noticed all of her Messenger calls and texts from Young and Alliniece.

The last message she received from Young was sent at 2:22 p.m. April 24, saying, "Can you get this dude for real? He can't stay here," adding that Alliniece kept calling her names. Jeppers said she didn't hear from Young after that, but tried to call her the next morning after seeing a concerning Facebook post about Young.

She testified that she heard a lot from Alliniece after Young's last message, with texts saying, "Call me now," lots of missed calls and some returned calls where he begged her to come get him.

During one call, she said Alliniece said he wasn't sure that Young was still breathing, but the message went over her head because she was traveling at the time, and she started ignoring him. After 7:27 p.m., she didn't hear from him any more.

(source: Yahoo News)

NEVADA:

Blue states chart diverging paths on death penalty debate

A death penalty repeal proposal under consideration in Nevada is proving party affiliation can be an unreliable predictor on capital punishment.

3 Democratic-majority legislatures have passed measures abolishing the death penalty since 2019, but the future of Nevada’s repeal effort is far from clear. The proposal passed the Assembly this month. But leaders in the state Senate have not indicated whether they’ll consider the bill, and Gov. Steve Sisolak staunchly opposes it. Democratic-majority legislatures in Colorado, New Hampshire and Virginia have recently done away with the death penalty. Advocates on both sides of the debate say the contrast among states underscores how the death penalty jumbles partisan divides.

(source: Associated Press)

ARIZONA:

Pima County Attorney seeks delay in execution

Pima County’s top prosecutor is seeking a delay in the bid by Attorney General Mark Brnovich to set an execution date for Frank Jarvis Atwood.

But in a spat that is pointing up a divergence of views on capital punishment, he is spurning her request.

In a letter to Brnovich obtained by Capitol Media Services, Laura Conover said that since taking office in January she is reviewing a number of cases, including those on death row, because of an “unfortunate” history of the department she said led to several disbarments and appellate cases “born out of prosecutorial misconduct.”

“Now that my name is attached to all the work of the office, I need to undertake a review to be certain we haven’t overlooked anything,” she wrote. Conover said she wants to “put to rest the history here out of the old homicide and capital units.”

Conover is not seeking to overturn the death sentence imposed on Atwood, a previously convicted pedophile, who was convinced of the 1984 slaying of Vicky Lynn Hoskinson. She disappeared while riding her pink bicycle on her way to mail a letter for her mother.

Authorities eventually tracked Atwood to Texas where he was arrested on charges of kidnapping, with murder charges added after Vicki’s skull and some bones were found in the desert northwest of Tucson the following year.

Atwood has continued to maintain his innocence, even after exhausting all appeals, contending police planted evidence, including testimony that pink paint on the front bumper of Atwood’s car had come “from the victim’s bike or from another source exactly like the bike” and that Vicki’s bicycle had nickel particles on it that were consistent with metal from the bumper.

“By no means do I want to cause undue delay,” Conover wrote Brnovich. “But I think we will all be well served by a temporary hold on any death warrants from Pima cases while we put to rest the history here out of the old homicide and capital units.”

Brnovich dismissed her request.

Part of it, he wrote, is because the Atwood case was handled by someone from his office and not Pima County, “rendering any proposed review of this case by you unnecessary, as well as untimely.”

That, however, us only partly correct.

John Davis actually started handling the case when he was a deputy Pima County attorney. He was allowed to continue handling the case when he went to the Attorney General’s Office.

Brnovich, in his response to Conover, also took a slap at her for making the request in the first place.

“I am concerned that your letter is less about an internal review and more about ending the death penalty in general,” he told her, noting that she campaigned on a platform of ending capital punishment. Brnovich said that it is her right, as the county attorney, to decide when to seek the death penalty.

“As attorney general, I am charged with enforcing the laws of Arizona, including carrying out capital punishment sentences,” he said. “I also take seriously the finality of jury verdicts, as well as the constitutional right afforded crime victims to a prompt and final resolution of a criminal case.”

Joe Watson, spokesman for Conover, acknowledged that her reference to “disbarments” of attorneys may have been overstated.

Only Ken Peasley was forever denied the ability to practice law again after it was determined that he had allowed a police officer to lie on the stand in two murder cases. But Watson said other prosecutors had their law licenses suspended.

But Watson said there is a “volume of misconduct” by prosecutors which has been detailed when appellate courts reviewed Pima County cases. That, he said, “could result in a lengthy review, especially in the homicide and capital case arena,” the review that Conover wants to conduct before anyone else convicted in her county is put to death.

Watson acknowledged the opposition of his boss to the death penalty and her decision not to seek it in future cases.

Part of that, he said, is based on her campaign promises. But Watson said that the move also frees up the attorneys assigned to capital cases to focus on the backlog of other homicide cases that had accumulated before Conover took office.

And there’s a philosophical element to it, too.

“The death penalty perpetuates ongoing trauma to victims and their families,” Watson said. And then there’s the fact that “mistakes can happen, evidence can get lost, and science can fail us.”

He also said that, at least in Pima County, the overwhelming sentiment is to stop seeking the death penalty.

(source: Arizona Capitol Times)

CALIFORNIA:

Orange police say video may help prosecution of suspect in shooting that left 4 people dead

Orange police said Wednesday that video obtained in the investigation into the fatal shooting of 4 people at an office building last month could help the prosecution of the suspected gunman.

Aminadab Gaxiola Gonzalez, 44, has been named the sole suspect in the March 31 shooting at Unified Homes, a business that sells manufactured homes, according to police. The company’s owner, Luis Tovar, his daughter Genevieve Raygoza, company employee Leticia Solis Guzman and 9-year-old Matthew Farias all died in the shooting.

Farias died in the arms of his mother, Blanca Ismeralda Tamayo, who is also Raygoza’s mother and also worked at Unified Homes, family members have told KTLA. She was seriously wounded in the shooting and remained in critical condition the following evening, they said.

On Wednesday, the Orange Police Department was scheduled to host an 11:30 a.m. news conference to offer new updates in the case. When it started a little over an hour later, Lt. Jennifer Amat spoke for less than two minutes and told reporters the department would not be releasing the newly obtained video or any details about it — citing the input of O.C. District Attorney Todd Spitzer.

“Certainly you may be aware, this is one of the most significant and tragic shootings ever to occur in the city of Orange,” Amat said. “At this point, given the sensitivity of the investigation, and the district attorney’s concerns, I do not have any more information I can offer.”

“And I will not be taking any questions,” she said.

Amat said Tamayo is currently in stable condition and continues to be treated for her injuries. She added that Gaxiola, who was also wounded, remains hospitalized in stable condition.

Investigators are still trying to determine a definite motive, but authorities have said it appears related to the fact that Gaxiola had personal and business relationships with some of the victims.

“It appears all of the adults were connected either by business or a personal relationship, and this was not a random act of violence,” Amat said at a news conference the day after the tragic shooting.

Officers responded to a report of shots fired at the business located at 202 W. Lincoln Ave. around 5:30 p.m. on March 31, according to police. But when they arrived, they found the gates to the courtyard were locked from the inside, Amat said. At least one officer opened fire on the shooter as police responded, but it’s unclear if he was wounded by police gunfire or his own, she said.

Gaxiola is facing charges including 4 counts of murder and 3 counts of attempted murder in connection with allegedly firing at Tamayo and 2 officers, who were not wounded.

Prosecutors have said Gaxiola is eligible for the death penalty since the deadly shooting involved multiple victims, making it a special circumstance case. They have said they are looking into whether locking the gates constituted lying in wait, which would be another special circumstance.

Amat said investigators found a semi-automatic handgun as well as ammunition, pepper spray and handcuffs inside a backpack at the scene, which they believe all belong to the suspected killer.

Police have said Gaxiola is believed to have been living at an Anaheim motel and arrived to the scene in a rental car, which was later found in the parking lot of the office complex.

The shooting is the worst one the city has seen in more than 20 years, Amat has said. It was the nation’s third mass shooting within a period of just over 2 weeks, the Associated Press reported.

(source: KTLA news)

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Prosecutors to again seek death for ex-deputy convicted of killing 2

The Kern County District Attorney’s office will retry the penalty phase of David Keith Rogers’ murder trial after the state Supreme Court overturned the former deputy’s death sentence 2 years ago.

Prosecutor Eric Smith said in court Wednesday he’s prepared to go forward with retrying the penalty phase and Judge John W. Lua confirmed the retrial for June 7 but noted a courtroom may not become available until August.

California Supreme Court justices let Rogers’ 1988 murder convictions stand, meaning he would serve life without parole if prosecutors are unsuccessful in securing the death penalty a 2nd time.

Rogers, now 74, was transported but did not appear in court because he was taken to Kern Medical for a reason Lua did not disclose. The judge said Rogers is expected to appear at future hearings.

He was convicted of 2 counts of murder in the deaths of Janine Benintende, 20, and Tracie Clark, 15. Benintende was killed in early 1986 and Clark a year later.

Rogers was sentenced to death and has been spent the intervening years housed at San Quentin State Prison.

In 2019, the California Supreme Court overturned Rogers’ death penalty after determining a prosecution witness falsely testified he had sexually assaulted her. The prosecution used the woman’s testimony during its closing argument in the penalty phase.

Both Benintende and Clark worked as prostitutes at the time of their deaths. Their bodies were found in the Arvin-Edison Canal, and both had been shot multiple times with bullets from a .38-caliber gun.

The bullets, tire tracks, shoe prints, and eyewitness testimony led to Rogers being identified as a suspect, and he admitted to killing Clark but denied involvement in Benintende’s death when confronted by detectives. His defense at trial argued he was mentally disturbed as a result of physical and sexual abuse he suffered as a child.

(source: KGET news)

GLOBAL:

Amnesty International Global Report: Executions Worldwide Fewest in a Decade, Death Sentences Fall More Than One Third in 2020

Fewer executions were carried out across the world in 2020 than at any time in a decade and new death sentences fell by more than 1/3, according to a new report by Amnesty International. It was the 3rd consecutive year in which confirmed executions reached a 10-year low, and the 6th year in a row in which confirmed executions declined, Amnesty said.

The human rights organization’s report, Global Report: Death Sentences and Executions 2020, released April 21, 2021, said that Amnesty had recorded 483 executions in 18 countries in 2020, down 26.5% from the 657 confirmed executions carried out in 20 countries in 2019. Confirmed executions were 70.6% below the 1,634 executions recorded in 2015.

While executions declined in most of the world, they more than tripled in Egypt from at least 32 in 2019 to at least 107 last year. Executions decreased 85.3% in Saudi Arabia, falling from 184 to 27. They fell by more than 1/2 in Iraq, from 100 to 45. The United States carried out 17 executions in 2020, the 6th most of any nation, behind China (estimated in the thousands), Iran (246+), Egypt (107+), Iraq (45+) and Saudi Arabia (27). The U.S. was once again the only country in the Western hemisphere to carry out executions.

China, North Korea, and Vietnam consider executions and death sentences to be state secrets and prevent accurate independent monitoring. As a result, they are not included in Amnesty International’s figures for confirmed executions and death sentences.

Criticisms of United States Human Rights Violations

Amnesty criticized Egypt, China, and the U.S. federal government for accelerating executions during the pandemic. “Against the backdrop of a world paralyzed by the pandemic, the disturbing determination of officials in some countries to circumvent health measures and relentlessly pursue executions and death sentences added an additional layer of cruelty to their use of the death penalty and made the case for its abolition ever more urgent,” the report said.

Restriction on access to in-person legal representation and the “absolutely avoidable” health risks caused by “pursuing executions in the middle of a pandemic” made the use of the death penalty “a particularly egregious assault on human rights,” Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard said.

Callamard also criticized the conduct of U.S. federal officials during the government’s 2020 execution spree. In a commentary in TIME magazine, she wrote that the U.S. had “severely curtailed prisoners’ ability to seek help” to redress inadequate legal representation and other trial and appellate defects that violated international law. “In several cases in the U.S.,” she wrote, “federal authorities executed people by lethal injection after the original death warrant had expired, even though motions were still pending before the courts.” This, she said, violated “the critical safeguard under international law requiring states not to proceed with execution if appeals are pending.”

Declining Death Sentences and Support for the Death Penalty Worldwide

Fifty-four countries imposed death sentences in 2020, according to the global report, two fewer than in 2019. Amnesty confirmed that at least 1,477 death sentences were imposed worldwide, down 35.9% from the 2,307 confirmed death sentences imposed in 2019. Amnesty attributed part of the decline to “disruptions and delays in criminal proceedings across the world” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the report cautioned that “[v]ariations in the nature and availability of information on death sentences for some countries continued to affect [its] assessment and ability to accurately compare trends by country.” At least 20 countries imposed more death sentences than the United States did in 2020, and given the absence of information from which to confirm death sentences in some countries, the number is likely higher.

Globally, Amnesty International reported that at least 28,567 people were known to be under sentence of death. Nine countries had confirmed death rows of more than 1,000 prisoners: Iraq (7.900+), Pakistan (4,000+), Nigeria (2,700+), USA (2,485), Bangladesh (1,800+), Malaysia (1,314+), Vietnam (1,200+), Kenya (1,000+), Sri Lanka (1,000+). However, data was not available to estimate the size of large death rows in China, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia.

Amnesty reported that several more countries moved towards death penalty abolition in 2020, with Chad abolishing the death penalty for all crimes and Kazakhstan signing the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. The report noted that Colorado became the 22nd U.S. state to abolish capital punishment, Barbados repealed its law that had provided for mandatory death sentences, and Sudan abolished the use of the death penalty for apostasy. Saudi Arabia issued a statement saying it would reduce its use of the death penalty against people charged with offenses committed when they were younger than age 18.

In December 2020, a record 123 nations in the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions. At the end of the year, Amnesty said, 108 of the world’s countries had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes and 144 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

Amnesty reported that 18 people who had been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death were exonerated in 2020. The most were exonerated in the United States and Zambia, with 6 each. Exonerations also were recorded in Cameroon (3), China (1), Singapore (1), and Taiwan (1).

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

AFGHANISTAN:

4 people sentenced to death in Afghanistan last year

The Afghanistan judicial system sentenced 4 people to death in 2020, the Amnesty International said in its annual report on execution punishment in the world.

The human rights watchdog said that 156 detainees sentenced to death have been released as part of the peace negotiations with the Taliban. The four individuals sentenced to death were involved in murdering and kidnappings.

The total number of detainees punished with execution reached to 976 in Afghanistan, the report added.

The Amnesty International declared the Middle East and North African countries as the 'most prolific executioners' of 2020. '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,' said Heba Morayef, Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

At least 483 executions were conducted in 2020, the report said, showing a 26 % drop compare to 2019. According to the report, 88 % of the executions were ordered in Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In 2019, At least 658 detainees were punished with death penalty in 2019.

(source: menafn.com)

TAIWAN:

Taiwan unchanged on eventual goal of abolishing death penalty: Minister of justice----Amnesty International’s executions report revives debate on country’s practice of capital punishment

Minister of Justice Tsai Ching-hsiang said on Wednesday (April 21) that Taiwan remains on track to abolish capital punishment despite an execution and 5 death sentences last year.

Tsai made the remark after the release of the Death Sentences and Executions 2020 report by Amnesty International, which lists Taiwan as one of the 18 nations that carried out the death penalty in 2020, wrote Liberty Times.

Tsai stressed that Taiwan’s stance on the eventual abolition of capital punishment has not changed. Nevertheless, executions are still allowed as the law stands, and he said the ministry would ensure such sentences are enforced after strict and prudent assessments.

4 of the 5 cases where death sentences were handed out in 2020 were below the age of 30, which reflects a worrying trend, according to Lin Tzu-wei, legal director of the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty. The view was echoed by Yeh Ta-hua, a member of the National Human Rights Commission, who said the commission will monitor the conditions of mentally challenged convicts and avoid violations of the International Bill of Human Rights.

Yeh also called for the factors contributing to crime to be better addressed as well as preventative intervention through improved social welfare. The issue was in the spotlight again after a New Taipei court sentenced a single mother to death for strangling her son and daughter last year, a tragedy some say stemmed from a lack of social support, wrote CNA.

(source: Taiwan News)

PAKISTAN:

Urgent Action Update: Health of Death Row Prisoner in Sharp Decline (Pakistan: UA 27.21)

The health of Shafqat Emmanuel, who faces execution, along with his wife Shagufta Kausar, is rapidly deteriorating. Shafqat’s lower body is paralyzed, which means he relies on the help of prison guards, which is not readily available, for mobility. He has multiple bed sores, which according to his lawyer, are not being given adequate treatment, and his pain is worsening every day. In March, his family alleges, he was in a coma for three days and was not taken to the hospital. The Christian couple were sentenced to death for sending ‘blasphemous’ texts to a mosque cleric and have consistently denied all allegations. Imprisoned since 2013, the couple were convicted and sentenced to death in April 2014.

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

Inspector General, Punjab Mirza Shahid Saleem Baig

Inspectorate General of Prisons, Punjab

Link Jail Road, Shadman

Lahore, Pakistan

Tel: +92 4299200498

Email: faxroomprisons@gmail.com

Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan

Embassy of The Islamic Republic of Pakistan

3517 International Ct NW,

Washington DC 20008

Phone: 202 243 6500 I Fax: 202 686 1534

Email: ambassador@embassyofpakistanusa.org

Twitter: @PakEmbassyDC

Facebook: @PakistanEmbassyDC

Contact Form: https://bit.ly/2QiCMnI

Salutation: Dear Ambassador

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear Inspector General Mirza Shahid Saleem Baig,

I write to you to out of alarm for the sharp decline in health of death row prisoner Shafqat Emmanuel. Shafqat is completely paralyzed from the waist down and must rely on prison guards to perform the most basic tasks like leaving his bed and using the bathroom. Furthermore, as per the application submitted by his lawyer to the Inspector General of Prisons in Punjab, he has painful bed sores and needs urgent health care.

Currently held in Central Jail, Faisalabad I find it alarming that in March, according to his family, Shafqat was in a coma for three days and yet was still not provided adequate medical care. Shafqat and his wife Shagufta Kausar, were convicted of “blasphemy” and sentenced to death in 2014 for allegedly sending “blasphemous” text messages to a mosque cleric.

The couple should not be in jail at all, let alone at risk of execution. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws do not meet human rights law and standards, they lack essential safeguards to minimize the risk of rights violations and illustrate the dangers faced by the country’s religious minorities. The urgency with which the injustices in this case must be remedied is heightened by Shafqat’s pain and lack of access to appropriate health care.

I find it highly distressing that a prisoner who needs urgent health care is not being shifted to the jail hospital. He should not be detained in the first place, and if he is not going to be released, prison authorities must ensure provision of adequate health care whether it is available inside or outside the prison.

Chief Minister Buzdar, I strongly urge you to grant Shafqat prompt, regular and unrestricted access to adequate health care as necessary. In addition to that, him and his wife Shagufta should be immediately and unconditionally released. We call for the couple and their lawyer to be provided with adequate security upon their release.

Sincerely,

[YOUR NAME]

(source: Amnesty International)

INDONESIA:

Death sentences on the rise in Indonesia----Number of people condemned to the firing squad rose by 46 % last year

The number of death sentences handed down by Indonesian courts last year rose by 46 % on the previous year, a leading rights group says.

According to Amnesty International Indonesia, 117 death sentences were handed down in 2020, compared with 80 in 2019.

In its latest report on the death penalty released on April 21, Amnesty said 101 out of the 117 death sentences were given in drug cases, while the other 16 were handed to convicted murderers.

The rights group said the increase ran contrary to world figures, which saw a 36 percent decrease in such sentences — from 2,307 in 2019 to 1,477 in 2020.

Condemned prisoners are executed by firing squad in Indonesia.

It “shows a very low appreciation of human life when the world is now focusing on trying to save people from the deadly coronavirus,” the report said.

“The death penalty, in any situation, is a cruel and inhumane sentence”

Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, called the situation “very ironic.”

“Here’s a situation where a country is trying to help save as many as lives as possible during a pandemic but condemns many more people to die. This harms Indonesia’s credibility on the world stage,” he said.

“The death penalty, in any situation, is a cruel and inhumane sentence. Moreover, in the current pandemic, there is the added indignity for people facing execution of having limited access to justice, lawyers, family and health care. This is a serious attack on human rights,” he said.

According to the rights group, the Covid-19 pandemic has failed to temper the Indonesian government’s desire to put people to death.

Amnesty pointed to a case on April 6 where a district court in West Java sentenced 13 people — four foreigners and nine Indonesians — to death for drug-related crimes.

“Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, many sentences were given during virtual court hearings,” the rights group said, adding that at least 88 out of 128 death sentences were given by virtual courts between March 2, 2020, and April 6 this year.

Meanwhile, Carmelite Father Aegidius Eko Aldianto, executive secretary of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference’s Commission for Justice and Peace, said the Catholic Church expressed regret at the increase in the number of sentences.

“There is nothing much we can do. It depends on the government and legislators as to whether or not they want to abolish death penalty. The Catholic Church can only add its voice against it,” he said.

(source: ucanews.com)

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6 Terrorists in Brimob HQ Deadly Riot Sentenced with Death Penalty

The East Jakarta district court on Wednesday has sentenced the 6 terrorists responsible for the siege at the Mobile Police Brigade Headquarters (Mako Brimob) in May 2018, with death penalty.

According to the court’s website, the 6 defendants accepted the verdict and have not declared an appeal.

The 6 terrorists on death row are Anang Rachman, Suparman alias Maher, Syawaluddin Pakpahan, Suyanto or Abu Izza, Handoko or Abu Bukhori, and Wawan Kurniawan.

The court deemed their actions to be very sadistic and inhumane. They killed five police personnel at the Brimob headquarters and that terrorism is considered in Indonesian law as an extraordinary crime.

(source: en.tempo.co)

SOMALIA:

Puntland Military court hands down death sentence to 5 Shabab members

Court of the Armed forces of the Puntland State of Somalia has on Wednesday handed down 5 Shabab members who were found guilty in what the court said a series of assassinations and planting landmines here in Galkacyo and some parts of the country.

The group, who were said to have been operating in Galkacyo in more than a decade were accused to have assassinated members of the armed forces, civil society including journalists and other members of the Puntland officials, according to Puntland officials and local media reports.

Shortly after the opening of the court session, Major Awil Warsame Mohamed, the attorney general of the court of the armed forces of Mudug and Cayn said "I hereby present these 5 Shabab convicts in front of the 1st decree court of the armed forces in Galkacyo.

"Feisal Ahmed Bashiir known as Gujis, 31 yrs, live in Galkacyo as technician,Sahal Abdullahi Jama known as Abdirahman, 32 yrs, live in Galkacyo and works as a driver, Idiris Mohamed Afyare, 25 yrs, live in Galkacyo and works as a shop owner, Salman Mohamud Saleban Abdulkadir Alfaarisi, 22 yrs, live in Galkacyo and works as a bakery owner Jama Muriidi Hussein Mohamed, 20 yrs, live in Galkacyo.” Major Awil Warsame Mohamed, the attorney general of the court of the armed forces of Mudug and Cayn said.

Colonel Ali Shire, the judge declared that all 5 men were found guilty in assassinations that took place in northern Galkacyo since 2008.

Federal government of Somalia and its federal member states sentence members of the Shabab death sentence and are later killed in firing squad.

The death sentence comes only hours after Amnesty International released its global death penalty report 2020, though the number of executions dropped 2020 compared to 2019, according to the report.

Executions were recorded in 3 countries – Botswana, Somalia and South Sudan; 1 fewer compared with 2019, the report cited.

This is the not the 1st time Puntland sentences Shabab members to death. In 2016, Puntland military court sentenced to 43 Shabab convicts to death,the largest death sentence recorded in a single day.

(source: Horn Observer)

SINGAPORE:

Court urges lawyers to avoid sensational language, says justice best served when all are cool-headed

The Court of Appeal has urged lawyers not to use "needlessly sensational language" and not to adopt "an unwarranted accusatory tone" in court proceedings. Singapore's highest court made the observations on counsel's choice of words on Wednesday (April 21) in a judgment dismissing an application by a death row inmate to reopen his case.

Norasharee Gous, 46, was handed the death penalty for instigating another man to traffic in heroin.

The court noted that Norasharee's new lawyer M. Ravi had made "strongly worded" submissions in arguing the case, which cast aspersions on the competence and objectivity of Norasharee's former defence counsel, the investigating officers, prosecutors and the trial judge.

However, the apex court found that the allegations against Norasharee's former lawyer were "completely unfounded and unfair" and that the criticisms against the prosecution and the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) were "unjustified".

The court, which comprised Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and justices Andrew Phang and Tay Yong Kwang, said there was no miscarriage of justice in Norasharee's conviction and hence, dismissed his application.

The judgment, written by Justice Tay, also reminded all counsel to be temperate in their use of words.

"We think it is highly undesirable for any counsel (both the prosecution and defence counsel) to use needlessly sensational language and to adopt an unwarranted accusatory tone in submissions, whether written or oral."

The court added: "Passionate advocacy should not be the antithesis of courteous discourse or even disagreement. Justice is best served when everyone involved in its administration is cool-headed and calm and completely objective in thinking."

Norasharee was convicted by the High Court in June 2016 of instigating Mohamad Yazid Md Yusof to traffic in not less than 120.90g of heroin in 2013.

The trial judge accepted Yazid's testimony that he met Norasharee on Oct 23, 2013, at VivoCity mall and was given instructions to collect the drugs.

Norasharee appealed against his conviction, but the appeal was dismissed in March 2017.

In July 2018, he applied to reopen the appeal by raising an alibi defence. Norasharee said his colleague at the time, Mr Mohammad Faizal Zainan, could support his account that he did not meet Yazid that day.

Mr Faizal's testimony was recorded but ultimately, the apex court found that his evidence was not compelling and inconsistent in several aspects.

Norasharee claimed his former lawyer Amarick Gill had failed to carry out his instructions to call Mr Faizal as a witness during the trial.

However, the apex court did not accept this.

Mr Ravi said Norasharee had been "dogged by failures in investigating procedures" and criticised prosecutors and investigators for "indolence".

He claimed that the CNB failed to record statements from Mr Faizal. He also claimed that the prosecution had failed to disclose the fact that no statement was recorded from Mr Faizal.

The court noted that when CNB officers approached Mr Faizal in 2015, he did not tell them he was with Norasharee on the day in question.

The prosecution and the CNB were therefore not aware of the significance of Norasharee's relationship with Mr Faizal and saw no necessity to take a statement from him, said the court.

Mr Ravi also accused the trial judge of "prejudgment" because the judge had asked him at the start of a hearing whether he had anything to add to his written submissions.

The apex court said: "Besides being questionable in logic, such accusatory rhetoric lacks courtesy."

(source: The Straits Times)

APRIL 21, 2021:

NORTH CAROLINA:

Date set in 3-year-old Mariah Woods murder trial

Earl Kimrey, accused of killing Mariah Woods, will have his day in court on Nov. 8.

Kimrey is charged with 1st-degree murder and felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury.

Kimrey was first charged on Dec. 2, 2017 with felony common law obstruction of justice, felony concealment of death, second-degree burglary, felony larceny, and felony possession of stolen property.

Kimrey is being represented by Walter Paramore and Brooke Mangum with the capital defender's office in Lumberton. Kimrey's case was officially declared capital in a Rule 24 Hearing on Feb. 26, 2018, meaning if convicted he will be eligible for the death penalty.

District Attorney Ernie Lee said Kimrey does not have an upcoming court date scheduled for these charges.

Kimrey lived with Mariah’s mother, Kristy Kay Woods in a home on Dawson Cabin Road from where the little girl was reported missing on Nov. 27, 2017.

Mariah was reported missing to authorities by Kimrey around 6:30 a.m. Nov. 27, 2017. Authorities searched for the girl for five days before the toddler’s body was found in Shelter Creek in Pender County.

The ECU Brody School of Medicine released her autopsy report, which was written and signed by Dr. Karen L. Kelly.

Woods' cause of death is listed as chloroform toxicity.

Mariah was 28 pounds and just shy of 3 feet tall, according to the report. She had abrasions over her left upper eyelid, nose, beneath her chin, and above her lips. The examiner found early acute pneumonia, but otherwise noted Mariah as a normal 3-year-old girl health-wise prior to her death and the “traumatic injuries.”

While there were previous reports of alleged sexual abuse, the autopsy notes no evidence of sexual trauma to her body.

Kelly wrote that Mariah was “enclosed in a plaid, zippered couch cushion cover” which contained a large piece of solid cement curbing. She was wrapped in 3 white plastic trash bags, which were tied around her neck.

(source: New Bern Sun Journal)

FLORIDA:

Florida Bars From Medical Practice Psychiatrist Who Repeatedly Testified that Severely Mentally Ill Death-Row Prisoners Were ‘Malingering’

A controversial psychiatrist who repeatedly testified that severely mentally ill death-row prisoners were faking their symptoms and were competent to be executed has been barred from medical practice in Florida.

On March 31, 2021, the Florida Department of Health issued an emergency restriction on the medical license of Alan J. Waldman, M.D., prohibiting him from practicing as a medical doctor until the impaired practitioner program for the state’s Board of Medicine provides notice “that he is safe to return to the practice of medicine.” The Department also initiated proceedings “seeking formal discipline of [Waldman’s license] to practice as a medical doctor in the State of Florida.”

Waldman gained notoriety for his role in clearing the path for executing several severely mentally ill prisoners in Florida and Texas. Florida governors appointed Waldman, whose website asserts is an expert in detecting “malingering,” to commissions to evaluate whether three death-row prisoners with long histories of mental illness were mentally competent. Each time, he concluded that that the prisoners were competent to be executed, and twice he said they were malingering — that is, deliberately feigning or exaggerating their illness.

Early in his career, Waldman worked as a doctor in the Florida prison system. He quit his job in a state facility in 1999 when the Department of Health reportedly was considering revoking his privileges. In late 2000, Waldman was arrested for aggravated assault in a road rage incident after pointing an AK-47 assault rifle at a teenage driver who was trying to obtain insurance information from him after she said he cut in front of her and hit the front of her car.

The recent order barring Waldman’s practice of medicine says that throughout the 1990s, “Waldman suffered from multiple medical conditions that caused pain” and developed an opioid addiction after being treated with painkillers, including oxycodone and hydrocodone. The order indicated that Waldman had admitted that, while he was working as a forensic neuropsychiatrist, he “would occasionally take narcotic medication prior to testifying to avoid experiencing symptoms of withdrawal while testifying.”

Waldman is not believed to have disclosed his addiction, self-medication prior to testimony, or arrest to defense lawyers in the cases in which he testified.

The order, signed by State Surgeon General Scott A. Rivkees, said that Waldman suffers from multiple drug-use disorders, has failed to engage in treatment recommended by doctors, and has failed to voluntarily withdraw from practice. Finding that Waldman’s “continued unrestricted practice as a medical doctor constitutes an immediate, serious danger to the health, safety, or welfare of the citizens of the State of Florida,” Rivkees immediately prohibited Waldman from medical practice.

Waldman’s Findings Against Death-Row Prisoners

In his most notable case, Waldman testified for Texas prosecutors that Scott Panetti — a man with a long history of paranoid delusions who attempted to subpoena Jesus while permitted to representing himself and wore a purple cowboy suit throughout his death penalty trial — was competent to be executed. Panetti had been long been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, delusions, auditory hallucinations, and manic depression and had been hospitalized for his mental illness more than a dozen times. Waldman said Panetti was malingering and exaggerating his condition. He “is about as normal as he wants to be at any given time,” Waldman testified, asserting that Panetti’s “dramatic presentation” during interviews “reflect[s] an individual naive to [schizophrenia] except for what is seen in television and movies.” The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the finding that Panetti was competent and, years later, his case is still pending.

In 2 high-profile Florida cases, Waldman also found Thomas Provenzano and John Ferguson competent to be executed. Provenzano for years claimed he was “Jesus Christ” and yelled, “I am the son of God! You can’t kill me,” while he was being transported to the hospital after having been shot by a sheriff. A 2014 article in Mother Jones, quoted Provenzano’s sister, Catherine Forbes as saying, “A 5-year-old kid could tell my brother had mental problems.” If her brother had been faking his mental illness, she rhetorically asked, “would you sleep 17 years with a box on your head, or under your cot?”

Ferguson killed eight people after having been released from a state psychiatric facility over the objections of state doctors. He had been committed to the facility for paranoid schizophrenia and, at the time Waldman found him competent to be executed, had a 40-year history of mental illness. Ferguson insisted that he was “the Prince of God” and that upon his execution his body would rise from the grave and “come back to life” and he would ascend to be the sole person at “the right hand of God.”

The commission on which Waldman served spent less than 90 minutes reviewing two file boxes of medical records and administered no psychological tests to Ferguson. As described in his lawyers’ brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, “Ferguson also reported to the Commission a long history of other delusions and hallucinations—including current delusions and hallucinations. Among them, Ferguson explained that he heard God whisper to him through his set of ‘inner ears’ plans for fulfilling his destiny as the Prince of God and explaining his divine powers; that he communicated with his long-dead father who has vowed to protect him from any death or harm; that he believes the State lacks the power to kill him; that he sees ‘shadow people’ who watch him; and that he is convinced there are communist plots that he will ‘drive away’ after he assumes the seat at the Right Hand of God.”

More recently, in July 2018, Waldman testified in the Orange County, Florida death penalty trial of Darrell Avant, Sr. that Avant was faking symptoms of brain injury in an effort to avoid being sentenced to death. The jury in that case sentenced Avant to life.

Florida’s Bill to Prohibit the Death Penalty for Those with Severe Mental Illness

The executions of Provenzano and Ferguson provided the impetus for public defenders to seek a statute in Florida to end the death penalty for individuals who are severely mentally ill. Senate Bill 1156, sponsored by St. Petersburg State Senator Jeff Brandes, would prohibit prosecutors from seeking the death penalty against defendants who suffered from severe mental illnesses at the time of the offense.

“I was shocked we didn’t already have this in law,” Brandes said.

The bill, which is backed by Florida mental health advocates, passed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee by a vote of 8-0 on March 30, 2021, but, as the 2021 legislative session closes, has no sponsor in the House. Brandes told the Tampa Bay Times that he intends to reintroduce the bill next session.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

TENNESSEE:

Bill pushes for harsher penalty for those convicted of killing officers, emergency workers

A new piece of legislation in Tennessee aims to limit the punishment a jury can consider for a person convicted of first degree murder who killed an officer, emergency medical worker or firefighter while they were on the job.

Under SB 0841, a person convicted of 1st degree murder will get a death sentence, life without possibility of parole or prison for life, if the murder was committed against a law enforcement officer, correctional officer, Department of Correction employee, probation or parole officer, emergency medical or rescue worker, emergency medical technician, paramedic or firefighter who was engaged in official duties. That’s if the defendant “knew or reasonably should have known” the victim was performing the official duties of their job.

In order for the sentence to be handed down, a jury must unanimously find that prosecutors have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder was committed and that the defendant knew the victim was on the job.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Williamson County) also states that if the jury is divided over imposing a death sentence, the judge will dismiss the jury and impose a sentence of prison for life without possibility of parole.

(source: WZTV news)

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

Tenn. bill would require death penalty or life sentence for killings of first responders----The law would apply to first-degree murder of first responders performing official duties

A proposed Tennessee bill would impose harsher minimum penalties for those convicted of 1st-degree murder against emergency personnel. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Williamson County), would require a person convicted of 1st-degree murder of an on-duty first responder to be sentenced to death or life in prison, according to FOX 17. The law would only apply to convicts who "knew or reasonably should have known" that the victim was engaged in official duties.

Murders of law enforcement officers, correctional officers or Department of Correction employees, probation or parole officers, EMS providers, firefighters and rescue workers are covered under the bill. The legislation passed on first consideration in the Tennessee House in March and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

(source: ems1.com)

ILLINOIS:

Northwestern Prison Education Program hosts roundtable on the death penalty

When Renaldo Hudson was on the Illinois death row, he spoke with a police officer about the death penalty. The officer told Hudson he once watched the news with his young daughter when a government execution was happening. The officer explained to her that the man was being executed because he killed someone. Then the child asked her father, “Well, who’s gonna kill him?” referring to the executioner.

Hudson told this story to a Zoom audience on Tuesday evening while speaking at a roundtable about the US death penalty hosted by the Northwestern Prison Education Program. He was joined by Meredith Rountree, Senior Lecturer at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, and Rob Owen, capital defense attorney. After serving on death row for 13 years and later being released from prison in 2020, Hudson is now the Education Director for the Illinois Prison Project, an organization that fights against the racist criminal legal system by “advocating for and with thousands of people who are needlessly incarcerated,” according to their mission statement.

Rountree opened the event with a presentation on the modern history of the death penalty. She said the Supreme Court struck down death penalty laws in 1972 because of the way they were administered. However, once states rewrote these statutes and added administrative policies, the death penalty was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1976.

“The United States is the only industrialized democracy the retains the death penalty,” Rountree said. “There are 27 states that retain the death penalty in addition to the United States Military and the federal death row. There are about 2500 prisoners currently on death row.”

Rountree also said the most executions occurred in the late 1990s when popular support for the death penalty was high and stated that race can affect who is sentenced to death.

“Most people on death row are not Black, but Black people are on death row at a much higher rate, disproportionate to the population,” she said. “Time and again, what researchers have found is that the best predictor of who gets the death penalty is the race of the victim. In 76% of death penalty cases, the race of the victim is white.”

Owen added that the last year has been a “blood bath” on the federal level with 13 executions in about 6 months. The 1st set of executions were 5 white men and one Native man, and the second group of executions were six Black men and one white woman.

“The government attempted to conceal, to some extent, the racist nature of the federal death penalty by starting off by killing a succession of white prisoners then showing its true colors and executing a string of Black men before Mr. Trump left office,” Owen said.

One of those Black men was Owen’s longtime client, Brandon Bernard. Owen said Bernard was just 18 years and six months old when he was sentenced to death. He was involved in the robbery, abduction and murder of two individuals. While his co-defendant actually killed the victims, Bernard never physically harmed anyone. Owen said Bernard was just the “getaway driver.” Bernard was deemed “too dangerous” for a life sentence in prison, but in his 20 years on the federal death row, he never once received a disciplinary write-up.

“That’s highly unusual. A lot of people have little write-ups for trivial things as they’re adjusting to being in custody,” Owen said. “It just reflects what a bad job our system does of identifying people who cannot live peacefully in custody and condemning them to execution.”

As a lawyer in these cases, Owen is the last person to see his clients before they are executed.

“There’s a bottomlessness at that moment,” he said. “There’s no human conversation that’s made for the moment before someone is going to be killed. You’re trying to tell them that you’re sorry, you love them and you won’t forget them.”

While Owen experienced those lows, he’s also had plenty of victories. He's won 35 to 40 death penalty reversals in Texas in his 30 years defending capital cases.

“Victory is a child with a thousand parents,” Owen added. “The fact that I might have been one of the lawyers at the podium in those cases doesn’t mean there weren’t lots of other folks working on them.”

Hudson, a Black man from Chicago, described his personal experience in the prison system and on the Illinois death row (read more about Hudson’s story here).

“It’s torturous. The criminal legal system as it exists is a sewage,” Hudson said. “I looked at prison as a plantation. I was a slave in my mind. I didn’t become free and happy until I walked out.”

Hudson criticized government officials for seeing the death penalty as a political debate. He mentioned that President Biden signed harsh criminal bills in the 1990s when he was a senator.

“The death penalty is not just a political pawn to kick back and forth,” Hudson said.

Hudson spent his time in prison educating himself and his peers. He said he could not read or write when he entered prison, but he walked out with a Bachelor of Divinity.

“Even beauty can come from ashes,” Hudson said. “No one is the totality of their worst act. No one is above mercy and redemption."

(source: northbynorthwestern.com)

USA:

Sonia Sotomayor’s Lonely Battle to Give the Voiceless a Voice at the Supreme Court----In 2 new opinions, the justice continues to provide a small grace to victims of unconstitutional abuses ignored by her colleagues.

Every year, the Supreme Court receives about 10,000 petitions and hears only around 80 cases. 4 justices have to vote to hear an appeal, which ensures that thousands of petitions are swatted away without comment, leaving the lower court’s decision as the final word. Unfairness is baked into the cake: SCOTUS’s desire for tidy docket management means that egregious wrongs go unrighted simply because 4 justices lack the nerve, the bandwidth, or the desire to address them. A majority of the court seems content with this state of affairs. Not Justice Sonia Sotomayor. In recent years, Sotomayor has emerged not only as the conscience of the court but as the watchdog of its docket. She continually writes separate opinions to flag cases involving extreme cruelty, lawlessness, and other inequities. Her goal appears to be to urge the public to pay attention to the injustices that the Supreme Court lets stand.

On Monday, the Supreme Court turned away 2 cases, Brown v. Polk County and Whatley v. Warden, with appalling facts, prompting Sotomayor to write separately about each of them. Start with Brown. In 2017, Sharon Brown was arrested for suspected shoplifting in Polk County, Wisconsin. While in the county jail, 2 inmates accused her of hiding a packet of methamphetamines in a body cavity. Jail officials sent Brown to the hospital, where a doctor used a speculum to open and examine her vagina. When he found no drugs, he inserted the speculum into Brown’s anus and opened it. The doctor’s headlamp then went out, so Brown waited with the speculum in her anus while he searched for a flashlight. After several minutes, he found the flashlight and discovered no drugs.

Brown sued the jail officials for violating her Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches. She argued that the Constitution requires correctional officers to obtain a warrant based on probable cause before searching the body cavities of a pretrial detainee. (It should be noted that pretrial detainees like Brown have not been convicted of a crime and are legally innocent.) The lower courts ruled against her, finding that officers need only a reasonable suspicion for such a search, and had it in this case. Brown appealed, urging the Supreme Court to rule that a warrant, rather than mere reasonable suspicion, is necessary to conduct such an invasive search of pretrial detainees.

SCOTUS turned away the case without comment. Justice Amy Coney Barrett recused herself because, while serving on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, she participated in the decision not to take up the case as a full court after a 3-judge panel ruled against Brown. Sotomayor concurred with the court’s decision not to hear Brown’s appeal, writing that SCOTUS should wait to act until other courts consider the issue. (Under an informal rule, the Supreme Court lets legal questions “percolate” in the lower courts before rendering a verdict.)

Following this gesture of collegiality, however, Sotomayor recounted the revolting facts with an eye toward the systemic racism and sexism that lie just behind them. She quoted extensively from Brown’s testimony, noting that, when the doctor removed the speculum from her anus, she said: “I immediately started crying. I couldn’t stop. I cried myself to sleep. I cried all the way back to the jail. I cried the whole time I was getting dressed.”

“This trauma left Brown with anxiety and depression,” Sotomayor wrote. “She slept just 3 hours a night. She experienced flashbacks and feared leaving the house, terrified the police would pull her over and send her back to jail. Nearly 2 years later, Brown was still afraid of being alone in a room with a man. Even her own brother.”

Sotomayor pointed out that the Polk County jail has a policy of believing inmates who accuse a fellow detainee of concealing drugs and automatically perform cavity searches on these individuals. “An unverified charge from a stranger with unknown motives could send anyone to the hospital for a penetrative search, just like Brown,” she wrote. Meanwhile, “almost anyone can be arrested for something” thanks to the dramatic expansion of criminal laws. “An unbuckled seatbelt, a noisy muffler, an unleashed dog: Any one of countless petty misdemeanors might land you in jail.

“People of color disproportionately bear these burdens,” Sotomayor continued. “Brown is a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Native American people are vastly overrepresented in Wisconsin jails and prisons.” And, citing an amicus brief filed in the case, Sotomayor pointed out that Native American women “experience sexual violence at higher rates than any other population in the United States,” meaning “non-consensual body cavity searches are more likely to traumatize and retraumatize” these women “and their communities.” (The justice has long paid attention to the disparate impact of overpolicing and overcriminalization racial minorities.)

Will Sotomayor’s opinion have any effect? On the public, certainly: It has already drawn attention (and scorn) to an obscure county jail’s odious policies, as well as their “degrading” and “dehumanizing” effects on detainees. But she also issued a warning to lower courts: Jails must consider “less offensive” and “invasive” methods before resorting to a body cavity search. “The courts below considered no such alternatives before holding that reasonable suspicion alone justified this degrading search into Brown’s vagina and anus,” she cautioned. “Future courts presumably will not do the same.” Translation: Lower court judges, don’t do this again.

Sotomayor’s opinions give voice to those crushed by the wheels of the criminal justice system.

Sotomayor’s other opinion on Monday, Whatley v. Warden, was an outright dissent. The facts of the case are stunning. After a jury in Georgia found Frederick R. Whatley guilty of murder, his trial moved to the penalty phase—when the jury would decide whether to recommend the death sentence. The Supreme Court has ruled that due process forbids the needless, visible shackling of defendants during this phase of a trial because it prejudices the jury. Yet Whatley’s attorney allowed him to hobble up to the stand, his shackles clearly visible to the jury, to testify for several hours. The prosecutor then directed Whatley to reenact the alleged murder using a toy pistol while providing a running commentary. (“I want you to point the gun at me just like you did him that day.”) As Sotomayor described it, “Whatley’s chains clanked and rattled with every move, constantly reminding the jury that the court apparently believed he might do more than just pretend to kill someone in the courtroom if left unrestrained.” Yet his defense attorney allowed all this to take place without objection.

Unsurprisingly, the jury sentenced Whatley to death. He then claimed that he had ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment because his lawyer failed to object to his visible shackling, even during the bizarre “reenactment.” Every lower court ruled against him, and the Supreme Court rejected his appeal without comment. Sotomayor dissented, writing that she would order a new sentencing hearing for Whatley. As she explained:

Chains paint a defendant as an immediate threat. Jurors faced with a defendant in shackles will find it more difficult to consider the defendant as a whole person and to weigh mitigating evidence impartially. If jurors think the court does not trust a capital defendant to avoid violence at his own sentencing proceeding, with his life on the line, they are unlikely to trust him to do so while serving a life sentence with no hope of parole. … Whatley’s chains, fresh in the jury’s mind from the previous afternoon’s spectacle, powerfully corroborated the prosecutor’s argument. It is hard to imagine a more prejudicial example of needless shackling.

Powerful words—yet Sotomayor could not even convince fellow liberal Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan to join her dissent. Maybe that’s beside the point. Opinions like this one give voice to those crushed by the wheels of the criminal justice system. It echoes her opinions—mostly lone dissents—in cases that involve police brutality, the death penalty, prosecutorial misconduct, highly questionable or downright corrupt judicial practices, prison conditions during COVID, and the rights of clemency applicants. At the end of Donald Trump’s execution spree, Sotomayor published a dissent that named every individual put to death by the administration, as if bearing witness. In January, Sotomayor even plucked out an obscure petition by a mentally ill immigrant facing deportation to Haiti, where he faced persecution, including torture. She scolded her colleagues for allowing the government to deport the immigrant while he appealed his removal order, denying him “the small grace” to which “he is legally entitled.”

Perhaps a “small grace” is what Sotomayor seeks to provide in these opinions, as well. She knows she has not persuaded three other justices, let alone a majority of the court, to come to her side. She knows prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and lower courts may simply ignore her stern warnings. But she writes them anyway, because she believes it is important to put on the record the unconstitutional abuses that voiceless people face in the United States every day. With this extremely conservative court, that may be the most that she, or any of us, can hope for.

(source: slate.com)

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SCOTUS should hear case in which shackled defendant reenacted murder, with no defense objection, Sotomayor says

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented Monday when the high court refused to hear a case in which a shackled defendant reenacted a murder during his sentencing, with no objection from his defense lawyer.

The shackling was all too evident during petitioner Frederick R. Whatley’s reenactment, Sotomayor asserted in her dissent to the cert denial.

“Whatley’s chains clanked and rattled with every move, constantly reminding the jury that the court apparently believed he might do more than just pretend to kill someone in the courtroom if left unrestrained,” Sotomayor wrote.

Whatley reenacted the murder at the prosecutor’s request during a sentencing hearing. Whatley had been convicted of robbing and killing the owner of a Georgia bait shop and liquor store. Before Whatley’s sentencing testimony, the prosecutor “sensibly asked” whether the jury should be excused while Whatley walked to the stand in shackles, Sotomayor said.

“Defense counsel waved off the prosecutor’s concern,” concluding, “‘well, he’s convicted now,’” Sotomayor wrote.

During his testimony, Whatley contested the state’s claim that he killed the store owner and nearly shot an employee to eliminate witnesses to the crime. Whatley said he reflexively fired a shot when the store owner pulled out a gun immediately after giving Whatley the money.

On cross-examination, the prosecutor asked Whatley to demonstrate his version of events with a toy pistol.

“Now, this is not the type of gun you had that day,” the prosecutor said. “I hope you’ll understand why I don’t want to give you a real gun.”

Whatley’s lawyer did not object to the reenactment. The next day, the prosecutor argued that Whatley deserved the death penalty because he posed a severe threat of future violence. The judge gave no curative instruction about the shackling to jurors, who deliberated only 90 minutes before imposing the death penalty.

“Whatley’s chains, fresh in the jury’s mind from the previous afternoon’s spectacle, powerfully corroborated the prosecutor’s argument. It is hard to imagine a more prejudicial example of needless shackling,” Sotomayor wrote.

“On these facts, defense counsel’s failure to object to Whatley’s unnecessary shackling renders his death sentence not only unreliable, but unconstitutional.”

The case is Whatley v. Warden, Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison.

Sotomayor also issued an opinion in a second case Monday in which a pretrial detainee was subjected to a “physically penetrative” body cavity search. During the search, a male doctor spread open a woman’s vagina and anus with a speculum and shined his headlamp inside to look for contraband.

The doctor conducted the search after two inmates accused the woman of hiding drugs in her body.

Lawyers for the female detainee, a shoplifting suspect, had argued that the more invasive search required probable cause and a warrant or exigent circumstances. Sotomayor said the petition raises important questions, but she agreed with the decision to deny cert to allow more courts to consider the issue.

“It bears emphasis, however, that the degree of suspicion required for a search should be substantially informed by the availability of less intrusive alternatives,” Sotomayor wrote. “This court does not lightly permit an entire category of warrantless, invasive searches when less offensive options exist.”

The case is Brown v. Polk County.

(source: abajournal.com)

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Death Row-USA: A history of the death penalty in America----In the last few months of his tenure, Trump presided over the deaths of 13 prisoners. Here, Clive Stafford Smith takes a journey through the US’s commitment to capital punishment, telling the stories of some of the death row inmates he represented along the way.

There has been a bloodbath in the United States in the past few months.

From 2003 to 2020, there had been no federal executions, and only 4 going all the way back to my birth in 1959. In the 230 years since records began in 1790, we had averaged only marginally more than one federal execution a year.

However, in the last months of his tenure, President Donald Trump presided over the deaths of 13 prisoners, with six conducted after he lost the election. Typically for a president prone to excess, Trump broke various records, though none was particularly salutary: the most federal executions in seven months in history, and the first time a president had ever set executions after losing an election.

As I pondered this, I realised that the history of the “modern” death penalty in the US rather neatly overlaps with my own professional life. I was born in the United Kingdom, where the last hanging was carried out on August 13, 1964 – when I was just 5 years old. By the time I wrote a school essay on the death penalty in 1975, from my perspective it may as well have been the Middle Ages. I thought I was writing a history paper, and I was surprised to find it was actually ‘current affairs’ – I discovered that the Americans were still killing each other.

I thought I had better go do something about it. I headed to university in the US in August 1978, intent on saving America from itself. Still a teenager, my arrogant ambition was to write the seminal book that would inspire Americans to abolish capital punishment.

That seems a long time ago.

Nixon’s ‘War on Crime’

The US had come close to abolition in 1972, when the Supreme Court ruled in Furman v Georgia that the system was arbitrary. Writing for the majority, Justice Potter Stewart wrote:

“These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual. For, of all the people convicted of rapes and murders in 1967 and 1968, many just as reprehensible as these, the petitioners are among a capriciously selected random handful upon whom the sentence of death has in fact been imposed.”

The death penalty was then still available for a number of crimes. There were some 15,000 homicides a year, to go with arguably half a million other death-eligible crimes including rape, kidnapping and robbery, yet there were just two executions nationwide in 1967, and none for the next 10 years.

However, the political tide had been turning and, in 1972, the Supreme Court was out of step with public opinion, which was being manufactured by the Republican Party. In the early 1960s, presidential candidate Barry Goldwater began a decades-long politicisation of “crime in the streets”. This morphed under President Richard Nixon into a “War on Crime”, sadly replacing President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty”. It was predicated in part on the idea that executing people would solve a number of difficult societal challenges. (“Every complex problem,” wrote US journalist HL Mencken, “has a solution which is simple, direct, plausible – and wrong.”) Well before Nixon was forced from office in 1974 for his own crimes, he had made “fear of the criminal” a primary tool of electioneering for years to come.

Thus, in 1972, the states revolted at the notion that Washington should be telling them what they could not do, and within four years of Furman, 37 of the 50 states had re-enacted death penalty statutes. The states experimented with 2 responses to the allegations of arbitrariness. Some made execution mandatory for everyone convicted of capital murder. While that might have been consistent, an ambivalent country would never accept a Tudor-style bloodbath, and those statutes soon went the same way as Furman: we could not, the court said, ignore the “diverse frailties” that led people to commit such offences, so automatic execution would not do.

The second path involved what was labelled “guided discretion”: jurors were told to balance “aggravating” and “mitigating” circumstances and decide whether the individual on trial truly deserved to die. This was to become the pattern for the next 40 years.

Gary Gilmore, made famous in The Executioner’s Song by Normal Mailer, was the 1st to be put to death in this new era of the death penalty after 1977. John Spenkelink was the 1st after I arrived in the US – in Florida’s Old Sparky (the nickname for the electric chair) on May 25, 1979. Since that time, the country has continued to kill people, and I have spent most of my waking hours trying to stop them. Most of the deaths have come from state trials – rather than the federal ones over which Trump held sway – and since my arrival in the US, there have been 1,532 executions, an average of 75 a year. But while executions peaked at 98 in 1999, there has been a steady decline over several years, with fewer than 30 executions annually for the past 6 years – and just 17 in 2020. That number would have been only seven were it not for President Trump’s federal execution spree (his last three took place in 2021). In reality, executions have always been rare for a country of more than 300 million people. In the last 50 years, even in Texas, only 2 people out of 100 who have been eligible actually received a death sentence. Juries have become increasingly loath to vote for death. Today, 26 of the 50 states have either abolished or imposed a moratorium, with Virginia – the state that has executed more than any other in its history – recently becoming the first state of the Confederacy to abolish. Last year there were only 18 death sentences imposed nationwide, roughly one for each 1,000 homicides. We have come full circle back to the random lightning bolt of 1972.

The death penalty will inevitably go the way of the dinosaurs. When the history books are written, we will not be lauded for our executions. Future generations will ask, quizzically – why did we kill people who killed people to show that killing people was wrong?

However, a thrashing, dying Tyrannosaurus Rex remains very dangerous, no matter its destiny.

A labyrinthine process

Once, the US system of justice seemed to be very deliberate compared with the timeline of the last British hanging: Peter Allen and Gwynne Evans allegedly killed John West on April 7, 1964, when he refused to lend them money. The trial began on June 21 and swiftly ended in a death sentence for each of them. The appeal was heard on July 20 and denied the next morning. The double-hanging was duly carried out on August 13, just four months after the offence.

If the US procedure seems labyrinthine to outsiders, that is because it is. The condemned can expect to languish on death row for an average of 15 years. Thomas Knight holds the current record: he was arrested for murder on July 24, 1974, when he was 23 years old, and executed by Florida 40 years later, on January 7, 2014, a month shy of his 63rd birthday.

All prisoners wend through nine, 15 or even more levels of review. The vast majority of capital cases begin with a state trial, followed by an appeal to the state supreme court, and then the application to the US Supreme Court. Next comes “state post-conviction”, another series of three appeals through the state system. This is followed by a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus – the age-old test of the legality of a conviction – which begins in the lowest federal court and heads thence via the federal court of appeals back to the Supreme Court. Thus far, most cases see nine levels of review, but we are not yet finished – it is time for a “successor” petition, back through the 3 levels of state hearings, and once more to the federal system.

The British were proud of their efficient justice. However, hurry had its drawbacks: James Hanratty, Ruth Ellis, Derek Bentley, a roll call of those hanged, with each name associated with injustice. Most notorious of all was the Bentley case, where the mentally disabled Derek had already given himself up to the police but his 16-year-old co-defendant, Christopher Craig, was waving a pistol in defiance. Derek shouted: “Let him have it” – almost certainly meaning let the officer have the gun.

The prosecution insisted it was American slang encouraging a violent attack. On this basis, he was convicted and expeditiously hanged less than 3 months after the crime. The rushed inequity of it all contributed to the abolition of the death penalty and, in 1993, to his posthumous pardon.

By comparison, the very lengthy US process sounds like a fail-safe system. Once, perhaps, it gave the condemned prisoner a reasonable shot at justice, but all that has now evaporated in judicial impatience.

Death row – at bursting point

When a dam bursts, it can wreak havoc in a manner totally inconsistent with its purpose. The Banqiao Dam was one of a series constructed in China to promote the “Great Leap Forward”. When it burst in 1975, it caused as many as 250,000 deaths and destroyed more than 6 million homes.

Likewise, Death Row–USA is in a state of dangerous flood. With 2,557 people on Death Row-USA, what is going to happen to them all? If we were to continue with the average rate of executions over the last five years – just below 22 each year – it would take 118 years and three months to execute everyone, assuming that nobody else was ever sentenced to death. This is hardly going to happen.

Rather, soon American executions will become much more frequent, a function of the changing federal courts over the last 50 years. The “guided discretion” laws made little difference to the abysmal quality of trials after 1972. Between 1973 and 1995, state courts imposed 5,826 death sentences and, of those that reached federal court, the federal judges threw out 2,349 and affirmed 358 – just one in every 14 (the rest gradually filtered through the system, and most were thrown out as well).

However, the Democrats began trying to out-execution the Republicans. Bill Clinton went back to Arkansas to preside over the execution of the lobotomised Ricky Ray Rector during the 1992 presidential campaign. Then Joe Biden helped to push through the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which was meant to speed up executions and radically cut back on appellate remedies.

Despite this, Democrats were no match for their ideological Republican counterparts when it came to controlling who got on the courts, and no matter what the law says, judges decide what it means. When Justice Antonin Scalia died on February 13, 2016, eight months before the election, the Republicans blocked President Barack Obama’s effort to nominate Merrick Garland to the court, insisting the choice should fall to the next president. President Trump got to appoint Neil Gorsuch. When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18, 2020, only 6 weeks before the election, the Republicans rammed through the nomination of Amy Coney Barret, a Trump right-winger, in a display of transparent hypocrisy. This means that the court is currently dominated by 6 conservatives, forming a solid block that favours expediting executions.

There was a human element to the sea change in the Supreme Court. Federal judges tired of capital cases – literally, for, in the 22 years between 1973 and 1995, the sheer numbers meant that the Supreme Court was confronted with 2 capital cases a day, 7 days a week, many with a looming execution date. By 1997, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor insisted that the states should no longer set execution times at midnight so that she – then in her late 60s – and her elderly colleagues did not have to face a life-and-death appeal at the witching hour almost every evening. The justices just lost patience.

The Conservative Six have recently demonstrated their willingness to dynamite whatever legal obstacles remain between a condemned prisoner and the chamber. When the Trump administration started to set execution dates in the run-up to the 2020 election, my dedicated colleagues went to work to stop them.

Since championing pro-execution legislation in 1996, Biden had changed his mind, and has promised to abolish the federal death penalty so, when the election results came in, the lawyers only had to get their clients past January 20, 2021. The work was typically vigorous and the cases predictably shocking. The facts of Lisa Montgomery’s case were archetypal. Trump wanted to make her the first woman executed federally since 1953. Yet she suffered from a litany of mental disorders going back to when she was repeatedly raped as a child, and she appeared to be so ill that she did not even understand what Trump had in store for her. Her 2 lawyers needed to evaluate her, so they went to prison to see her. Institutions are Petri dishes for a virus, and both lawyers caught COVID. Though they arranged for a psychiatrist to assess her, the prison then said the pandemic made it too dangerous for the expert to visit.

Usually, given such facts, a stay would have been quite automatic. Indeed, Lisa had a number of valid legal claims and she ended up with stays from four separate courts, including one from a profoundly conservative Trump appointee. Yet, without any reasoning, the Supreme Court lifted each stay, and rushed her into the execution chamber on January 13, 2021, 8 days before Trump left office.

The other federal cases met similar treatment: Dustin Higgs had a strong claim of innocence; he died on January 16. Corey Johnson was intellectually disabled; he died on January 14; Chris Vialva and Brandon Barnard were just teenagers when they were sentenced to death; their executions went ahead anyway on September 24 and December 10, 2020. In the dying months of Trump, all 13 prisoners died.

Just as the liberal court that struck down the death penalty in 1972 was out of step with popular opinion, so the conservative court is now. As the Supreme Court has moved to the right, the American people have been drifting steadily the other way. Support for capital punishment peaked at 80 % in 1994, and has now dropped to just 36 % – but the death penalty has the almost-automatic support of 67 % of the Supreme Court.

Hence, we currently stand on the edge of catastrophe. It is very possible that over the next 2 years, 500 people will reach the end of their appeals, and encounter a heartless and impatient Supreme Court that will shove them into the death chamber.

No law against executing the innocent

It is a shame when death is imposed on the basis of ideology. Unfortunately, there is another reason that the Supreme Court is so out of touch with reality: not a single justice since Thurgood Marshall, who died in 1993, has had any practical experience of criminal law.

While justices pay lip service to the dangers of executing someone after a patently unfair trial, they vastly underestimate the frequency of injustice. In a case called Kansas v Marsh, in 2006, US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia proclaimed that there is not “a single case – not one – in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit”. This is nonsense. I did the final appeal of one innocent person who was executed – Edward Earl Johnson, an 18-year-old Black kid who had been sentenced for the death of a white town marshal in Mississippi. His death came in the gas chamber on May 20, 1987, when he was far too young to die, and I was far too young for the responsibility of representing him. It was all witnessed by the BBC documentary 14 Days in May.

I am currently working on a project to evaluate all 1,532 cases that have led to execution since 1977, and there are terrifying numbers of powerful innocence cases.

Meanwhile, some other facts are inescapable. We have thus far exonerated 174 people who were sentenced to death in the “modern” era. Because they were not actually killed, Justice Scalia appeared to think this reflected a working system – after all, the truth came out and the conviction was quashed. Yet the process often took decades. Worryingly, while the first 2 dozen exonerees spent nearly 5 years on death row, the most recent 24 averaged more than 22 years, with the current record being 43 years. Imagine what you were doing 43 years ago – if you were even alive then – and then imagine what it would be like to lose all those years, spending them with the Damoclean sword of death hanging over you.

Furthermore, in my experience, the number of innocent people sentenced to death who remain in prison probably outnumber those who are free. The system is structured to prevent this from ever coming to light. In another extraordinarily foolish ruling, Herrera v Collins, Justice Scalia opined that “there is no basis … for finding in the Constitution a right to demand judicial consideration of newly discovered evidence of innocence brought forward after conviction”. What he meant in plain English was that the Supreme Court should not stop an execution merely because someone is demonstrably innocent. The “logic” behind this extraordinary rule is that nothing in the US Constitution explicitly forbids executing an innocent person. This is just the sophism of someone with surprisingly little common sense: the Constitution does not say the sun should rise every day either, but there are some things that must have seemed so obvious to the founders that they did not bother to put them down on paper.

If the Herrera rule shocks the “consciences [of some people]”, Justice Scalia continued, “perhaps they should doubt the calibration of their consciences”. I am generally comfortable with the state of my own conscience; it is the law that is mad.

Consider the plight of my client Kris Maharaj, a British man sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit in Miami in 1986. Over the 28 years I have represented him, first, we dismantled the prosecution case: the trial judge was arrested for taking bribes; the lead detective lied under oath; the victims were laundering money for Pablo Escobar, and we linked almost every significant prosecution witness to narcotics trafficking. When we presented that to a federal judge in 2003, he turned to Herrera and ruled – you have guessed it – “[c]laims of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence have never been held to state a ground for federal habeas corpus relief …”

Undeterred, I went to Medellin, Colombia, and persuaded 6 cartel conspirators to testify that they did the murders. Surely this would be enough? “Claims of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence,” the assistant attorney general assured us, “have never been held to state a ground for federal habeas relief.” In January 2021, the federal court agreed – yet again. Kris recently “celebrated” his 82nd birthday in prison; his long-suffering wife Marita, 81 herself, waits impatiently for justice.

“If the law supposes that,” said Mr Bumble, in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, “the law is a a** – a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law … I wish … that his eye may be opened by experience – by experience.”

When justice is unjust

There are many underlying reasons why the justice system reaches an unjust result. I call them the Seven Deadly Sins of the Death Penalty, but actually there are many. Of the 174 death row exonerations, only 28 were proven by DNA evidence; more commonly, jurors were biased, defence lawyers had failed in their job, prosecutors had hidden exculpatory evidence, lying witnesses were exposed, witnesses were shown to be mistaken or forensic science proved to be bogus. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court does little to recognise, let alone eliminate, such flaws.

Consider the scourge of racism: in McCleskey v Kemp, decided in 1987 and still the law today, the court told us that compelling evidence that the death penalty was being applied in a racist manner did not impact upon its legitimacy. Dissenting, Justice Brennan encapsulated the ruling:

“At some point in this case, Warren McCleskey doubtless asked his lawyer whether a jury was likely to sentence him to die. A candid reply to this question would have been disturbing. First, counsel would have to tell McCleskey that few of the details of the crime or of McCleskey’s past criminal conduct were more important than the fact that his victim was white. Furthermore, counsel would feel bound to tell McCleskey that defendants charged with killing white victims in Georgia are 4.3 times as likely to be sentenced to death as defendants charged with killing blacks. The story could be told in a variety of ways, but McCleskey could not fail to grasp its essential narrative line: there was a significant chance that race would play a prominent role in determining if he lived or died.”

I had the privilege of representing Warren in his final appeal in 1991, and when he was strapped into the electric chair, he knew full well that he would not be there if his skin was another colour.

In the era of Black Lives Matter, Black lives clearly matter less and less to the Supreme Court. America is 73.6 % white and 12.6 % Black. In 1995 (pdf), there were 2,547 people on death row, with 51 % white and 38 % Black – reflecting the pronounced discrimination noted in McCleskey. However, in late 2020, the number of condemned was very similar (2,557), yet 42 % were white and 41 % were Black. In other words, the figures are worse because the Supreme Court has done nothing about it.

Indeed, COVID is not the only pandemic in the US – racism remains rife. In 2020, the Supreme Court declined to review the case of Keith Tharpe. Barney Gattie, one of the jurors who had imposed death on Tharpe, had opined that there were “two types of black people: 1. Black folks and 2. Ni**ers.” Tharpe, he felt, “wasn’t in the ‘good’ black folks category [and] should get the electric chair for what he did.” Despite these candid views, Gattie denied that race influenced his vote. Rather, he said, he read his Bible and, based on a number of verses, he simply questioned “if black people even have souls” – whether, in other words, Black people fit into his definition of “human”?

One might expect this to invalidate the death sentence. Every court to review the case – state and federal – has held that it did not.

‘Could you see yourself voting that someone should die?’

One of the ironies of the changing attitudes towards the death penalty is that juries are inevitably becoming more skewed against the defendant. In 1985, in Wainwright v Witt, the Supreme Court set the standard for excluding jurors from a capital trial: if you will not swear, when questioned by the judge, that you will impose a death sentence if you find the evidence calls for it, you cannot serve.

Could you see yourself voting that someone should die? If your answer is no, then you are not qualified to sit on a US capital jury. When only a small minority of Americans opposed capital punishment, the rule of Witt had a limited effect. As attitudes shift, the power of life-and-death is reserved to a shrinking and biased pool. Now, with only 36 percent support, as many as two-thirds of jurors may be excluded before the trial begins and only those devoted to executions may serve.

Next, we might consider another aphorism: capital punishment means them without the capital get the punishment. When OJ Simpson was being tried for the murder of his wife and her friend in 1995, he was a multimillionaire, with a “dream team” of lawyers and a battery of expert witnesses. He paid his jury consultant more than $100,000, he handed other experts tens of thousands, and his lawyers millions.

By the time the televised trial was over, I would have voted to acquit OJ. Perhaps he was guilty, but there was surely a reasonable doubt just from the racist LAPD detective Mark Furman: in between admitting to using racial epithets and committing perjury, he had to take the Fifth Amendment when asked whether he had planted evidence. OJ never faced the death penalty, even for two murders. As his trial dragged on for months, watched avidly by 100 million people worldwide, I was working on 8 capital cases in a single parish in Louisiana. The total sum allowed for the defence of all 8 prisoners was less than $10,000, roughly $1,000 per case. I average about 1,000 hours in preparation for a trial, and we ended up suing for a violation of the federal minimum wage law, which then stood at $4.25.

Perhaps OJ spent so much money because he did the crime. Indeed, I have a tentative theory that the only rich people who do end up on death row are those who are, indeed, innocent. Kris Maharaj is the only capital client I have ever had, out of some 400, who was once rich. Because he was a businessman who was patently innocent, he did not fritter his wealth on his trial. He had a naïve trust in the legal system, and did not believe that a jury could convict him beyond a reasonable doubt when he knew beyond all doubt at all that he did not do it. So he made businesslike decisions, hiring the lawyer who promised victory for a low fee, and going along with the lawyer’s lazy advice to forego presenting his alibi witnesses. If ever there were proof positive of his innocence, it was the fact that Kris passed out when the jury voted guilty.

But Kris is the rarity. Most people end up on death row because they can afford no alternative.

‘At his last meal, he said he would save dessert for later’

In the hand-to-hand combat of the trenches, we have won many victories. I am immensely glad that I left the US to return to the UK in 2004 without having any of my clients on death row. Even on the wider lawfare battlegrounds, from time to time we have made progress. In 2002, in Atkins v Virginia, the Supreme Court outlawed the execution of those deemed mentally disabled. Prior to that time, I had represented a slew of people who were so vulnerable that they would confess to anything. Jerome Holloway, sentenced to death in 1986, had an IQ of 49.

The judge – who did not seem a whole lot swifter than Jerome – thought that since the average IQ was 100, Jerome was half as smart as the rest of us. In truth, you get 45 points merely for taking the test, so Jerome’s score placed him only four points above the counsel table where I sat with him during his appeal. It was painful, but to get across his limitations during his appeal, I had to humiliate the poor kid. He had no idea what the word assassinate meant, and he took a stab at the right answer by guessing at my tone of voice:

Q. Jerome, did you assassinate President Lincoln?

Jerome: Yes.

Q. Did you assassinate President Kennedy?

Jerome: Yes.

Q. Did you assassinate President Reagan?

Jerome: Yes.

There was a spate of Jeromes on death row. Bizarrely, I represented a second man called Jerome Holloway the same year, facing execution in Alabama, and his IQ was also 49. A third, Jerome Bowden, was the rocket scientist of the bunch, with an IQ of 59 – he was convicted based almost exclusively on a confession and, in 1986, he was executed. When he had his last meal, he announced that he would save his dessert until later.

Unfortunately, while some have been spared death by Atkins, the cases where the issue is closely argued show just how many on death row are on the cusp between what we randomly define as “intellectually disabled” versus “borderline”.

In 2005, in Roper v Simmons, after 22 juveniles had already died since the reintroduction of executions, the Supreme Court complied with various international conventions and determined that children should not be subject to the death penalty. Yet death row remains disproportionately the domain of the young – and again the idea that everyone magically becomes mature on his 18th birthday defies human experience.

A ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment

At the end of it all, there is the desperate search for a way of killing people that might seem civilised.

The first execution I had to witness – of Edward Johnson – took place in the Mississippi Gas Chamber in 1987. By way of revenge, in 1995, I brought suit on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz – Mississippi used Zyclon B too – and we successfully abolished gas as a means to poison our clients. I had to witness as Nicky Ingram, a British citizen born in the same Cambridge hospital as me, died a torturous death in the electric chair in 1995. Later, in 2001, the Georgia Supreme Court decided that toasting someone to death with 2,400 volts was “cruel and unusual”.

The states felt that they had hit upon a kinder, gentler form of death – the lethal injection gurney. But it turns out that it is not so gentle after all. The hint comes with the design of the “Execution Protocol”: it was generally a 3-drug cocktail, starting with an anaesthetic, followed by a paralytic, and finally a poison that stopped your heart. But why three? It turns out that this served the same purpose as the ghastly leather flap that they pulled down in front of Nicky before they sent the electricity through him: it protected the witnesses from seeing Nicky’s face contorted in agony. Similarly, with lethal injection, the paralytic was there to prevent us from seeing the suffering that many prisoners went through as the anaesthetic failed, and the poison – slow and excruciating – did the killing.

Les Martin was the 1st person I watched die from lethal injection. As I visited him between appeals to the Louisiana courts, he joked that if I did not get him a stay of execution, he would fire me. Ultimately, I failed him. On the gurney, he smiled at me and mouthed: “You’re fired!” I admired his sang-froid. But then he went through a painful death. You may not think 15 minutes is long – but try counting down 900 seconds.

For a while, the Supreme Court took challenges to lethal injection seriously, listening to mounting evidence of botched executions. But then, as ever, they lost patience – they knew there was no alternative that would make officially sanctioned killing civilised. So, in 2008, the conservative wing concocted a plan to thwart any challenge: a prisoner who says a method of execution is too cruel must propose an alternative procedure that “must be feasible, readily implemented, and in fact significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain”. In other words, a country that criminalises suicide now requires that the prisoner should consult with his lawyer and announce how he would like to be killed.

I have long known the method I would choose for everyone: as calm a death as nature may provide, in the company of those we love, at such time as the body can no longer function. That is called a natural death. President Biden now thankfully agrees – and wishes to abolish the death penalty. That will be another small step forward, potentially taking 50 federal prisoners off death row – but 2,500 condemned state prisoners will remain.

A shrinking minority of countries – only 56 of the 193 members of the United Nations – retain the death penalty. I am not sure I am going to achieve my teenage goal of eliminating the death penalty soon. But I still hold out hope that before my own life comes to a peaceful end, the US will see sufficient sense to drag itself into the 21st century.

(source: Clivve Stafford Smith, Al Jazeera)

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

Remembering Jamorio and praying for justice

I don’t think all police officers are bad people. I think many are good people, trying to do a very hard job for very little pay, and that they are doing so out of a real sense of service to the community. I am friends with such police officers and attend church with them, so I know they exist.

I once was firmly convinced that this was a fixed rule with only the rarest of exceptions. I thought that there were so few bad apples that they could not taint the whole barrel, and that the “good cops” could be counted on to effectively police the “bad cops,” protecting others from harm. I believed that our criminal justice system truly was just and that justice was indeed blind in terms of racial equality.

I now know that those rosy, non-critical, views were rooted in blissful ignorance and white privilege, not in reality. Those views largely died for me on Feb. 12, 1998. They died with a 10-year-old Black boy named Jamorio Montez Marshall.

Jamorio was sent home from school, accused of having stolen 5 dollars from a classmate’s backpack. He was then beaten to death by his mother and her boyfriend. They were not alone, however, in their guilt for Jamorio’s brutal, senseless death.

Shortly after the violence began, a duplex neighbor courageously called 911, reporting what she believed to be an act of child abuse. Two white police officers responded to the scene. They were met at the door by Jamorio’s mother and by her boyfriend, who was holding a leather belt in his hand. The buckle had been ominously removed.

The officers did not ask to see Jamorio. They did not try to determine the relationship, if any, between the belt-wielding man and the child. They told the 2 adults that it was their right to spank the child, but not to let things “go too far.” They did not seek to discover whether there was a history of prior incidents involving Jamorio on file with the Department of Family and Children Services. There was.

“I don’t think all police officers are bad people. I think many are good people, trying to do a very hard job for very little pay.”

911 call transcripts revealed that less than 2 minutes lapsed between the time of the officers’ arrival at Jamorio’s front door and their departure from the scene. Jamorio’s fate was sealed. He was once more mercilessly beaten, this time for well over an hour, with the two adults taking turns, one holding the child down and the other beating Jamorio with the belt until his or her arm got tired, and then they would change places.

It was an unspeakably brutal and agonizing death, with medical examiners later equating Jamorio’s injuries to what they would expect to find after a fall from a 10-story building. Reluctantly, I agreed to represent Jamorio’s brothers and sisters in a wrongful death lawsuit against the Athens-Clarke County Police Department.

That reluctance sprung from my assumption that there had to be some logical explanation for what would otherwise seem to be a gross dereliction of duty. Maybe the officers were over-worked and had to rush from the scene to another crisis. Maybe they had misunderstood the situation. The blissfully naive me simply could not grasp that the answer was much more sinister.

All that changed during the depositions of the police officers. I’ll never forget the cold feeling that crept over me as one of these white officers explained without even a hint of reluctance that he did not spend more time on the scene because he had “real crimes” to investigate and because of his belief this was just how “those people” behaved.

I was shocked. I was changed. I began asking questions whose answers would eventually shred my assumption that the criminal justice system in America is remotely just in its treatment of persons of color.

As a long-time litigator in an area of law that is notably expert-witness-driven, I’m well acquainted with the notion that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. That being said, decades of rigorous statistical analysis have revealed dramatic racial disparities that cut across our entire criminal justice system — disparities that are so pronounced and consistent that they cannot be attributed to chance, nor can they be explained away as an indirect result of economic racial disparity in America (so that what we are seeing is the impact of disparate levels of poverty in communities of color coupled with the close link between extreme poverty and crime).

No. The only possible explanation is that Black Americans find neither justice nor equality in our so-called criminal justice system, and that they are, instead, deprived of such fundamental rights based solely on the color of their skin.

“The only possible explanation is that Black Americans find neither justice nor equality in our so-called criminal justice system.”

By way of a notable recent example of such research, a study by Stanford’s Open Policing Project determined that Black drivers are 20% more likely to be stopped by police officers than their white counterparts. Any possibility of an innocent explanation for this gap evaporates in the face of the study’s further finding that this disparity almost completely disappeared as to arrests made at night — when it is difficult or impossible to see the driver’s skin color.

This same study helps show that the race-based discrimination does not end there at the moment of initial contact. Rather, Black drivers who are stopped are 1.5 to 2 times more likely to be searched as part of a traffic stop, even though multiple studies have shown that guns, drugs and other contraband are more likely to be found in cars driven by white persons.

As to the use of excessive or lethal force, the National Academy of Sciences published a study in August 2019 finding that Black men between the ages of 25 and 29 were 3 times more likely to be killed by police officers than were white men the same age. Black women were killed twice as often as white women.

Racism continues to operate in the place of equality or justice as we move from roadside stops to our courthouses, infecting arrest rates and conviction rates. For example, an ACLU study in April 2020 clearly portrays the race-fueled disparity in arrest rates finding that — even though almost identical percentages of Black and white persons use marijuana — Black persons are arrested for marijuana possession 3.5 times more often.

Once convicted, sentencing in America is likewise blatantly racist. For example, the University of Michigan School of Law undertook a study of federal court sentencing in 2014, finding that the average sentence for a white person convicted of a crime in our federal courts was 55 months. For Black persons, the average sentence was 90 months. Even when all possible confounding factors were accounted for, the study concluded that Black persons receive, on average, 9% to 13% longer sentences for identical criminal conduct that cannot not be explained by any factor other than their race.

“It is with regard to the barbaric institution of capital punishment that racism is perhaps at its most self-evident.”

It is, however, with regard to the barbaric institution of capital punishment that racism is perhaps at its most self-evident. In particular, a pair of landmark studies by David Baldus, a professor at the University of Iowa, are truly chilling.

In his study of death penalty cases in Philadelphia between 1983 and 1993, Baldus determined that Black persons were 38% more likely to be sentenced to death based solely on their race. His study of capital punishment in Georgia in the 1980s found that prosecutors sought the death penalty 70% of the time in cases involving a Black killer and a white victim. Those same prosecutors sought the death penalty in only 15% of the cases involving a white killer and a Black victim.

As I type this, I am thankful for the news of April 20 from Minneapolis, and I pray that the conviction of Derek Chauvin will provide some sense of peace to George Floyd’s grieving family and that they can draw comfort and strength from even a vague semblance of justice for the brazen, cold-blooded murder of their loved one.

I am praying even more for committed efforts by all Christians — both inside and outside the criminal justice system — to tear up the racism that infects every stage of that system by its sinful and evil roots. I am also thinking of Jamorio and wondering how much more Black blood will have to be wrongfully spilled before that prayer becomes reality.

(source: Opinion; Chris Conley is an attorney and graduate of the University of Georgia and of the Emory University School of Law----Baptist News)

GLOBAL:

Death penalty in 2020: Facts and figures

Global figures

Amnesty International recorded 483 executions in 18 countries in 2020, a decrease of 26% from 657 recorded in 2019. This figure represents the lowest number of executions that Amnesty International has recorded in the past decade.

Most known executions took place in China, Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia – in that order.

China remained the world’s leading executioner – but 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.

Excluding China, 88% of all recorded executions took place in just four countries – Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Amnesty International recorded that 16 women were among the 483 people known to have been executed in 2020 (3%), in the following countries: Egypt (4), Iran (9), Oman (1), Saudi Arabia (2).

India, Oman, Qatar and Taiwan resumed executions. Amnesty International did not record any executions in Belarus, Japan, Pakistan, Singapore and Sudan, despite having done so in 2019 and 2018, as well as in Bahrain, which carried out executions in 2019 but not in 2018.

Egypt more than tripled its reported executions (from at least 32 to at least 107).

Executions recorded in Iraq more than halved (from 100 in 2019 to 45 in 2020). Saudi Arabia decreased its tally by 85%, from 184 to 27.

Chad abolished the death penalty for all crimes in May. Kazakhstan signed and in December took steps to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. In the USA, Colorado became the 22nd US abolitionist state. Barbados concluded reforms to repeal the mandatory death penalty.

At the end of 2020, 108 countries (a majority of the world’s states) had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes and 144 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

Amnesty International recorded commutations or pardons of death sentences in 33 countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Barbados, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lesotho, Malaysia, Morocco/Western Sahara, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, USA, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

At least 18 exonerations of prisoners under sentence of death were recorded: Cameroon (3), China (1), Singapore (1), Taiwan (1), USA (6) and Zambia (6).

Amnesty International recorded that 1,477 death sentences were imposed in 54 countries, down 36% from at least 2,307 in 2019.

At the end of 2020, at least 28,567 people were known to be under sentence of death.

The following methods of execution were used across the world in 2020: beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection and shooting.

3 people were executed for crimes that occurred when they were below 18 years of age in Iran. Reports indicated that other people in this category remained on death row in Maldives and Iran.

At least 30 executions for drug-related offences were known to have been carried out in 3 countries (China, Iran and Saudi Arabia), a decrease of 75% from 2019 (118).

Death sentences were known to have been imposed after proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards in several countries, including Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Viet Nam and Yemen.

Regional analysis

Americas

For the 12th consecutive year, the USA remained the only country to carry out executions in the region.

The number of executions (17) in 2020, decreased compared to 2019 (22). The number of recorded US death sentences (18) dropped by almost 1/2 compared to 2019 (35).

After 17 years, the Trump administration resumed US federal executions, eventually putting 10 men to death over 5 1/2 months.

Only 2 countries, USA and Trinidad and Tobago, imposed death sentences in the region.

Asia-Pacific

In Asia-Pacific Bangladesh, China, India, North Korea, Taiwan and Viet Nam are known to have carried out executions in 2020.

The number of new death sentences recorded in 2020 (517) more than halved compared with 2019, when 1,227 were registered.

The number of countries imposing death sentences (16) remained similar to 2019 (17).

Japan, Pakistan and Singapore did not report any executions for the 1st time in several years.

Europe and Central Asia

Although Belarus continued to impose death sentences, there were no executions in 2020.

Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and Tajikistan continued to observe moratoriums on executions.

Kazakhstan signed and moved to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.

Middle East and North Africa

The number of recorded executions fell by 25%, from 579 in 2019 to 437 in 2020, while recorded death sentences fell by 11% from 707 in 2019 to 632 in 2020.

Amnesty International recorded executions in 8 countries – Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen – in the region.

Oman and Qatar resumed executions, carrying out their 1st known executions in years.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Recorded executions in the region went down by 36%, from 25 in 2019 to 16 in 2020.

Executions were recorded in 3 countries – Botswana, Somalia and South Sudan; 1 fewer compared with 2019.

Recorded deaths sentences fell by 6%, from 325 in 2019 to 305 in 2020.

Death sentences were recorded in 18 countries in 2020, the same as 2019.

Chad became the 21st country in sub-Saharan Africa to abolish the death penalty for all crimes.

Recorded commutation of death sentences increased by 87%, from 165 in 2019 to 309 in 2020.

(source: Amnesty International)

MIDDLE EAST:

Report: Mideast countries top 2020 global executioners list

Apart from China and despite a worldwide drop in death sentences, countries in the Middle East remained among the world’s leading executioners last year, Amnesty International said Wednesday.

The number of executions worldwide plummeted to its lowest level in over a decade, with at least 483 people executed in 2020, compared to 657 the previous year, as the coronavirus pandemic slowed criminal trials and disrupted scheduled executions. 4 states in the region — Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia — topped the global list and pressed on with shootings, beheadings and hangings, ignoring pleas by rights groups to halt executions during the pandemic, the report said.

Although counts in the nations fell in line with global trends, largely due to Saudi legal reforms, the countries carried out 88% of the world's total known executions in 2020, according to the London-based rights group that campaigns for abolition of the death penalty.

The numbers show the region is “truly out of sync with the rest of the world,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty's director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The Middle East stands out as a region that clings to the use of the death penalty after deeply unfair trials.”

Egypt executed more than 3 times as many condemned prisoners in 2020 as it did the year before, overtaking Saudi Arabia as the world’s third-most prodigious executioner, the report said.

Although Iraq more than halved the number of people it put to death last year compared to 2019, primarily because of virus-induced court closures, the government faces international criticism for carrying out mass executions. Iraqi courts have grappled with thousands of detainees suspected of being Islamic State group fighters or supporters following the militant group’s defeat on the battlefield in 2017. Last November, 21 prisoners held on terrorism-related charges were hanged in a single day.

The region's overall 25% decline in executions was driven by Saudi Arabia, long one of the world’s most prolific executioners. In a dramatic shift, the Saudi government scaled back its executions last year by 85%. The kingdom attributed the drop to legal reforms promoted by the country’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. New directives halted executions for drug offenses and abolished the death penalty for minors.

Amnesty's annual country-to-country figures exclude China, where figures, believed to be in the thousands, are classified as a state secret. The report also omits executions from some countries marred by conflict like Syria, which Morayef called "one of the big black boxes.”

Egypt held 107 executions last year, a significant increase from the 32 recorded in 2019. Some two dozen of the executed men had been convicted on political violence charges, particularly following the military overthrow in 2013 of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, the late Islamist Mohammed Morsi.

Last fall, executions soared in Egypt after unrest on death row at Cairo's notorious Tora prison, where authorities claimed that several inmates tried to escape. Rights groups say military trials for civilians and the use of torture to extract confessions have increased as President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi entrenches his authoritarian rule. In response to criticism, the government has insisted that security and stability are its top priorities.

Iran remained the top executioner in the Middle East, meting out at least 246 deaths last year, more than half of the region’s total.

The Amnesty report particularly lamented Iran's execution of juveniles, political opponents and journalists. Last December, Iran hanged dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam, who launched a popular news channel that helped spark nationwide economic protests. In another case, Navid Afkari, a wrestler imprisoned for allegedly stabbing a man amid protests against Iran’s theocracy in 2018, was hastily hanged without prior notice to his family or lawyer last fall, Amnesty said.

Saudi Arabia, long notorious for its public beheadings, decreased its executions as international scrutiny of the kingdom's human rights record increased, Amnesty noted. The change came as Saudi Arabia promoted its global stature by hosting the Group of 20 summit last year and braced for cooler relations with U.S. President Joe Biden.

Mideast countries that had not put anyone to death in years also did so in 2020. The sultanate of Oman reversed course by putting 4 people to death and Qatar resumed executions for the 1st time in over 2 decades with the hanging of a Nepali migrant worker convicted of murder.

By law or in practice, the death penalty is now abolished in 144 countries, though Amnesty expects no such change in the Middle East.

“It's a reflection of the crisis of human rights," Morayef said. “Until Middle East leaders start taking the justice system seriously instead of just empowering their security services, I fear we’re going to continue to see these kinds of numbers.”

(source: Associated Press)

IRAQ:

Iraq executions reduced by ‘more than half’ in 2020: Amnesty

Executions in Iraq dropped by “more than 1/2” in 2020 compared to the previous year after at least 45 executions were recorded, a human rights watchdog said on Wednesday.

Countries in the Middle East and North Africa in 2020 “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,” Amnesty International quoted their Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Heba Morayef, as saying in its annual 2020 report on executions.

Executions in Iraq doubled in 2019 to at least 100 compared to the previous year, but the country saw a “reduction in executions by more than half” this year, Amnesty International said in the report published on Wednesday.

Iraqi authorities executed 42 prisoners on death row for terror offences at Nasiriyah’s Central Prison in October and November 2020, what seems to be "part of a larger plan to execute all prisoners on death row," the United Nations Human Rights Council reported in November.

Iraq in January approved the death sentences of more than 340 people with terrorism and other criminal-related charges, Iraqi state media reported.

Despite “fuelling the vast majority of executions worldwide,” executions in the Middle East and North Africa have dropped to the “lowest levels in a decade” to 25%, Amnesty added, and Iran remaining the top executioner, and the 2nd worldwide after China – with Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia making up 88% of global executions in 2020.

Iran alone carried out “more than 1/2” of the recorded executions in the Middle East and North Africa, carrying out “at least 246 executions” in 2020 - at least 3 of them below the age of 18.

“Authorities have also increasingly used the death penalty as a weapon of political repression against dissidents, protesters and members of ethnic minority groups, in violation of international law,” Amnesty International on Wednesday said on Iran.

3 Kurds in early April were sentenced to death on drug-related charges in Iran.

“Use of the death penalty is abhorrent in all circumstance and its prolific use in MENA is alarming because of the frequency with which it is applied after flawed convictions based on confessions extracted through torture or other ill-treatment,” added Morayef.

The regional director called for the complete abolishment of the death penalty by governments.

“Instead of consolidating their commitment to judicial executions MENA governments should establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to ending use of the death penalty completely.”

(source: rudaw.net)

SAUDI ARABIA:

3 Saudis held for peddling drugs on Snapchat in Hail

3 Saudi men were arrested after they allegedly sold illegal drugs on Snapchat over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, police said.

“The men were arrested and charged with possession and selling of hashish via Sanpchat,” Captain Mohammad Al Najidi, spokesperson for the General Directorate for Narcotics Control, said.

A search of the suspects’ home yielded 9 kilograms of hashish, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Al Najidi said all preliminary legal measures were taken against the suspects, and they were referred to the Public Prosecution, pending trial.

Anyone found dealing in drugs in Saudi Arabia is liable for the death penalty.

(source: GUlf News)

INDONESIA:

Death penalty false cure for ailing Indonesian justice system

Amid ever-deepening political polarization, there is one issue on which the vast majority of Indonesians can apparently find common ground: the death penalty.

A 2015 survey by Indo Barometer found that 84.1 % of respondents were in favor of capital punishment for persons convicted of drug-related offenses. A 2017 Kompas poll found that a similarly overwhelming 89.3 % of respondents supported the death penalty for persons convicted of terrorism-related offenses.

Even polls show the death penalty is more popular in Indonesia than democracy (76.2 % in favor, according to a 2021 Indikator Politik Indonesia survey), vaccines (64.8 % in favor, according to a November 2020 WHO survey) and the idea that the COVID-19 pandemic is real (79 %, according to a September 2020 University of Indonesia study).

This popularity is reflected in government policy and public discourse. The use of the death penalty has actually declined globally, with Amnesty International recording a reduction in the number of death sentences and executions from 2019 to 2020, by 36 % and 26 %, respectively, as shown in its 2020 Death Penalty Report. However, the opposite is happening in this country.

According to Amnesty International data, Indonesian courts handed down 117 new death sentences in 2020, a 46 % increase from 2019. And even as the number of death sentences rises, it is calls to expand the use of the death penalty rather than scale it down or abolish it that often gain traction. Capital punishment for graft convicts, for example, is an oft-recurring demand that has recently popped up again after two Cabinet ministers were arrested for allegedly accepting bribes.

Does this sustained enthusiasm for the death penalty mean that Indonesians are particularly bloodthirsty or vengeful? Of course not.

No, the popular support for capital punishment stems primarily from a desire for justice based on a perceived lack of it in the country’s criminal justice system.

In the World Justice Project’s 2020 Rule of Law Index, which is scored on a scale of 0 to 1, Indonesia scored 0.39 for criminal justice. The score is well below the regional average of 0.54 and the global average of 0.47, placing Indonesia 79th out of 128 countries.

The index, which is compiled by surveying more than 130,000 households and 4,000 legal practitioners across 128 countries, found that respondents considered Indonesia’s criminal investigation system to be ineffective (0.35), that its correctional system is not effective in reducing crime (0.29) and that its criminal system is not impartial (0.28).

With such low confidence that those who commit crimes will even be caught, much less punished, it is perhaps not surprising to see that many people appear to believe that those who are convicted should face the most severe punishment possible. Especially when politicians and government officials routinely regurgitate the idea that the death penalty and other cruel forms of punishment, such as chemical castration, will help deter crimes.

The fact is that there is no credible evidence showing the death penalty has a greater deterrent effect on crime than imprisonment. Findings made by a number of domestic and comparative studies conducted around the world, including by the United Nations, demonstrate that.

In 1924, renowned American lawyer Clarence Darrow said capital punishment was based on “the ancient superstition that in some way, hanging one man keeps another from committing a crime”.

Since then, there has only been more evidence demonstrating the fallacy of the so-called deterrence argument. Numerous studies have found, as criminal justice experts Daniel Nagin and Greg Pogarsky wrote in a 2001 article, that “punishment certainty is far more consistently found to deter crime than punishment severity”.

And therein lies the rub. How could any punishment, however severe, provide a deterrent effect in a criminal justice system like Indonesia’s, in which there is too often no certainty that criminal acts will receive any punishment at all?

How could the threat of capital punishment deter drug traffickers when many police officers have been found to be involved in the drug trade? How could a justice system deter corruption when antigraft agencies are defanged and investigators are attacked with few if any repercussions? How could it deter sexual assault when the vast majority of perpetrators are never reported in part because of distrust in law enforcement?

A criminal justice system in which critics of those in power are swiftly arrested for “defamation” while unlawful killings by state actors remain uninvestigated for years needs urgent reform, not the death penalty.

If anything, capital punishment only makes things worse. Deliberately killing a person, whatever the crime, is cruel in itself. Doing so in a criminal justice system where the right to a fair trial is not guaranteed further compounds its horrendous nature. And it’s not just the execution itself: the long waits, in oftentimes terrible prison conditions, are a form of mental and psychological torture.

The death penalty is not and can never be the measure that will cure Indonesia’s justice system; it’s the snake oil used to cover up the system’s gaping failures. Let us all oppose the death penalty in all cases without exception.

Let us all ensure that Indonesia takes one step toward actually fixing things by joining the other 108 countries in the world that have abolished capital punishment for all crimes.

We should always remember what Albert Camus (1957) once said: “Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal's deed, however calculated, can be compared.”

(source: Opinion; Usman Hamnid...The writer is executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia----The Jakarta Post)

VIETNAM:

2 get death for drug trafficking

A Ha Tinh court Tuesday sentenced 2 people to death and another to life imprisonment for transporting 31 kg of methamphetamine.

The court found Thai Ngoc Hoang, 34, Phan Van Tinh, 27, and Nguyen Dinh Chinh, 26, guilty of transporting narcotics. While Hoang and Tinh received death sentences, Chinh was given a life sentence.

According to the indictment, Chinh was driving Tinh in a 5-seat car last June when they were stopped by police officers in Huong Khe District, which borders Laos and is a notorious location for drug smuggling.

However, Chinh stepped on the accelerator and sped away and the police gave chase. In Phuc Dong Commune, Tinh, sitting in the backseat, threw a backpack out of the car. In the backpack, police officers found 31 kg of meth hidden in tea packets.

Meanwhile, another group of police officers continued the chase and caught up with the traffickers after around 15 kilometers.

The duo were arrested and admitted to the police that they'd been hired by Hoang to transport the meth to the border area. They were paid VND10 million ($430) each.

Hoang was arrested later that month. He told the police that he was also hired by an acquaintance for VND100 million to receive the drugs and took them to the southern province of Binh Duong, which neighbors Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnam is a key trafficking hub for narcotics from the Golden Triangle, an intersection of China, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar and the world's second largest drug producing area after the Golden Crescent in South Asia.

The repeated seizure of huge amounts of narcotics has been happening despite Vietnam having some of the world’s toughest drug laws. Those convicted of possessing or smuggling more than 600 grams of heroin or cocaine or over 2.5 kg of methamphetamine could face capital punishment. Production or sale of 100 grams of heroin or 300 grams of any other illegal substance is also punishable by death.

(source: e.vnexpress.net)

APRIL 20, 2021:

TEXAS:

Texas Appeals Court Overturns Death Sentence of Nation’s Longest Serving Death-Row Prisoner

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) has overturned the death sentence of the nation’s longest-serving death-row prisoner, 45 years after he was first sent to death row.

In an unpublished opinion issued on April 14, 2021, the TCCA held that Raymond Riles, originally sentenced to death by a Harris County jury on December 11, 1975, is entitled to a new sentencing hearing. The court ruled that Riles had been unconstitutionally sentenced to death in his 1978 retrial when the trial court failed to instruct the jurors that they could consider evidence relating to Riles’ background, upbringing, and mental health history as reasons to spare his life.

At Riles’ trial, his defense team presented an insanity defense, providing testimony from psychiatrists and psychologists who said that Riles was psychotic and suffered from schizophrenia. Several family members also testified that Riles displayed odd and violent behavior, but that efforts to have his mental health evaluated had been unsuccessful. They said several of his close relatives also had been committed to psychiatric institutions.

The jury rejected the insanity defense and sentenced Riles to death. He then languished on death row for four decades after being found incompetent to be executed.

Riles’ current lawyers argued that his sentence was unconstitutional, citing Penry v. Lynaugh, a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down the sentencing procedures used at the time of his trial. Penry held that the Texas sentencing statute — which limited the jury’s consideration of evidence in the sentencing phase to considering whether the defendant committed the murder intentionally and without provocation and whether he posed a future danger to society — provided no mechanism for the jury to give mitigating effect to evidence such as a defendant’s upbringing and mental health. Unless the trial court clearly informed jurors that they could consider that evidence independent of the special questions, Penry said, the state’s sentencing procedures would be unconstitutional.

“The mental health evidence that [Riles] presented at his trial is the type of evidence that both this Court and the Supreme Court have come to regard as the kind of ‘two-edged’ mitigating evidence calling for a separate, mitigation focused jury instruction,” the TCCA wrote in its April decision. “[Riles’] jury did not receive any such instruction.”

The Texas court unanimously agreed that Riles had been unconstitutionally sentenced to death. Three justices nonetheless dissented, saying they had doubts as to whether Riles had been competent to consent to the appeal.

Riles’ attorneys, Thea Posel and Jim Marcus, said they were “very pleased” with the decision. They called Riles’ death sentence “an unconstitutional relic of a long-invalidated sentencing scheme.” Posel and Marcus also noted the unusual legal posture of his case that had contributed to his lengthy stay on death row. “Because he is too mentally ill to execute, Mr. Riles has spent decades — including several in solitary confinement — in a legal limbo between life and death,” they said. “Today’s decision will, hopefully, facilitate a resolution of the case.”

Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Ford v. Wainwright, severe mental illness that affects an individual’s mental competency can block a prisoner’s execution but does not affect their death sentence. Prisoners like Riles, who have been deemed incompetent to be executed, can linger on death row for decades.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg had joined Riles’ defense attorneys in asking the TCCA to overturn his death sentence. “We are glad Texas’s highest court unanimously agreed with prosecutors and defense lawyers that jurors must be able to consider a defendant’s mental health history before deciding punishment,” Ogg said in a statement.

Citing office policy, the district attorney’s office would not say whether it will seek a new death sentence for Riles.

Riles was transferred from county custody to Texas’ death row on February 4, 1976. Charles Foster, who was sentenced to death in Florida in 1975, had been on death row longer than any other U.S. prisoner. When Foster died on December 30, 2020, Riles became the longest-serving death-row prisoner in the country.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

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

New punishment trial ordered for murderer

Texas' highest criminal court has ordered that a new punishment trial be held for a 46-year-old man sentenced to death years ago for orchestrating the murder of 6 rival gang members.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued its ruling Wednesday in the case of Humberto Garza, who has been on death row since 2005.

Garza, a high-ranking member of the Tri-City Bombers, organized a "pseudocop" robbery in Edinburg on Jan. 5, 2003.

"When the officers arrived at the porperty, which had 2 small houses on it, they found the boides of 6 men who had been shot. Some of the bodies were bound with extension cords. Several of the victims were Texas Chicano Brotherhood gang members, including 1 victim who was a 'captain' in the organization," the ruling stated.

Those victims included Jimmy Almendarez, Juan Delgado III, Jerry Eugene Hidalgo, Juan Delgado Jr., Ruben Castillo and Ray Hidalgo.

In its ruling, the high criminal court determined that Garza received ineffective assistance of counsel during the punishment phase of his trial because his attorneys failed to conduct a meaningful mitigation investigation.

The man's appellate counsel discovered a host of mitigating factors in its investigation, including childhood trauma such as Garza seeing a man shot in front of him at close range; sexual abuse; the continued incarceration of his father who is credited with creating the pseudocop robbery in the Rio Grande Valley; and neglect from his mother who frequently drank alcohol while pregnant with him -- all facts the jury that sentenced him to death never heard.

(source: The McAllen Monitor)

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

Man accused of killing East Texas pastor enters not guilty plea during 1st court appearance

A Marshall man charged with capital murder in connection with the death of an East Texas pastor entered a plea of not guilty on Monday during his 1st court appearance.

Mytrez Deunte Woolen, 21, is accused of shooting Pastor Mark McWilliams to death and injuring two others on Jan. 3 at Starrville Methodist Church in Winona.

On Monday, Woolen, his lawyers and Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman participated in an arraignment hearing over Zoom in the 7th District Court.

During the hearing, Putman read the indictment accusing Woolen of killing McWilliams while also burglarizing the building. Woolen later entered his not guilty plea to the court.

An arraignment is a hearing, in which a formal reading of a criminal charging document takes place with the person accused of a crime present. This is to inform them of the charges against them.

The person accused of the crime is expected to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.

Putman and the defense lawyers also discussed evidence and DNA testing on Monday regarding the case.

Woolen remains in the Smith County Jail on a $3.5 million bond. In Texas, a capital murder charge for a person means they’re eligible to receive the death penalty.

His next court appearance has not yet been scheduled, according to online judicial records.

The Smith County Sheriff's Office said Woolen was hiding in the church bathroom from police following a pursuit on Jan. 2.

McWilliams, his wife Rosemary and another man, Harris Victor Little, opened the bathroom door the morning of Jan. 3 to find Woolen with the church bank bag.

Sheriff Larry Smith said Woolen came to the church between 2 and 9 a.m. Jan. 3 after driving high speeds from Lindale to the area near the church. He hid in the woods, and law enforcement personnel spent several hours searching for Woolen.

When McWilliams opened the door, he took out his handgun while telling Woolen to leave the church. Woolen rushed toward McWilliams and both began to fight on the ground, according to the arrest affidavit.

Smith said McWilliams used his firearm to make Woolen get down on the floor, but the pastor got distracted with his wife.

Woolen lunged toward McWilliams, took his gun and shot the pastor, Smith said. McWilliams died of his injuries before police arrived on scene.

Little told police Woolen shot McWilliams in the chest several times and he tried to shoot at Rosemary, who was hiding behind the stove, the affidavit stated.

Woolen took Little’s truck keys and ran out of the church. Before Woolen left, Mike Sellars arrived at the church and heard gunshots coming from inside. As Woolen came near Sellars, Woolen started shooting at Sellars, who started to run for cover but was shot, the affidavit stated.

Sellars saw Woolen get into Little’s truck, which allowed deputies to use OnStar technology to track the vehicle that was moving eastbound on Interstate 20 toward Marshall. The Harrison County Sheriff’s Office caught up with the stolen vehicle, which was not stopping. OnStar disabled the vehicle and Woolen was then taken into custody. Officers found the church’s money bag inside the stolen truck.

Rosemary was released following treatment, while Sellars later recovered from the shooting.

Woolen was also charged with aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, but he has not been indicted on these charges, according to online judicial records.

(source: Tyler Morning Telegraph)

ILLINOIS:

Aurora lawyer’s new memoir gives inside look at Jeanine Nicarico case, one of the highest-profile murder cases in state history

A couple years after interviewing Aurora criminal attorney Gary Johnson about his new book that shines an inside spotlight on one of the state’s most high-profile murder cases, I finally got my hands on a copy of it.

That’s because “Luck is a Talent” just came out last week, so the first question I asked Johnson, who is also a former Kane County state’s attorney, was what the heck took so long.

“Catching mistakes mostly,” he told me, “... trying to make sure everything was perfect before pulling the trigger.”

And working with Amazon, the lawyer added, is not always easy.

The extra time and effort seems to have paid off. The book, put out by State Street Publishing of Elgin, is a well-written, well-researched memoir covering Johnson’s four decades as a Kane County prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. But, not surprisingly, nearly 80% of the pages are devoted to “the true story of a trial lawyer’s experience defending an innocent man charged with murder,” which happens to be the book’s subtitle.

That innocent man is Steven Buckley, 1 of 3 Aurora defendants who went on trial in 1985 for the murder and rape of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville two years earlier.

Likely you don’t need me to tell you this case was, as the book’s back cover proclaims, “one of the most complex and contentious murder cases in Illinois history,” and resulted in two of the three accused men spending years on death row before the truth finally resulted in exonerations.

“Luck is a Talent” takes readers behind the scenes of this botched case that, including the criminal and civil litigation, lasted about 28 years and helped lead to the abolition of capital punishment in Illinois.

Johnson’s involvement began in July of 1984. While practicing civil law, a fellow attorney asked if he would want to help defend Buckley, a young man who grew up in Aurora and who was pulled into the sensational Nicarico murder case after freely offering detectives his work boots when they came calling.

And it ends with his client’s freedom after Buckley spent three hard years behind bars and whose mistrial eventually resulted in the prosecution dropping the case in 1987 because of a lack of evidence that included a footprint “expert” who was eventually discredited by a panel of her peers and who Johnson later described on a “48 Hours” segment as being “the forensic witness from hell.”

Despite the other 2 cases also having “serious problems,” Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez were not so lucky. They ended up being convicted and sentenced to death before a series of subsequent trials ordered by the Illinois Supreme Court finally gave them their lives back.

In case you need a refresher, seven DuPage law enforcement officials were later indicted for wrongful prosecution and acquitted in 1999, and in 2009, convicted murderer and rapist Brian Dugan, who had already confessed to being the sole perpetrator of the Nicarico crime, entered a guilty plea.

As you might expect, this fact-packed but also personable book delves head-first into the political pressures at play in these cases, as well as the conduct of DuPage officials, including prosecutors who, Johnson snipes in his forward, “didn’t act much like prosecutors or lawyers.”

What’s especially refreshing about the author’s recollections is the fact he’s honest enough to point to his own shortcomings.

“I stubbed my toe on (the Buckley case) and other cases so many times,” he told me when I caught up with him last week. “Fortunately, justice prevailed when 3 innocent men were released.”

Johnson isn’t afraid to chronicle other mistakes, including the time he did “a lousy job” of cross examining an expert witness, and was then fortunate to “stumble across some information that helped set us straight again.

“I’m not falsely modest,” said 67-year-old Johnson. “I just know I’m more lucky than good.”

Hence, the title of the book, which begins chapter one with Buckley’s attorneys jailed for contempt of court inside the old DuPage County jail, where the guard advised Johnson against even touching his head to the mattress, and informed him he could not watch “Jeopardy,” like co-counsel Carol Anfinson who was occupying the cell next door, because there was only one TV available.

As his legs were shackled while being transferred to another jail, the thought that ran through his mind: “How the hell did this happen?”

Johnson would wonder that again and again during his turbulent time defending Buckley, which took such an emotional toll that, even as he was writing about it more than 30 years later, it created “an element of PTSD,” he said.

“When 3 guys are innocent and you know they are and you are responsible for one of them, that’s a lot to carry.”

The rollercoaster that he rode for the next few years, Johnson added, turned him into a shoe print expert, as that’s what Buckley’s case mostly revolved around. But it also made him more cynical of the system. And it led to deep introspection as the former prosecutor had to ask himself how much courage he would have summoned had he been in a position to stop justice from going off the rails.

The book is fascinating, even if I did at times skim through some of the legal jargon and explanations. And it is an especially compelling read for those who live and work in the Fox Valley, as it is flush with familiar places, cases and faces.

But what “Luck is a Talent” has to say should reverberate far beyond the Chicago area because it really does place an unflattering mirror against the criminal justice system that as Johnson tells me, “is only now beginning to scratch the surface” of reform.

His particular peeves: interrogation techniques and Illinois’ “obscene” sentencing guidelines that are so complicated - particularly when it involves sex crimes - “it would take an actuary to figure them out.”

In the book’s forward, Thomas Frisbie, Sun-Times reporter who covered the Nicarico cases and co-authored “Victims of Justice,” praises Johnson’s memoir, describing it as “those details that round out a full telling of an epic legal saga” and insisting the Aurora attorney has “done a favor for those who seek a greater understanding of how legal careers, the criminal justice system and the death penalty work.”

To which I add, the book is well worth the wait.

(source: Ddenise Crosby, Aurora Beacon News))

ARKANSAS:

Death penalty will be sought for 2 suspects in Stradford murder, more information released in case

Murder victim Cody Stradford was alleged to have loudly begged 2 men to stop hitting him during a violent, and ultimately deadly, encounter at a Mountain Home residence on Dec.4 last year.

According to information just released by 14th Judicial District Prosecutor David Ethredge, 28-year-old Ryan Lindsey and 38-year-old Skylar Whitney Brazil are reported to have beaten the 35-year-old Stradford for up to an hour while he “begged for it to stop.”

It was also announced Monday that the death penalty will be sought for Lindsey and 42-year-old Allison Cunningham. Investigators report Lindsey and Cunningham have allegedly admitted to acquaintances they both shot Stradford at some point during the episode.

While the beating was in progress and Stradford was crying out for help, Cunningham and 35-year-old Ashley Nicole Hendricks of Siloam Springs were alleged to have stood by “looking on.”

Cunningham appeared in Baxter County Circuit Court Monday and entered a not guilty plea to the charges against her, including capital murder.

According to the probable cause affidavit, during the incident, other people who were upstairs in the residence reported hearing a male “asking for help and pleading for the beating to stop.”

Investigators said the witnesses, reported to have been minors, left the upper part of the house and went into the backyard, looked through windows in the walkout-type basement and observed Lindsey and Brazil hitting Stradford.

They also told investigators Lindsey pointed a handgun at Stradford.

Stradford’s body was placed in his own vehicle ?a silver Dodge Charger — driven to a wooded area and set afire.

It was found Dec. 16 last year off Old Arkana Road south of Mountain Home. According to reports, the vehicle appeared to have been there for some time.

A burned body found in the vehicle was identified as Stradford’s by the State Medical Examiner’s Office.

Investigators say at one point during the beating, Lindsey demanded that Stradford give him his debit/ATM card, but that Stradford had replied there was only a few dollars in the account. According to the probable cause affidavit, Lindsey was holding a pistol on Stradford and asked the victim if he had any last words. Stradford is said to have replied, “just tell my son I am proud of him.”

The beating was reported to have been so severe that the basement area had “blood all over it.”

Brazil was arrested Dec. 16 last year after he was located at a local motel. He fled, but was captured a short time later, according to the affidavit.

After being taken into custody and read his rights, Brazil is alleged to have admitted participating in Stradford’s beating.

Benton County sheriff’s deputies and agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Hendricks in mid-December last year at her residence in Siloam Springs.

Both Lindsey and Cunningham were taken into custody in south Texas near the U.S./Mexico border on Dec. 17.

According to information provided to KTLO, Classic Hits & The Boot News by the Texas Department of Public Safety in response to a Freedom of Information request, Lindsey and Cunningham were in separate vehicles.

Lindsey was driving a BMW Z4 convertible, reported stolen in Baxter County. Cunningham was in a blue Elantra. The DPS report did not indicate if the Elantra had been reported stolen.

In addition to charges stemming from Stradford’s murder, Lindsey is also accused of stealing the BMW he was driving when arrested in Texas, which the victim says is worth about $18,000.

Cunningham was returned to Arkansas Jan. 13 and Lindsey on Mar. 19. Lindsey was held in the Hidalgo County, Texas, jail longer because he had been charged with unlawful possession of a firearm in that state.

Lindsey is also charged in Arkansas with possession of the stolen handgun. The .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol had been taken from a residence in Summit on or about Nov. 21 last year.

According to the probable cause affidavit in the gun case, the weapon is the one that was in Lindsey’s possession when he was arrested in Texas.

It is now being held by the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office.

Cunningham is an inmate in the Baxter County jail with bond set at $1 million. Brazil is also in the county detention center with bond set at $500,000. Lindsey is currently being held in the state prison system on a parole violation.

Of the 4 people alleged to be involved in the murder, Hendricks is the only one not locked up. She is also the only one of the four to list an address outside this area.

Her bond was lowered from $500,000 to $250,000 and she was released from jail Jan. 28. She is required to wear an ankle monitor and to live with a relative in Northwest Arkansas.

Electronic court records show her with an active criminal case in Madison County.

She is charged with having simultaneous possession of drugs and firearms on July 19.

According to the information filed in the case, Hendricks had a firearm as well as methamphetamine, heroin, ecstasy and fentanyl with her when arrested.

A trial date of June 8 is now set in Madison County Circuit Court on those charges.

While the recently released information on the Stradford murder does not spell out exactly what brought the 4 suspects together or what caused them to lure Stradford to Brazil’s residence, public records do show that Brazil and Hendricks lived in Siloam Springs at one time.

Brazil has had a number of mainly drug-related criminal cases opened on him in Benton and Washington Counties. However, he has been accused of other crimes, including theft of property and intimidating a witness.

Lindsey is, by far, the best known locally of those charged with the Stradford murder.

He has a long criminal record stretching back to 2010 when he was a teenager.

After that first brush with the law, he had other criminal charges brought against him in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2020 and 2021.

In addition to the murder and car theft charges he now faces, Lindsey also had a criminal case open in which he is accused of being in possession of a motorcycle reported stolen in Mountain Home.

Through the years, Lindsey has been charged with possessing a defaced firearm, being a felon in possession of a weapon, residential burglary, theft of property, possession of contraband in the Baxter County Detention Center, theft by receiving and possessing drugs.

He has been locked up in the local jail and the state prison system.

Lindsey is alleged to have told investigators he “was in a gang and frequently beat people up” for money.

Lawyers have begun to formally enter their appearance for the defendants.

–Mark C. Lucas, an attorney practicing in Centerton had filed his formal entry as the defense attorney for Brazil. He has already filed a number of motions in his client’s case.

In one motion, Lucas asks that he be informed of the criminal history of witnesses and if any one set to testify in the case has “received preferential treatment” by prosecutors.

–Gary Mitchusson of Forrest City has entered his appearance for Cunningham. He was in court with his client during her appearance on Monday.

–Ben Burnett, a Mountain Home attorney, has been retained to represent Hendricks.

–Cody Dennis has put in an appearance for Lindsey.

The 4 people charged with killing Stradford are among 11 people waiting to go on trial for murder or manslaughter in Baxter County.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, no jury trials have been held for some time and will not be allowed to resume until next month.

(source: KTLO news)

SOUTH DAKOTA:

SD Supreme Court upholds sentence for ex-boyfriend who plotted Rehfeld’s killing

The South Dakota Supreme Court has upheld the life without parole prison sentence handed down to the ex-boyfriend who plotted Jessica Rehfeld’s killing as the 5th and final defendant from the 2015 Rapid City case prepares for trial.

Jonathan Klinetobe was originally facing the death penalty and then a mandatory life sentence after he and 2 others were charged with 1st-degree murder and 1st-degree aggravated kidnapping.

Klinetobe pleaded guilty to 1st-degree manslaughter and was aware that prosecutors wrote in the plea deal that they would be seeing the maximum punishment of life without parole.

Judge Heidi Linngren sentenced him to the maximum after a multi-day hearing with testimony from psychologists and the family of Klinetobe and Rehfeld. Klinetobe’s lawyers and the experts argued that Klinetobe’s childhood and intellectual ability impacted his moral culpability.

What follows is from the April 14 opinion, which was filed after oral arguments in January:

Klinetobe appealed his sentence, arguing Linngren abused her discretion and that the sentence violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The justices unanimously rejected both arguments.

Linngren “carefully considered the evidence from the 4-day sentencing hearing and appropriately weighed the sentencing factors,” they wrote. The explanations she gave for her sentence showed a “keen familiarity with Klinetobe himself and the entirety of the evidence adduced over the course of the lengthy sentencing hearing.”

For example, Linngren considered Klinetobe’s mitigating factors — such as his young age and childhood trauma — but found the aggravated factors were stronger. She considered Klinetobe’s chance of rehabilitation but found it was “slim, if not existent” and he would therefore continue his pattern of being a danger to women.

(source: Rapid City Journal)

OKLAHOMA:

Victim's friend, mom testify in death penalty trial

It was an emotional day in Cleveland County District Judge Lori Walkley’s courtroom as 2 key witnesses were called to the stand in a death penalty trial for a Texas man.

Joseph Fidel Alliniece, 32, of Missouri City, Texas, is charged with 1st-degree murder for the death of Norman resident Brittani Young, 27, and also faces 2 counts of kidnapping and 1 count of robbery by force or fear.

According to a Norman police affidavit, officers found Young on April 24, 2018, dead inside her Emerald Greens Apartments residence. Alliniece is being held on $5 million bond, state records show.

During opening arguments, defense attorney Mitchell Solomon didn’t dispute that Alliniece committed a crime, but claimed the crime was committed out of anger, fear and rage, not premeditation.

One of Young’s friends was present just after the murder, along with her toddler. She testified that 6 days before the murder, Young received a call from Alliniece, her ex-boyfriend from when she lived in Houston, and offered to let him stay in her new apartment in Norman for a short time while he studied to get his commercial driver’s license.

Her friend testified Monday that Young was hesitant to invite him over, but was excited to help somebody. The friend testified that she picked up Alliniece from a local gas station and took him to Young’s residence, since Young didn’t have a car.

The friend testified that Young was initially happy to see him, and the friend visited both of them 4 of the 6 days Alliniece was at Young’s apartment. About four days into the stay, the friend reported overhearing arguments between the 2 of them and complaints from Young about Alliniece’s behavior and lack of respect.

On April 24, 2018, the friend said Young called and asked her to pick her up some cigarettes, so she bought some and went to Young’s apartment with her toddler. Young met her outside, upset, with Alliniece, and the two talked before heading to the apartment.

Several times during her testimony, the friend cried and was allowed to exit the courtroom briefly until she could regain her composure.

Once inside Young’s apartment, the friend said an argument began between Young and Alliniece about payment for the cigarettes, and Alliniece seemed tense. After the friend was reimbursed and her toddler was placed in Young’s bedroom for a nap, the three of them smoked and the situation calmed down somewhat.

The friend said she didn’t believe Young was in danger based on their interaction before she left. Otherwise, she said, she wouldn’t have left Young.

The friend said she left at 1:55 p.m. with her toddler for a doctor’s appointment, which lasted about 20 minutes. She and her toddler returned from the appointment after 2:20 p.m. and knocked on Young’s apartment door. After hearing no reply, the friend said she called Young’s phone and heard someone silently pick up, then end the call. While her phone was still by her ear, the friend said Alliniece opened the door, grabbed her shirt and pulled her into the apartment, which was somewhat dark. Somehow, her toddler got in the room, too, and the door was closed behind her.

The friend said she saw Young lying face down and bloody behind Alliniece, who had blood on his face, arms and black, metallic sneakers. She also said his eyes looked bugged out of his head, and he was wet. Eventually, she realized her toddler was inside and tried to shield her from the seeing the bloody scene.

“When you see something like that, I just froze. It was awful,” she said, adding that Alliniece took her phone when he pulled her in.

She testified that he also asked for cigarettes, took her lighter and set fire to some personal documents that included his name, which made the fire alarm go off and put him on edge. She told him how to extinguish the flames and disable the fire alarm to calm him.

The friend said Alliniece also called his mom on her phone at some point, confessed that he killed Young and asked her to call the police. When she didn’t believe him, he put the phone on speaker and had the friend tell her what happened.

The friend said she didn’t try to escape out the patio door because she didn’t know initially that Young was dead, didn’t know if the door was locked and couldn’t chance it.

The friend said Alliniece told her multiple times that he killed Young, and jumped up and stomped on Young’s head twice while she and her toddler were inside.

She also said he talked to Young’s body, saying, “Why did you make me do this? You must have been suicidal to make me do this.”

She said she asked to leave multiple times, begged for her phone and asked him to call 911, all of which he refused to do. Eventually, Alliniece covered Young’s head with a towel because of the toddler.

After they heard a knock on the door, the friend said Alliniece got quiet, locked the door, then fled out the patio door with her phone, lighter, cigarettes and his burnt documents.

Moments later, Young’s mom, Stacey Raspberry, entered the room and saw Young with her toddler and her daughter lying bloody in the floor.

Raspberry said she knew Alliniece from when he and Young first started dating in high school. When she heard she was letting him visit, she wasn’t happy — she noticed the two of them bickered, and could tell her daughter wasn’t happy. Alliniece never socialized with her.

Raspberry said before she arrived, her daughter had called her after 2 p.m., hysterical, and asked her to bring her some beer. She’d sensed something was bothering Young, so she went to the store, then went to the apartment around 3 p.m.

When she arrived, she said she kicked the door with her foot and heard whispers and the door locking.

“I thought they were playing a game with me, and it wasn’t,” she said, crying.

She said she heard the vertical blinds move and went in the patio door, where she witnessed the bloody scene.

She testified that she first asked the friend if she hurt her daughter. Eventually, the friend told her that Alliniece killed her, and she searched the apartment for him. Raspberry then went to her daughter’s body — she said must have moved the towel from Young’s head, but can’t remember doing so.

She screamed, called out for help and called 911 after the blinds opened and let some light into the room, revealing the massive damage done to Young’s head.

Raspberry said she felt Alliniece had returned at that moment and wanted to chase him, but her body shut down.

She also said she saw his bloody footprints all over the scene. The state’s attorneys presented photographic evidence displaying the bloody scene, minus images of Young’s body, which were covered with paper.

Raspberry said she supplied all the information she could to help police find Alliniece, and even contacted some people in Texas who might could help.

“I believe he outraged. He did a lot more than that,” Raspberry said when she was cross-examined.

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Walkley’s courtroom.

(source: The Norman Transcript)

NEVADA:

Nevada inmate fighting execution seeks firing-squad option

A convicted killer who is fighting a possible June execution date that would make him the 1st person put to death in Nevada in 15 years is calling for the state to consider the firing squad as an option, a rare method in the United States.

Attorneys for Zane Michael Floyd say he does not want to die and are challenging the state plan to use a proposed 3-drug method, which led to court challenges that twice delayed the execution of another convicted killer who later took his own life in prison.

“This is not a delaying tactic,” Brad Levenson, a federal public defender representing Floyd, said Monday.

But a challenge of the state execution protocol requires the defense to provide an alternative method, and Levenson said gunshots to the brain stem would be “the most humane way.”

“Execution by firing squad ... causes a faster and less painful death than lethal injection,” the attorneys said in a court filing Friday.

3 U.S. states — Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah — and the U.S. military allow capital punishment by gunfire. The last time that method was used in the United States was in Utah in 2010.

Floyd’s attorneys are asking a federal judge in Las Vegas to stop Floyd from being executed until prison officials “devise a new procedure or procedures to carry out a lawful execution.”

Levenson said he and attorney David Anthony are fighting multiple issues in state and federal courts, with the possibility that Floyd’s death could be set for the week of June 7. Prosecutors will seek an execution warrant at a state court hearing next month.

The 45-year-old was convicted in 2000 of killing four people with a shotgun in a Las Vegas supermarket in 1999 and badly wounding a 5th person.

Floyd appeared to exhaust his federal appeals last November, and the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear his case. Floyd wants a chance to seek clemency at a June 22 meeting of the Nevada State Pardons Board, Levenson said.

Floyd’s attorneys argue that a three-drug combination the state wants to use — the sedative diazepam, the powerful synthetic painkiller fentanyl and a paralytic, cisatracurium — would amount to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of his constitutional rights.

Anthony made similar arguments on behalf of Scott Raymond Dozier before Nevada’s last scheduled execution was called off in 2017 and 2018. Dozier killed himself in prison in January 2019.

A judge blocked the first date after deciding that use of the paralytic might cause painful suffocation while Dozier was aware but unable to move.

Pharmaceutical companies that made the three drugs stopped the second date with arguments against using their products in an execution, an issue several states are facing.

Floyd would be the 1st person executed in Nevada since 2006, when Daryl Mack asked to be put to death for his conviction in a 1988 rape and murder in Reno.

Nevada has 72 men awaiting execution, a state Department of Corrections spokeswoman said.

(source: Associated Press)

USA:

Advocates, editorials call on Biden to end federal death penalty

The death penalty has been getting attention across the country this year with legislation introduced or voted on in several states aimed at limiting, repealing or even renewing capital punishment.

These discussions in state capitols, along with the lack of action by President Joe Biden to end the federal death penalty, have prompted advocates to keep speaking out and also have led to a number of newspaper editorials condemning continued use of the death penalty and the need for elected officials to put an end to it.

The death penalty still exists in 27 states and about 50 prisoners are currently on federal death row.

In late March, Virginia announced it was abolishing the death penalty and became the 1st Southern state to do so. In recent weeks, state legislators in Ohio, Nevada, Wyoming and Florida have made advances to limit or even fully outlaw capital punishment.

In Montana, a bill that would have allowed the state to resume executions after a 15-year hiatus was defeated in the state Senate April 16. In Arizona, the state’s attorney general is similarly moving to resume executions that have been put on hold since 2014.

Although the nation has a mixed record at the moment on capital punishment, Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, said that “despite the regressive actions of a few states, the trends clearly indicate that the U.S. is moving in the direction of abolition — regardless of political affiliation.”

In an April 16 email to Catholic News Service, she said advocates for ending the death penalty are “still celebrating Virginia’s death penalty repeal” particularly since it is the 1st formerly Confederate state to do this and in light of the state’s history “as one of the most active death penalty states.”

She said when Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, signed the bill ending capital punishment March 24, he was surrounded by Republicans and Democrats as he said the practice is fundamentally flawed and has no place in the state or the country.

“It was a powerful moment,” she said.

The state’s action was praised by Virginia’s Catholic bishops and Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, who called it a “bold step toward a culture of life.”

“I urge all other states and the federal government to do the same,” he added.

During the bill-signing ceremony, many people thanked the state’s Catholic conference for its advocacy work, including the bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Scott Surovell, who thanked the conference, the public policy arm of Virginia’s bishops, and several priests for their work behind the scenes.

“I can’t tell you how much that has helped,” he said.

In other state actions, Vaillancourt Murphy said Catholic advocates brought a “strong, persistent voice in support of these efforts to chip away at the deadly practice and have served as key advocates toward repeal progress.”

She also said support against capital punishment has not just come from Democrats. In Montana, the bill to reinstate the death penalty was pushed by Montana’s Republican attorney general, but the state’s Senate Republicans spoke against it on the floor, she said.

In his testimony before Montana’s House Judiciary Committee in February, Matthew Brower, executive director of the Montana Catholic Conference, said the proposed legislation would move the state “further away from embracing a vision of mercy and justice.”

He said the church follows the example of many families of crime victims “who have rejected capital punishment as a system that denies the goodness and beauty of their loved ones and perpetuates an unending cycle of violence.”

Brower said the Catholic Church has long been vocal in its opposition to the death penalty, noting it is not “some novel shift” introduced by Pope Francis but stressed by the two popes before him and church leaders dating back to St. Augustine in the year 412.

As the states examine their own death penalty laws, Vaillancourt Murphy said, it also is time to look at, and end, the federal death penalty, adding that there is momentum behind this in the wake of the “unprecedented federal execution spree by the Trump administration.”

She stressed that Biden — whom she described as “the first sitting U.S. president to publicly oppose capital punishment and to have campaigned on an explicitly anti-death penalty platform” — has yet to formalize his opposition to the death penalty.

Concrete steps he could take, she said, would be to declare “an official moratorium on executions, commuting the death sentences of those on the federal death row and advocating to end the death penalty in law with Congress and the states.”

Catholic Mobilizing Network has been calling for the president to take this action in an online letter: https://bit.ly/3tyM4PZ.

Vaillancourt Murphy sees a strong connection between ending the federal death penalty and the president’s platform of racial justice and said he needs to “prioritize dismantling the archaic, broken systems that prop up racism in our country.”

She isn’t alone in calling the president to act. Two recent editorials on this topic offer similar pleas: “Biden should make good on pledge to end death penalty,” said the April 7 editorial in the Chicago Sun Times, and “Stop the Executions, President Biden” was the headline on a March 26 New York Times editorial.

The New York Times’ editorial urged Biden to help break the cycle of violence by “imposing an immediate moratorium on federal executions, and commuting the sentences of the 50 or so inmates on federal death row.”

The Chicago Sun Times offered similar advice and also said the president could “push legislation through Congress to abolish the death penalty, as many states have done.”

“This would be the best option, if Congress will have it,” it said. “But what matters most is that Biden send a message: The death penalty is broken and can’t be fixed.”

(source: The Catholic Sun)

IRAQ:

Appeals court upholds death sentence for Sulaimani man who killed wife and children

Erbil’s Court of Appeals has upheld a death sentence for a man who burned his wife and 3 children to death in December 2018 in Sulaimani province, the victims’ lawyer told Rudaw on Monday.

"I have been informed today that the Erbil Court of Appeals has ordered the execution of Sewan Qadir's husband," Kosalan Hamalaw told Rudaw on Monday, urging Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani to sign off on the decision.

While death sentences are handed down in the Kurdistan Region, their implementation is restricted to extreme circumstances only.

Kurdish law requires the president to sign off on the death sentences before they can be carried out.

Sewan Qadir, 23, and her 3 children aged 5, 2 and 1, died after her husband, Diyar Majid, set their house alight in December 2018. The children died at the scene and Qadir succumbed to her injuries about a week later.

Before her death, Qadir accused her husband of the murders.

"We thank God that the criminal has received his death sentence. The Erbil court today sentenced the killer of Sewa and her 3 children to hanging, and we hope that his sentence will be carried out as soon as possible," her brother Shawna Qadir told Rudaw on Monday.

"Now that the criminal has received his sentence I feel my mother's soul is at ease, because my mother died grieving for her and her children.”

Kurdish authorities have imposed a de facto moratorium on the death penalty since 2008, which essentially blocks its use except for terror-related charges or “exceptionally heinous crimes.”

Violence against women and children is a problem across the Kurdistan Region and federal Iraq.

A man in Erbil killed his wife, who was married at the age of 12, on Friday.

(source: rudaw.net)

MALAWI:

Commentators suggest death penalty for thieves who steal public funds

Some irate social media commentators are suggesting that looters of public funds ought to be killed as one way of deterring would-be thieves.

“These thieves ceases to have right to life. They must be killed in public view, at a stadium. The event must be aired live on national television. Imprisonment is not enough for these devil incarnates,” ranted Eustice Mchulu in a Malawi views forum on WhatsApp.

“Spare the rod, spoil the child. Thieves must be wiped out. They’re heartless. Evil. They deserve death,” echoed Fredrick Saka in commenting on President Lazarus Chakwera’s address posted on a forum on WhatsApp.

According to the irate commentators, it’s becoming a norm for some greedy public servants to be enriching themselves through thievery.

“The only way to deal with this vice, once and for all, is shooting the thieves. Enough is enough,” suggested another commentator.

“After slaughtering them,” Joyful Mwale, another commentator, suggested. “Government must confiscate all their properties.

The suggestions come amid revelations that some civil servants and politicians ganged up and looted the MK6.2 billion meant for the fight against Coronavirus.

The leaked audit report, in possession of this publication, shows that almost 50% of the money ended up in people’s pockets without being accounted for.

Some notable public figures named in the report include ministers and other senior government officials.

The scam repeats other public looting scandals, including, but not limited to Cashgate which saw people feasting on public money at capital hill, in Lilongwe.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranked high on the corruption index as one of the most corrupt sovereign states.

On Sunday, president Lazarus Chakwera stressed that his administration will not relent in cracking down on everyone stealing public resources.

He urged government lawyers and the Judiciary to expedite cases involving looting of public resources.

(source: malawi24.com)

INDIA:

7/11 Mumbai train blasts: Death row convict dies of Covid-19

Kamal Ansari, a death row convict of 2006 serial train blast case, died of Covid-19 in a Nagpur hospital on Monday. He was convicted for planting one of the bombs which exploded at Matunga railway station, killing 28 people and injuring 122 others.

“Ansari was on ventilator since the past few days as his condition deteriorated after getting infected with coronavirus. Doctors declared him dead on Monday afternoon,” said his lawyer, advocate Shahid Ansari.

Ansari was arrested on July 20, 2006 for his role as a planter in the serial blast case wherein in a total of 188 people were killed and 816 injured. He was one of the convicts awarded capital punishment by the special court. The case is still pending before the high court for confirmation of capital punishment.

Ansari, a resident of Bihar, grew up in poverty. He left his studies to help his family. Initially, he learned tailoring in his village at Basupatti. For better prospect, he left for Delhi where he worked at different garment companies. Then he left for training in Pakistan.

As per prosecution case, Ansari was accused of providing aide to Pakistani nationals wanted in the blast case to reach Mumbai via Nepal. He also helped conspirators procure explosive materials.

On July 11, 2006, 7 blasts tore through 1st-class compartments of crowded local trains in a span of 11 minutes during the evening rush hour as millions of office-goers were heading home. The blast occurred between Khar Road-Santacruz, Bandra-Khar Road, Jogeshwari-Mahim Junction, Mira Road-Bhayander, Matunga-Mahim Junction and at Borivli.

According to investigators, around 20kg of RDX were packed into pressure cookers, placed in bags and hidden under newspapers and umbrellas. The explosions were so powerful that they ripped through the double layered steel roof and sides of train compartments.

Police said the suspects targeted local trains as they were crowded and security was not as tight. They divided themselves in seven teams, each consisting of a Pakistani national and an Indian national, and the bombs were taken to Churchgate station on July 11 by taxis.

(source: hindustantimes.com)

IRELAND:

On This Day: Ireland's last legal execution is conducted in 1954----Co Limerick man Michael Manning became the 29th and final person to be executed in Ireland on April 20, 1954.

On April 20, 1954, Michael Manning, a 25-year-old man from Limerick, became the 29th and last person to be legally executed in Ireland.

By 1964, the death penalty in Ireland was abolished for all cases apart from the murder of police, diplomats, and prison officers. It was abolished by statute for the remaining offenses in 1990 and was expunged from the Constitution of Ireland by referendum in 2001.

The Limerick man, the last man executed at the hands of the state, was found guilty of the rape and murder of Catherine Cooper (65) who worked at Barrington’s Hospital in the city. The crime took place in February 1953. He was found by police because he left a distinctive hat at the scene of the crime.

He had been married just the year before the crime and his only child was born just weeks before his execution.

Manning blamed his actions on “too much drink.” The statement in police files describes Manning's movements on the day of the crime, November 18, 1953. It lists the pubs that served him drink and recounts how he had been refused by the barmaid at the Munster Fair Tavern.

His trial opened on February 15, 1954, and lasted only 3 days. The trial was widely attended and hundreds of people gathered outside the courthouse.

The defense team had claimed insanity and claimed the charges should be dropped to manslaughter as Manning had not planned the attack ahead of time. However, the prosecution said that Manning had changed his routine to give himself more time to commit the crime.

While there was a history of mental health issues in his family the judge sided with the prosecution and told the jury to discard the argument, as he claimed the fact that Manning has shoved clods of grass into the victim’s mouth to stop her screaming showed he was aware of the crime he was committing.

After just three hours of deliberation, he was sentenced to death despite the fact that the victim’s family had petitioned to court to show him mercy. When he was found guilty he is said to have “paled visibly.”

Manning was the 1st person to be condemned to death since 1948.

The Limerick man wrote a letter to the Government begging for a reprieve:

“I ask the Minister for Justice to show his mercy upon me as it is so near to Easter and Good Friday and it is our Holy Mother’s year. I am not afraid to die as I am fully prepared to go before my God, but it is on behalf of my wife as she is so young and so near the birth of our baby.

“Instead of one life being taken there could be three as it would be a big shock to my wife if the execution will be carried out on the date mentioned [April 20]. So I would be grateful to you if you showed your mercy toward my wife and me.”

After Mass and Holy Communion on Sunday before his execution, Manning played handball with other inmates. They noted that he seemed completely normal.

A fellow inmate of Manning's recalled later,

“Friends of mine who worked with me, I was serving my time at the time, went up to visit him on the Sunday before he was hanged. And they went to mass and holy communion together and they played a game of handball that day. He couldn't have been more normal.”

He was then taken from his cell at Mountjoy Prison and hanged by Albert Pierrepoint, who had traveled from Britain where he was one of three Senior Executioners. Pierrepoint executed at least 400 people in his career as a hangman – 13 of those in Mountjoy. The hang house remains today on the grounds of Mountjoy.

Manning’s body was buried in an unmarked grave in Mountjoy Prison as was the custom for executed prisoners.

After his death, Manning's widow wrote a letter to the Governor of Mountjoy thanking him for the kindness he showed her husband. The letter read:

“We really adored each other and will until I join him in heaven someday. I can assure you, sir, that Micheal [sic] is also praying for you all and he will return his thanks to you in another way.”

After the execution of Manning, it was common that death sentences be commuted by the Irish government. In 1851, the right to commute a death sentence became restricted to the President only.

Ireland had previously considered abolishing the punishment from the constitution and an early draft of the constitution included a provision to ban it.

Before Manning’s execution, questions had been raised over the death of William Gambom who was the 2nd-last person to be put to death. He was a casual laborer who had killed his friend after getting into a drunken fight. When Gambom read in the newspaper that his friend had died, he handed himself in to the police. Despite the fact that it was a clear-cut case of manslaughter, he was condemned to death.

It was argued that he had been sentenced to death due to his social standing and had he been a richer man his sentence would have been lower.

In 1964, the criminal justice act abolished the death sentence in Ireland. However, it was only entirely squashed by a referendum in 2001. Ireland was the last country in Europe to constitutionally forbid the use of capital punishment.

While the EU has abolished execution it still takes place elsewhere in the world. In 2019, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, the United States, Pakistan, and Somalia were the countries with the most confirmed executions.

(source: irishcentral.com)

APRIL 19, 2021:

FLORIDA:

Florida still executes the mentally ill. This bill would stop that.----A Tampa Bay public defender and lawmaker teamed up to draft Senate Bill 1156, which would bar the death sentence for those with severe mental illnesses.

One man, convicted of killing 2 court bailiffs in Orange County, suffered from delusions that he was Jesus Christ. Another man with a long history of paranoid schizophrenia murdered eight people in South Florida. He believed he was the prince of God.

Both Thomas Provenzano and John Errol Ferguson were sentenced to death. As their execution dates approached, their attorneys sought reprieve through a state law that is supposed to bar executing those who can’t grasp what’s happening to them.

In the end, Florida executed both of them.

Years later, a bill now in the Legislature seeks to give more protections to defendants diagnosed with mental illness accused of capital crimes.

Senate Bill 1156, spearheaded by a Tampa Bay area public defender and sponsored by a St. Petersburg lawmaker, would bar the state from seeking a death sentence for those with severe mental illnesses — if they can prove they were ill at the time of the offense. They would instead face life in prison or be admitted to a state mental hospital.

“I was shocked we didn’t already have this in law,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican sponsoring the bill. “When it was discussed with me ... I immediately said, ‘Absolutely, we would take this on.’”

The idea came from Allison Miller, the capital case coordinator for the Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender’s Office. The legislation is modeled after an Ohio bill that was signed into law in January. Like Florida, Ohio’s state government is Republican controlled.

Miller likened the bill to an expansion of Florida law that already bars people with intellectual disabilities from facing the ultimate punishment.

“I’m not reinventing the wheel,” she said. “I used the language from the bill in Ohio, and I used the procedure from Florida when it comes to intellectual disabilities.”

The bill passed unanimously March 30 through the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee, receiving a bipartisan vote of confidence from the five Republican and three Democrat members. But without a House companion, and with just two weeks left of this year’s Legislative session, it’s unlikely to pass unless it’s tacked onto a larger criminal justice package. Brandes said he couldn’t find a sponsor in the House this year, but he plans to try again next session.

Still, the effort signals another contentious issue with the state’s beleaguered death penalty statute. Meanwhile nationwide executions are on the decline. Last year states executed 17 people, the fewest since 1991, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Florida is 1 of 24 states that still conducts executions. California, Oregon and Pennsylvania still have the ultimate punishment on the books, but the governors of those states have imposed moratoriums on putting defendants to death. Last month, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill abolishing his state’s death penalty, calling it “the moral thing to do.” Virginia is the first Southern state to do away to do away with the sentence.

Past U.S. Supreme Court rulings have spared children and people with intellectual disabilities from execution. Case law refers to society’s “evolving standard of decency,” Miller said, in determining whether the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment for certain groups.

“I think we’re at the place where the ‘evolving standard of decency’ includes mental illness,” she said.

Her proposed legislation defines serious mental illness as any condition that “significantly impairs” a person’s capacity to “appreciate the nature, consequences, or wrongfulness of his or her conduct ... or conform his or her conduct to the requirements of the law.” Lawmakers could further narrow the definition. For example, the Ohio bill cites specific disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Florida already has some safeguards in place. There’s the procedure that lawyers for Provenzano and Ferguson attempted to use, which comes into play once someone has already been sentenced to death.

Gary Alvord’s attorneys used that process successfully, but it created a conundrum: Doctors at the mental hospital where Alvord was admitted to restore his competency refused to treat him, citing the ethical concerns of making a patient well just to send them to die.

In 1973 Alvord strangled three Tampa women in the same house — a mother, daughter and grandmother — and after four decades became the nation’s longest serving prisoner on death row. Then he died of natural causes in 2013.

Florida law also has a process to question someone’s competency to stand trial, or the option to use insanity as a defense. But that defense rarely works, experts say, because the criteria is extremely narrow.

This bill allows defense attorneys to try and convince a judge to remove the death penalty as a possible sentence, Miller said. It’s not a defense of the crime itself, so the person could still be found guilty.

“We’re saying these people can be held legally responsible and prosecuted,” Miller said.

To use the law, a defendant would file a motion at least 90 days before their trial date spelling out their mental condition and including any prior evaluations by mental health experts.

Prosecutors would then have a chance to pick their own expert to evaluate the defendant and submit a report to the court. If the defendant hasn’t had any prior evaluations, the court would appoint two experts to evaluate them. Prosecutors and defense attorneys would be allowed to sit in on the evaluations.

Then, all parties would participate in a court hearing where the judge “shall consider the findings of the experts and all other evidence on the issue of whether the defendant is seriously mentally ill,” the bill says. The judge would make the final decision, which prosecutors can appeal.

The bill would apply retroactively, giving the 330 inmates on Florida’s death row a chance to challenge their sentences. It’s unclear how many of them would meet the bar.

From 2000 to 2015, data shows 43 percent of those executed nationwide were diagnosed with mental illness at some point in their lives, according to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers who wrote about their work in a 2017 Washington Post article.

But that doesn’t delineate between severe and more mild diagnoses. Mental Health America, a national advocacy group, estimates that 20 percent of the nation’s death row prisoners have a severe mental illness.

The bill’s supporters include the Florida Mental Health Advocacy Coalition, Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and former death row physician Dr. Joseph Thornton.

So far the bill has no apparent opposition. Efforts in other states, including Ohio, met resistance primarily from prosecutors, said Death Penalty Information Center executive director Robert Dunham. But the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association hasn’t taken a stand on the bill, said a spokesman for the president of the association, Brevard-Seminole State Attorney Phil Archer.

Thornton pointed to Provenzano and Ferguson, who were put to death in 2000 and 2013 respectively, as examples of the state knowingly executing people with severe mental illness.

The situation is more troubling, he said, considering that Florida consistently ranks toward the bottom of states in funding mental health services. Most of those with mental illness aren’t violent, he said.

Problems result, he said, when mental health issues go untreated.

“Using the death penalty as a mental health intervention is certainly not what anyone wants,” Thornton said.

Florida also leads the country in exonerations from death row, with 30 people freed so far. And those diagnosed with major mental illness are more likely to be wrongfully convicted, Miller said, because they’re the least likely — and least able — to help with their own defense.

“I’m an older physician, so I have old rules,” Thornton said. “One of them is make sure everybody can survive a mistake.”

(source: tampabay.com)

NEVADA:

Treading death

In 1977, after the Supreme Court cleared the way for states to once again allow the death penalty after a brief existential time-out over abuses, the Legislature jumped on board. As long as a state narrowly tailored who would be eligible for this ultimate, irreversible punishment and only applied it to first-degree murder cases (versus less premeditative and deliberative scenarios), it was a green light to the green mile. In the years since, Nevada prosecutors have sought the death penalty...vastly; achieved such a death verdict...plenty; and implemented an actual execution…12 times. One by cyanide gas, the rest strapped to gurney while deadly chemicals were pumped into their veins until bodily systems shut down one-by-one as though a twisted psychopath got to create a state protocol.

Many people originally sentenced to death row have had their cases reversed (usually because of prosecutorial misconduct, incompetent judges or new evidence), and one person, Roberto Miranda, was famously let off of death row after 14 years because it turned out… he was credibly innocent (receiving a 5 million dollar settlement for his "troubles"). For a long time, Nevada was at or near the top for having the most inmates on death row per capita in the country, and the state is one of the biggest contributors to America’s death-seeking statistics.

Over the years, as the list of factors qualifying a first-degree murder case for death-eligibility grew (and grew) through a series of enactments in different legislative sessions, every single effort to abolish the death penalty (2001, 2003, 2017, 2019) failed to pass a policy committee. That is, until April 13, when such a bill not only made it out of committee but also advanced off the Assembly floor. For opponents of the death penalty, it was certainly a cause for celebration.

We finally heard full-throated presentations in our Legislature outlining the racist and racially disparate underpinnings, the lack of promised closure to the families of victims from actual execution, the unfair impact on the families of the condemned, the inordinate expense of maintaining a death penalty that has only been carried out 12 times in 44 years and the fact that there is no evidence that having a death penalty option has any impact on violent crime in general. We also predictably heard desperately false and/or unprovable narratives from death penalty advocates that it is only reserved for an undefined category of people euphemistically referred to as “the worst of the worst” and how it’s necessary for an undefined category of crime called “extreme circumstances,” both in a desperate effort to show that a community is better or safer or, I don’t know, more macho if we at least have a death penalty with promises that it will only be used at exactly the right time for exactly the right reasons.

Within minutes of the bill’s passage in the Assembly, I lamented that it was highly unlikely the measure will ever be signed by the governor (who has claimed opposition to the death penalty) or even make it to his desk — or even make it to a hearing in the state Senate. Why? Because many politicians fear being perceived as being against the death penalty even more than inmates fear being executed because of it.

* * *

I’m one of the attorneys in Nevada who defends people against allegations that they either murdered someone or were sufficiently connected to a murder to be charged that way. Understandably, it is a hard job. Some of my clients are innocent, and some have legal justifications. Some did exactly what they were accused of doing, but also have situations where the most severe degree of murder or even the harshest punishments aren’t appropriate. The rest, well, the rest are the easiest cases because both sides usually come to relatively quick resolutions unless the matter has been activated by sole prosecutorial discretion as a capital case, which means the potential for the death penalty is involved.

I’d like to think that I can hold my own against the skill level of any prosecutor on the other side of a trial working just as hard to convict my client as I am working to convince a jury otherwise. It would be foolish to believe that it is always equal (either way), but for purposes of this discussion let’s say there’s a degree of parity in the talents of the attorneys. Prosecutors may try to argue that they have the harder job because they bear the burden of proving the guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” and because there’s (supposedly) a presumption of innocence in this country. This claim, to me, is the first red flag in a series of flags so red it looks like a military parade in Beijing and leads to my often-stated conclusion: Our criminal justice system is broken beyond repair.

The illusion that America has a fair system — many people unstudied in comparative justice make the claim that it is the best system in the world, no less — with parity and due process at every turn is a bedrock argument for pro-death penalty advocates. In reality, we have aspirational goals, and we have reality. The reality being that before a defense attorney gets anywhere near a case, the case has been picked over, analyzed, evaluated, locked in and mostly loaded by an army of police, detectives, crime scene analysts, lab techs and prosecutors (with their own investigators) who generally remain available with unlimited access throughout the duration of a trial. The defense attorney, meanwhile, is lucky to get enough funds to retest the relevant materials gathered (and touched and handled and moved around and touched some more) long before engaging a defense investigator with less authority than a traffic cop.

Just speaking on capital cases, while our clients, like anyone charged with a crime, allegedly enjoy a theoretical “presumption of innocence,” virtually every one of them remains in custody for the duration of their case. Juries are asked “do you believe in this principle of presumptive innocence?” — and anyone who wants to stay on the jury has to say yes, despite the optics of a situation involving a person they are told is charged with murder, who can’t leave the room and who they all assume wouldn’t have been arrested unless the person did….something bad.

Then, after listening to the presentation of evidence where the prosecution gets to argue twice (first and last), they are given a set of sometimes very lengthy “instructions” overflowing with technical concepts, vague phrases and legal-speak (without any evaluation of the jury’s ability to comprehend, apply logic, or frankly, even pay attention) and are told to reach a conclusion, which they do most all of the time. This, the defenders of the “system” will say, means that the standard of reasonable doubt works. But there is ONLY ONE thing the jury is told about reasonable doubt:

“A reasonable doubt is one based on reason. It is not mere possible doubt but is such a doubt as would govern or control a person in the more weighty affairs of life. If the minds of the jurors, after the entire comparison and consideration of all the evidence, are in such a condition that they can say they feel an abiding conviction of the truth of the charge, there is not a reasonable doubt. Doubt to be reasonable must be actual, not mere possibility or speculation.”

Jurors are not allowed to ask questions about this standard. The lawyers and judges are not allowed to comment on this standard. We just hand over this word salad to 12 random humans and tell them – DO LAW!

Of course, between a capital charge and capital verdict, there is a lot that occurs, and in Nevada, the process is abnormally prone to abuse and misconduct. Far too often (in the alleged best system in the world) the whole process may even be scuttled and repeated — with zero penalty to the prosecutor or judge who may have caused the retrial in the first place. And before we even get to that, there’s the issue that agencies entrusted to judiciously and sparingly use the death penalty (and let’s be real, that’s mostly the Clark County district attorney’s office) are not actually to be trusted. The Clark County D.A.’s office is, in fact, a chronic abuser of the system: whether repeatedly and improperly trying to take people of color off juries (Batson violations), hiding evidence of innocence or grossly overcharging people in order to coerce a plea deal driven by fear of an unfair conviction in a broken system.

In my last few death penalty defense cases brought by the Clark County district attorney and set for trial, none involved more than a single death. One was a person’s first offense who wasn’t the shooter; one was a 21-year old on meth at the time of the shooting; one was the blunt trauma death of a meth-addict (under the influence at the time) for reasons still not clear; and one (still pending) involves a dispute between inmates that was passed over for prosecution by the attorney general, which suggests the lack of clear evidence.

All that is to say that while any murder can be described by emphasizing the most brutal aspects of the homicide (I mean, most people aren’t killed by being fluffy-pillowed to death), and with maybe 100 or more murders some years in Nevada, what is and isn’t the “worst of the worst” or “extreme” is ALWAYS going to be an arbitrary decision that lies solely in the hands of the district attorney. I could compellingly argue that none of my actual death penalty cases were among the “worst of the worst,” given other murders in Nevada with multiple victims and far more destructive and direct behavior without any question of culpability.

None of these YOU CANNOT TRUST THE CLARK COUNTY D.A. TO RIGHTLY MAKE THESE LIFE AND DEATH DECISIONS arguments were brought up last week in the Legislature as reasons against the continued availability of the death penalty. The more philosophical but viable “the whole system is broken, how can we call any trial truly fair” argument also was sidestepped. Why Assemblyman Steve Yeager and his presenters decided to strategically bypass these important concepts is unknown. And not to second guess strategy (I mean, he WAS successful in getting the measure passed), but I think it’s well worth analyzing because the three barriers to passage come from Yeager’s own party — the Senate Majority leader (and full time prosecutor for the Clark County district attorney) Nicole Cannizzaro, the Senate Judiciary Chair (and full time prosecutor for the Clark County district attorney) Melanie Schieble and an up-for-election governor injured greatly by the polarizing pandemic.

Maybe the strategy was: Don’t call out the DA’s office because... DAs steer the Senate ship? Maybe the strategy was: Don’t call out the system because that’s a house of cards — and people will get that the “criminal justice reform” of a system that needs to be re-envisioned means everything we’ve done to “fix it” is mostly just window dressing? But failing to take these issues head on has left room for the opponents to still maintain credibility.

* * *

Almost immediately after the measure passed the Assembly, Senate Majority Leader Cannizzaro was aggressively noncommittal about hearing the bill, and instead gave a generic statement about all bills getting considered (or not). Senate Judiciary Chair Schieble agreed. Moments later, the governor announced that despite being in “opposition” to the death penalty, he agrees with the district attorneys that it is important to keep the death penalty in place for “extreme cases.” Again, any first-degree murder case can be described in a way that qualifies it as an “extreme case,” so what many observers, including myself, deciphered from his remarks was that he’ll likely veto the death penalty ban — if it makes it that far.

And even, in the end, if an amendment could be agreed upon as to what an “extreme case” is, how could we trust that it would be strictly adhered to if it allowed prosecutorial discretion? I guess we could say, “The death penalty is only available when there is undisputed video-taped evidence of the defendant directly taking the life of more than (insert number here – 20, 10, 2) people in a way that suggests no mental illness, no drug addiction and a motive so evil by way of confession that no jury could even consider anything else.” Short of that – yeah, same old boat.

I mean, right now the district attorneys are saying we need the death penalty and the law already says it’s for extreme cases. Clark County D.A. Steve Wolfson is even ready to sacrifice a notorious death row inmate coincidentally timed to meet the legislative process, but with major issues still left to litigate.

"Extreme cases" are basically the current requirement of the U.S. Supreme Court. Unfortunately, in Nevada that means that any first-degree murder case (even my notorious fluffy pillow murder example) can be a death penalty case right now. We have 15 categories (many with subcategories) in Nevada designed to cover “the extreme” (i.e. every possible, real life first-degree murder), the ONLY exception being if the person accused is under 18 or suffers from significant intellectual disability (originally called in legal terms “mental retardation”).

So what are these categories that make something “extreme?” If there was no motive, or if there was a specific motive like money (for himself, herself or another). If it occurred where other people could have possibly been seriously hurt or at a public or private school or on a school bus. If the person killed was under 14 years of age. If more than one person was killed. If the person accused had committed a prior violent crime or was on probation or parole or incarcerated at the time. If the murder was committed in close conjunction with a robbery or a burglary or arson or home invasion or kidnapping or “terrorism” or rape (before, during or after the murder). If the murder was done in an effort to escape arrest. If the victim was a police officer or a firefighter or a corrections officer. If the person was tortured (and that concept remains troublingly vague) or mutilated. If the murder was a hate crime based on race, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.

I have often challenged prosecutors to point to a first-degree murder case in Nevada that doesn’t qualify for the death penalty under at least one of these categories — and none has been able to do so. But even if that unicorn case came up, it would be statistically insignificant. Thus, short of any amendment or an announcement by the governor that he’s probably not going to support abolition of the death penalty (because any exceptions means no exceptions), I will not be surprised when D.A./legislator Cannizzaro announces, "We have far too many bills and precious little time to rehash a death penalty debate that equally splits our community and which the governor will not support." Which will be code for “gosh...gee...the session is really busy and controversial issues like this take too long with public comment….and I also want to keep my job.”

Because I’m a cynic, I think this whole thing was too much of a show (despite heartfelt testimony and the sincere comments of many legislators supporting this bill). I think it was understood all along by legislative leadership that no amount of pressure was going to move district attorneys Cannizzaro and Scheible to go against their boss (who testified passionately against the abolition bill). I think it was understood that those two don’t have the slightest actual concern over how their office uses the death penalty or conducts trials. But without cover from the governor, they (and they alone) would forever be blamed for blocking a progressive measure — and the rift in the current political and electoral environment on such a hot topic issue might be destructive. I rightly predicted a lot of fire followed by wisps of what could have been. The sky is looking cloudy for abolition.

Predictably, too, the arguments of the DAs and even outlier legislators like Assemblywoman Annie Black contained the sort of emotional “but what about…..” and “but what if….” ad absurdum arguments that have made the death penalty a litmus test of whether you’re for “justice” or as Black said “a murder coddler”. Even as southern states like Virginia are finally getting out of the state-sponsored death business, there’s no doubt that these ridiculously myopic arguments still resonate. Gov. Sisolak is shrewd enough to understand vulnerabilities in a race against possible opponents who will clearly position themselves with pro-hang ‘em high cred. Low-fruit arguments like what if Hitler shows up, who WOULDN’T want to kill Hitler are hard to easily answer. Even Sisolak's invocation of “what about the October 1 shooter, shouldn’t we have had a chance to execute him?” (aka the “Damn! Why’d he kill himself, WE should have done it” argument) would make for rough campaign ads against a vulnerable incumbent who just signed death penalty abolition into law. All this is about the death of the death of the death penalty, again. There will be laments. There will be self-congratulatory “well, we made it further than we ever have.” But we will continue to maintain a death row that should be a relic. And it will continue to serve as a bellwether of who we are as a society, and what the real value of life means in the murky waters of true justice.

(source: Opinion; Dayvid Figler is a criminal defense attorney based in Las Vegas. He previously served as an associate attorney representing indigent defendants charged with murder for the Clark County Special Public Defender’s office. During his legal tenure, he served a brief appointment as a Las Vegas Municipal Court judge----The Nevada Independent)

IRAN----execution

Prisoner Sohrab Masgari Executed in Gonbad Kavous Prison, Iran

A prisoner named Sohrab Masgari who was sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for murder, has been executed in Gonbad Kavous Prison.

According to Iran Human Rights, a man was executed in Gonbad Kavous Prison on April 13. His identity has been established as Sohrab Masgari, who was sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for murder.

Informed sources told IHR: “Sohrab Masgari had been in prison for around 4 years. He had committed the murder due to a financial debt.”

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

According to Iran Human Rights’ Annual Report on the Death Penalty, at least 211 of the 267 people executed in 2020 were sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for "premeditated murder."

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

(source: iranhr.net)

APRIL 18, 2021:

NEBRASKA:

Nebraska’s decision on Tinder murderer’s fate to come in June

The decision of a three-judge panel on whether a man will get the death penalty or life in prison for the 2017 killing and dismembering of a Nebraska woman is set to be announced later this spring.

The Omaha World-Herald reports that a Saline County District judge has set the sentencing date for 54-year-old Aubrey Trail for June 9.

Prosecutors argued that Trail showed "exceptional depravity" in the death of 24-year-old Lincoln store clerk Sydney Loofe, who disappeared after arranging a Tinder date with Trail.

Weeks after her disappearance, Loofe's body parts were found in 14 pieces in ditches along a state highway.

A defense attorney for Trail countered her killing was not planned and painted Trial as having endured abuse as a child.

(source: Associated Press)

NEVADA:

Criminal justice reform shouldn’t depend on a deputy district attorney

Assembly Republicans unanimously voted against abolishing the death penalty in Nevada. However, conservative opposition is not what progressives have to worry about if they hope to get the reform passed into law.

For starters, Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak has expressed reluctance to sign such legislation. Of course, before that challenge is even considered, Assembly Bill 395 would actually have to pass the Senate and get to his desk—which is still a big lift, despite Democratic control of the Legislative Building in Carson City.

When asked about AB395 last week, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) would not commit to giving the bill a hearing… which is unsurprising, given her day job as a Clark County deputy district attorney. After all, her boss, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, has already testified in opposition to the bill—indicating that Sen. Cannizzaro’s place of employment is an environment where such progressive policies are generally unwelcomed.

Even more worrisome for hopeful progressive activists, however, is that Cannizzaro’s support for criminal justice reform has been limited, in the past, by her deference to the concerns of her law enforcement colleagues.

In fact, on more than one occasion during the last two regular legislative sessions, Cannizzaro has proven to be a more formidable obstacle to broadly supported (and progressive) criminal justice reforms than any of the opponents emanating from the obstinate “blue-lives matter” wing of the Republican Party.

In 2019, as leader of the Senate, Cannizzaro killed at least 16 Democrat-sponsored criminal justice bills, including a bipartisan attempt to reform civil asset forfeiture. The senator—along with her fellow deputy district attorney, Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas)—embraced arguments put forth by professional law-enforcement colleagues lobbying against such reforms, and ultimately scuttled many such bills without even putting them to a vote.

For some progressives who had thought Democratic control of the Senate was a surefire way to enact real change in 2019, Cannizzaro’s day job as a prosecutor quickly became a point of contention. Clark County Black Caucus Chair Yvette Williams, for example, told the Nevada Current that the conflict posed by such government employees serving as legislators should be obvious:

“When a legislator has a job that’s in direct conflict with legislation that’s come before them, how do we deal with that to make sure that bill gets a fair hearing?” Williams asked. “This is something that needs to be addressed if the people’s voice is going to be heard.”

The kind of conflict Williams described is precisely the kind Nevada’s Constitution directly attempts to eliminate by prohibiting individuals from serving in multiple branches of government simultaneously. As the Nevada Supreme Court previously explained, the separation of powers provision of the Constitution—which states no one charged with exercising the powers of one branch may exercise “any function” pertaining to the others—is “probably the most important single principle of government” safeguarding Nevadans’ liberties. The court went on to argue that even a single “seemingly harmless” violation of the principle should not be tolerated.

Certainly, a prosecutor serving as Senate leader qualifies as something beyond “seemingly harmless.”

As progressives are learning (again) in 2021, disregard for this simple provision of the Constitution is a direct threat to the kind of reforms that entrenched government interests routinely oppose. Concern over the future of AB395 in the Senate should drive home the point that lawmakers’ unconstitutional behavior doesn’t distort the democratic process along party lines—it’s a threat that resonates with citizen-activists up and down the ideological spectrum.

However, because Nevada is a state where taxpayers aren’t permitted to bring forward legal action without showing they have been directly and uniquely harmed by the unconstitutional behavior of government officials, such violations have (thus far) gone unaddressed by the courts. As a result, progressive criminal-justice activists will, yet again, be resigned to merely hoping the influence of their preferred political faction outweighs the influence of their legislative leader’s current government-employer.

Repeal of the death penalty may never win support from Republicans—or even certain factions of the Democratic Party. However, AB395 nonetheless deserves access to a representative-democratic process uninjured by the conflicts (or even perceived conflicts) of a few lawmakers ignoring the plain text of Nevada’s Constitution.

Whether AB395 should end up on Sisolak’s desk is a political question with many differing opinions. However, in the end, one thing is certain: It shouldn’t be up to District Attorney Wolfson’s employees currently serving in the Legislature.

(source: Opinion; Michael Schaus, Nevada Independent)

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

Some murderers deserve the death penalty

It’s easier to support the death penalty when you consider what those on death row were convicted of doing.

On Tuesday, Assembly Democrats unanimously voted for Assembly Bill 395, which would ban executions in Nevada. Assemblyman Steve Yeager, the primary legislator responsible for the bill, called capital punishment “inhumane.” Holly Welborn, policy director for the ACLU of Nevada, labeled it a “barbaric practice.”

Death penalty cases do involve actions that are inhumane and barbaric — the exceptionally heinous crimes committed by criminals.

In 2006, Tamir Hamilton raped, tortured and killed 16-year-old Holly Quick in the girl’s bedroom. “He took his time,” Washoe County District Attorney Christopher Hicks testified. “He stabbed her over 40 times and nearly decapitated her. Holly’s mom found her the next morning.”

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson is currently seeking the execution of Zane Floyd. In 1999, Floyd walked into a West Sahara Albertsons with a shotgun and killed four employees. There is video of the attack.

Inhumane. Barbaric. Those descriptors fit the crimes above.

Compare that to the death penalty, which Nevada prosecutors can’t seek unless there’s murder with an aggravating circumstance. That can include rape, torture or multiple victims.

No matter how horrible the crime, the accused has the right to a lawyer and jury trial. The trial takes place in a climate-controlled courtroom, at least pre-coronavirus. Armed guards protect the accused from anyone who’d do to him what he’s accused of doing to his victim.

If the accused is convicted, the jury must conclude that the death penalty is appropriate. Nevada law also requires a mandatory review of death sentences. Years of appeals are standard in these types of cases.

If a convicted killer is executed, he dies by a lethal injection process that is supposed to minimize physical discomfort. That may not always be the case. But if euthanasia is painless enough for lawmakers to consider legalizing, this objection to capital punishment doesn’t hold.

This process is full of safeguards, precisely because it values humanity, even the humanity of one accused of a horrible crime. That’s important.

Yes, the fallibility of government is a major concern when someone’s life is on the line. Barbaric practices usually don’t include checks and balances, either.

That leads to a more philosophical debate. Yeager asserted, “The government simply should not be in the business of killing.” That’s a nice-sounding sentiment, but it misses the point.

Government’s fundamental job is to protect people’s life, liberty and property — and sometimes that requires killing people. On the federal level, the U.S. military has killed hundreds of thousands of people. That’s not pleasant to think about, but the alternative — another nation taking over our country or the continued existence of chattel slavery — is worse.

On the state and local levels, a police officer may be justified in using lethal force to stop a criminal from committing murder. We applaud the bravery of officers who do just that.

So there are circumstances when it’s appropriate for the government to kill.

Capital punishment is different, of course, because the murderer is in jail when it is carried out and not actively engaged in harming someone. That’s a question of justice. A just sentence means receiving what is merited. An eye for eye. In more modern phrasing, a punishment that fits the crime.

That’s why there’s still a need for the death penalty. Some murders — a few, not many — are so horrific or the number of victims so numerous, that the only punishment that fits is the death penalty.

(source: Opinion; Victor Joecks, Las Vegas Review-Journal)

BANGLADESH:

Bangladesh arrests Islamist leader after violent protests

Police in Bangladesh on Sunday arrested an influential leader of an Islamist group that led violent protests against last month’s visit by India’s prime minister to the Muslim-majority nation, officials said.

Mamunul Haque of the group Hefazat-e-Islam faces charges of instigating violence, but police did not provide details on specific cases or whether the charges stem from Narendra Modi’s visit. Harunur Rashid, a senior Dhaka Metropolitan Police official, said in a short briefing that Haque was arrested from a madrassa, or Islamic school, in the capital of Dhaka’s Mohammadpur area.

Haque, 47, is a leading figure in the Hefazat-e-Islam group, which has a strong network of Islamic schools across Bangladesh. The group says it is not a political party, but its leaders in their sermons regularly talk about the country’s politics, advocating an Islamic revolution in the nation of 160 million people. Its leaders often challenge the basics of the country’s constitution and its legal system, which is based on based on British common law.

The group criticized Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for inviting Modi to join a March 26 celebration of the country’s 50th anniversary of independence, and threatened to shed blood in the streets to undermine the visit. Critics accuse Modi’s Hindu-nationalist party of stoking religious polarization in India and discriminating against minorities, particularly Muslims.

Modi’s two-day visit was overshadowed by the violence, and at least 17 supporters of Hefazat-e-Islam were killed in separate clashes with police as they attacked a police station and other government buildings, and blocked highways elsewhere in the country. In Dhaka, they clashed with police outside the country’s main Baitul Mokarram Mosque during the visit.

In a speech to Bangladesh’s parliament earlier this month, Hasina warned the group and its leaders that they would face consequences if they continue to resort to violence.

Haque and his associates led a recent campaign against building a sculpture of independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Hasina’s father, saying sculptures are un-Islamic. The government backed off.

Hefazat-e-Islam also wants Hasina’s government to enact blasphemy laws, under which anyone convicted of criticizing Islam’s prophet would face the death penalty.

(source: Associated Press)

IRAN----execution

Prisoner Hossein Ramezani Executed in Qazvin, Iran

A prisoner named Hossein Ramezani who was sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for murder, has been executed in Qazvin Central Prison.

According to Iran Human Rights, a man was executed in Qazvin Central Prison in the early hours of April 12. His identity has been established as 37 year-old Hossein Ramezani, who was sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for murder.

An informed source has told IHR: “Hossein Ramezani was a young villager who had got into a physical altercation with another farmer overwatering their land and killed him five years ago. He had been in Qazvin Prison since and executed there.”

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

According to Iran Human Rights’ Annual Report on the Death Penalty, at least 211 of the 267 people executed in 2020 were sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for "premeditated murder."

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

(source: iranhr.net)

APRIL 17, 2021:

TEXAS:

After 100 days in office, new El Paso DA defends plea deals, pursues death penalty for Walmart shooter

This week marked the 1st 100 days of a new district attorney for El Paso.

Yvonne Rosales was sworn into office on Jan. 1, 2021. She's the 1st woman to hold the position, taking over for longtime district attorney Jaime Esparza, who oversaw the prosecution of thousands of criminals in his nearly 30-year career.

Rosales is coming into office during a pandemic which has shut down the El Paso County Courthouse and put a pause on criminal jury trials, and she's also inheriting the prosecution of the person accused of the Aug. 3, 2019 shooting at the Cielo Vista Walmart.

In a 1-on-1 interview with ABC-7 to mark her 100 day milestone, Rosales said her first goal was to review pending cases that were not resolved before she took office.

"Some of the concerns that my attorneys have brought forth to my attention are disagreements they're having with the prior offers and deciding whether they should honor the offers or we need to pull those recommendations and ask for a harsher sentence," Rosales said.

The decision to honor prior agreements was in the spotlight April 8 when ABC-7 learned that the man who had been accused of killing his 5-month-old baby received a 5-year prison sentence with credit for time served.

Pedro Favela Salgado admitted to shaking the baby because she wouldn't stop crying during a soccer game.

Salgado had been in jail for 2 years awaiting trial -- but with the plea deal, he will be complete with his sentence in 3 years.

On Apr. 8, Rosales told ABC-7 that she was beholden to the prior administration's negotiations. A week later, ABC-7 asked Rosales why, if she indeed had the jurisdiction to change the outcome she didn't renegotiate Salgado's plea.

"It was a decision to have the professional courtesy … It's about respecting the system, respecting the process; when you enter into plea negotiations with attorneys, it's a good faith effort, " Rosales said, adding, "The prior administration basically left that in our lap. We had to finish the deals that they had already written out. Part of the problem was recognizing that the prior administration could have set those cases for pleas at the end of December, but I feel they were deliberate moves to try and tarnish this administration by blaming us for the offers that had already been made prior to us taking office."

We asked former district attorney Jaime Esparza for a response.

He said in a statement to ABC-7, "As the Elected D.A., Ms. Rosales should know she has a duty to resolve cases as she believes is appropriate, including negotiating or changing a plea agreement. Ms. Rosales is not bound to my past plea agreements.

Esparza added he was honored to be the D.A. and he is proud of his work.

Rosales is inheriting the prosecution of the single-most deadly mass shooting in modern El Paso history.

Patrick Crusius is charged with capital murder of multiple persons and 22 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

He's accused of shooting and killing 23 people inside and outside the Cielo Vista Walmart on Aug. 3, 2019. Nearly 2 dozen others were wounded.

The last time ABC-7 interviewed Rosales about the case we were nearing the first anniversary of the shooting in 2020. Last year, Rosales said she felt like the decision to conduct a second trial was up to those who suffered injuries or loss during the shooting.

But she seemed to have changed her outlook after talking with the victims.

"They want resolution, is basically what I can tell you," Rosales said. "But the federal government has not made the decision about whether they will seek the death penalty or not and since the state does not require any permissions to obtain or to seek the death penalty, based on my conversations with the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who are handling the matter on the federal side, since they can't determine whether they will or they won't seek the death penalty we're just going to go ahead and move forward with our case and we will seek the death penalty.

"We're going to do our best to keep this case here in El Paso," Rosales added. "This is a case that this community needs to be able to determine guilt and if a jury finds a defendant guilty then they need to be able to assess punishment."

Rosales has assigned a whole new team to the case. The team includes 2 people from the Esparza administration with a combined 50 years in law.

She also anticipates taking a role in the prosecution.

No trial date has been set.

Rosales told ABC-7 none of the attorneys were working the case under her predecessor.

"The attorneys that I have handling this case who are the lead attorneys have far more experience than some of the younger attorneys did," Rosales said. "They were supervisors within this office. They are individuals that I did keep from the prior administration."

"One of our new attorneys on staff had been a prosecutor and handled capital murder cases from the Dallas area. She's a very strong attorney that we brought in from out of town and I think that will give us a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective on the case," she added.

Rosales also wanted the community to be assured that even though she and the team are new, the transition will not affect the case or their pursuit for justice.

But there have been a lot of questions about the transition.

Rosales had asked everyone employed in the District Attorney's office to reapply if they were interested and there were reports that the turnover rate was at 50 %.

ABC-7 asked if the overall transition is now complete, 4 1/2 months into her term.

"It's not 100 % complete," Rosales said. "We do have some vacancies available but I feel that we adequately filled the necessary positions to keep everything operating smoothly."

Rosales said there are roughly 40 positions available, which translates to about 25 % below full operation. She pointed out that jury trials are still on hold due to the pandemic and she doesn't feel it makes sense to be at full staffing at this time.

Several weeks ago, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law a bill that legalizes possession and sale of recreational marijuana.

It goes into effect next year.

Considering El Paso County butts up against the Texas-New Mexico state line, the changing legislation in the Land of Enchantment can and will affect El Paso.

Rosales said she will be talking to El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles and El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen about how to proceed.

"During the campaign, we mentioned that it is very difficult to prove and prosecute possession of marijuana cases even in this state because of the fact that you can't test the THC concentration. I stick with that," Rosales said. "If you don't have the lab results to prove that the marijuana on the individual contained the 3% or higher THC concentration then I don't believe that we should be prosecuting those cases."

Rosales also said it will take work from law enforcement to determine if people arrested for possession are legally allowed to possess pot in New Mexico.

(source: KVIA news)

FLORIDA:

Facing Death by Lethal Injection, Derrek Perkins Pleads Guilty to Murdering His Wife and Gets Life in Prison

Last Oct. 13, Derrek Wayne Perkins waited for his wife Brandi Brooker Perkins to get home from work, and as she was walking up to the front door at 4860 Irving Street in Hastings, assaulted her and stabbed her 14 times, killing her.

Days earlier Derrek Perkins had been charged with aggravated assault when he tried to run her over. He fled and evaded detection until the night of the murder. Meanwhile, Brandi Perkins had obtained an injunction against him. She feared for her life, and had circled the property in her car, moments before the murder, on the lookout for his car.

St. Johns County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Derrek Perkins within minutes of the murder in the area of State Road 207 and Morrison Road. There was blood on his legs. A grand jury indicted him on charges of 1st-degree murder, armed burglary and armed, aggravated stalking on Oct. 14. A month later, State Attorney R.J. Larizza announced he would be seeking the death penalty for Perkins, 41. “”He lay in wait until she arrived with her co-worker/friend and sprung from his hiding place to carry out the brutal and deadly murder. The defendant’s violent past and penchant for savagery and violence has earned him the ultimate penalty.”

Today (April 16), Perkins pleaded guilty to all charges before Circuit Judge Howard Maltz in St. Augustine. The judge then sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The plea essentially spared Perkins his life–and spared prosecutors, defense lawyers and taxpayers years of litigation and appeals.

The 2 sides agreed to the deal on April 1. “The defense and the State have reached an agreement to resolve all of Derrek Perkins’ pending criminal cases,” Assistant State Attorney mark Johnson, who prosecuted the case, wrote the judge’s office that day, “which include not only the murder case and those that the State was seeking to consolidate, but also an unrelated DUI. The sentence is completely negotiated. It does not involve any range.” In other words, it was to be either life in prison for Perkins, or no deal.

He was also found guilty of theft in an unrelated case, and guilty on the aggravated assault charge stemming from his attempt to run over his wife. He’d also faced a drunk driving charge from a year earlier. That charge was dropped. Perkins was represented by Junior Barrett, chief assistant regional counsel in the Office of Criminal Conflict, a part of the public defender system.

(source: flaglerlive.com)

LOUISIANA:

Trial date set for Lafayette man accused of fatally shooting police officer----AG’s Office sides with prosecutors on split jury acquittal in Ian Howard case

A district judge set a trial date of April 25, 2022 for Ian Howard, who is accused of fatally shooting a Lafayette police officer and wounding 3 others in 2017.

Ian Howard, 31, was present in court Friday as his defense attorneys argued before 15th Judicial District Court Judge Valerie Gotch Garrett for a hearing over the issue for a split jury acquittal in the capital case.

The judge insisted that both sides work out a trial date. They agreed that jury selection would begin on April 25, 2022 with a 2-week trial beginning on May 1, 2022.

Howard's defense attorneys also argued that a jury in his forthcoming trial could potentially deliver a verdict of either not guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity from only 10 of the 12 jurors, and not a unanimous verdict as they would if they voted to convict.

Representatives from Attorney General’s Office were also present and sided with the Lafayette District Attorney’s Office over the issue for a split jury acquittal.

The United States Supreme Court decision in Ramos vs Louisiana ruled last year that any conviction must be made by a unanimous verdict of 12 jurors.

In November 2018, Louisiana voters also approved a constitutional amendment that requires a unanimous verdict from juries in non-capital cases. However, the law only applies to the court cases of crimes that took place on or after Jan. 1, 2019.

Prosecutors argue that the intent of Louisiana voters in passing the amendment was that non-unanimous verdicts to convict should apply the same to verdicts to acquit.

Steven Vick with the Attorney General’s Office sided with the District Attorney’s position that Louisiana law now requires a unanimous jury to render any verdict, including an acquittal.

The judge said she would take the arguments, as well as several motions filed late yesterday, under advisement and deliver a ruling at a later time.

Howard has 2 pending cases against him: a 1st-degree murder case in the Oct. 1, 2017 shooting death of Lafayette Cpl. Michael Middlebrook - for which prosecutors intend to pursue the death penalty - and in a separate case, 3 charges of attempted 1st-degree murder that involve the other alleged victims.

Howard’s next hearing will be held on May 13 at the Lafayette Parish Courthouse.

(source: KATC news)

TENNESSEE:

Tennessee Supreme Court upholds death sentence for man convicted of ex-girlfriend’s 1997 murder

The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the murder conviction and death penalty of a man found guilty of killing his ex-girlfriend at a Shelby County hotel.

Michael Dale Rimmer’s 1st conviction in 1998 was overturned, but another Shelby County jury convicted him in 2016 of murdering Ricci Lynn Ellsworth.

On Feb. 7, 1997, Ellsworth left home to go to work at the Memphis Inn. Investigators say Ellsworth disappeared, leaving behind her purse, her wedding band, her car and a chaotic and bloody crime scene.

Her body was never found.

Years before her disappearance, Ellsworth and Rimmer had a tumultuous romantic relationship,. He was convicted of raping her in 1989 after they broke up, and authorities say he told a fellow inmate he would kill her when he was released.

When she disappeared, witnesses at the Memphis Inn described a man matching Rimmer’s description with blood on his hands putting something heavy, wrapped in a blanket, in the trunk of a maroon Honda.

According to the Court, Rimmer was later arrested in Indiana driving a maroon Honda. Tests found blood in the car matched blood at the hotel crime scene, and both samples belonged to Ellsworth.

The Court says Rimmer tried to escape prison several times, and he described the murder and bloody crime scene to another inmate.

He never helped authorities find Ellsworth’s body.

The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Ellsworth’s second conviction and sentence.< P> The Tennessee Supreme Court is required to review all death penalty cases, so his case was automatically appealed. Rimmer said his second conviction violated double jeopardy laws but the Court disagreed.

He also said DNA evidence from the car should not have been allowed at trial because the vehicle was released before his attorneys inspected it. The Court said all evidence taken from the car by police technicians was available to his attorneys for review.

Rimmer also challenged admission of his escape attempts and the rape conviction, but the Court said the attempted escapes showed consciousness of guilt and the rape conviction showed motive, identity and premedication.

Ultimately, the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the murder convictions and the death penalty.

(source: WMC news)

MISSOURI:

Positive COVID-19 test pauses jury selection in St. Louis death penalty trial

Court officials Friday dismissed 30 people from jury selection in the death penalty trial for a man accused in a 2012 triple homicide after a prospective juror reported receiving a positive COVID-19 test.

The woman reported receiving notice of a positive test about 11:15 a.m., shortly after arriving for jury duty, officials said. The court then released her and 29 others who were part of the same group of prospective jurors for Eric Lawson's triple murder trial.

Court officials don't believe the woman was exposed to anyone else for more than 15 minutes, St. Louis Circuit Court spokesman Thom Gross said. The court began contact tracing and also closed and cleaned a mezzanine where prospective jurors had been waiting.

The court mailed about 3,500 jury duty summonses for Lawson's trial in February and received a higher-than-average response rate of about 26%, Jury Supervisor Joanne Martin said. More than 200 are expected to return next week for follow-up questions.

Lawson is charged with fatally shooting his ex-girlfriend, Breiana Ray, 22, and her mother, Gwendolyn Ray, 50, and setting an apartment fire that killed his 10-month-old son Aiden.

Jury selection resumed Friday afternoon after the 30 people were dismissed and will continue next week. Jurors picked for the trial will be sequestered for the duration of the trial, which is expected to conclude in early May.

Gross said all summoned jurors who feel symptomatic, or who have had a test within two days or a positive test result, should notify the court before reporting for jury duty.

(source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

ARIZONA:

Lawyer for Arizona death row inmates expresses concerns over lethal injection drugs----After a 7-year hiatus, the Arizona State Attorney General is hoping to start executing death row inmates once again.

After a 7-year hiatus, the Arizona State Attorney General is hoping to start executing death row inmates once again.

Last week, Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced that his office was seeking warrants to execute two convicted killers who were sentenced to death and have now exhausted all of their appeals.

While Brnovich is confident the state is ready to proceed, those against the death penalty say there has been too much secrecy and controversy surrounding the lethal injection drugs used to carry out these executions.

All executions were halted by a State Supreme Court Judge in 2014, after what lawyers call the "botched" execution of death row prisoner Joseph Wood.

Wood was convicted of the murders of his estranged girlfriend and her father and sentenced to die in 1989. During his execution, a process that should have lasted for 10 minutes dragged on for an excruciating 157 minutes, according to witnesses.

Wood's attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Dale Baich, and journalist Michael Kiefer witnessed this execution.

"He made his last statement and then the warden stepped out of the room. I remember watching Mr. Wood as he was laying there. Slowly his eyes began to close, his breathing became more shallow and I noticed the color leaving his face," said Baich. He said Wood appeared to be still for a few minutes.

"And then all of a sudden, his mouth opened very wide. He bucked up against the straps. His head tilted back, and it was a huge gulp, he was struggling to breathe," said Baich.

Kiefer, who has covered 13 executions in Arizona described what he saw as "barbaric."

"I think everybody sort of jumped in the room when it happened. I took my notepad and I started writing how many times he did that," said Kiefer.

"By the time they pronounced him dead, I had 640 cross hatches on my notebook, as to how many times I had watched him convulse like that," he added.

After almost two hours and 15 injections of the lethal drug combination, Wood finally died.

Brnovich said he would not call the execution of Joseph Wood "botched."

"At the end of the day, the medical examiner and other experts said that killer was unconscious the whole time. There's no evidence that person suffered in any way," said Brnovich in an interview with ABC15 last week.

Baich questioned the Attorney General's statement, adding that he had not been there to personally witness Wood's death.

"There is no medical examiner's report or autopsy report that can tell if you if a person suffered or not," added Baich.

The chart below breaks down the number of executions in Arizona from 1992 until 2014, and the method used.

While Brnovich said, "the ultimate crime deserved the ultimate punishment," those against the death penalty say Wood's execution was not unique.

They cited multiple executions in other states where the lethal injection drugs either took too long to kill the prisoners, did not do what they were supposed to do by acting swiftly, and in some cases caused the inmates to suffer greatly.

According to an annual report published by the Death Penalty Information Center, an advocacy and research group, states are "conducting executions with drug and drug combinations that have never been tried before," and they're doing it "behind an expanding veil of secrecy laws that shield the execution process from public scrutiny."

Baich said there should be transparency surrounding the execution process.

"What I have seen in Arizona from 2010 through 2014 is consistently the state not following the rules, not following the protocol and in the case of Joseph Wood, using an experimental drug combination that was going to fail. We knew that. We told the state that, yet they forged ahead, and it was really troubling to watch that execution and what happened to Joe Wood," said Baich.

The state will no longer be using the drug combination administered to Joseph Wood, instead, the state will be using a drug called Pentobarbital. In a letter from Brnovich to Governor Doug Ducey, Brnovich writes, "The Attorney General's office has found a lawful supplier of Pentobarbital that can make the drug available to our state."

Baich said they had many concerns about Pentobarbital as well, especially after seeing it used in executions in other states over the last year.

"The prisoners experienced Pulmonary Edema, which means they have the sensation that they're drowning, so we're very concerned about that," said Baich.

He called it a constitutional violation to subject a person to cruel and unusual punishment, and he also questioned where the state was obtaining the drug from, as there was a nationwide shortage of the drug and many pharmaceutical companies would not sell the drugs to the state department of corrections to be used in executions.

ABC15 asked Brnovich where the state had obtained the drug.

"Well, that is confidential, it's private. Private by statute," said Brnovich. "I think what we've seen over the last few decades is opponents of the death penalty have waged a guerilla war."

To protect drug companies, compounding pharmacists, and executioner physicians from harassment, states are not required to disclose this information, but many attorneys who have clients on death row and anti-death penalty activists saw a big problem with that.

"If the state of Arizona wants to take another citizen's life, it should be transparent as to where it got the drugs, who is carrying out the execution, what qualifications that person has, and what kind of access people will have to the client," said Baich.

For Brnovich though, this was all about carrying out justice on behalf of those the killers had hurt.

"At the end of the day, what these killers get with the lethal injection is much better than anything they did to the victims and their families," said Brnovich.

There have been some wins for those fighting for transparency.

According to a court settlement, the state will now have to leave microphones turned on in the execution chambers during the execution.

Baich said witnesses would also now see the prisoner brought in and strapped down. They would also see the lethal injection lines being inserted into the prisoner and the drugs being pushed into their bodies.

ABC15 has reached out to the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry for information on future executions in Arizona.

The agency sent us this statement:

The Department remains prepared to carry out these legally imposed sentences in fulfillment of its statutory obligations under A.R.S. § 13-757. Pentobarbital has been administered lawfully and successfully for many years throughout the State and Federal correctional systems to ensure that these legally imposed sentences were carried out.

(source: ABC news)

NEVADA:

Condemned Nevada killer prefers firing squad over lethal injection

Nevada death row prisoner Zane Floyd prefers a firing squad.

The 45-year-old man was condemned to die for fatally shooting 4 people and gravely wounding another inside a Las Vegas supermarket. Now he has the weapons and ammunition picked out for his own death, according to court papers filed Friday afternoon by his federal public defenders.

“Floyd specifically requests using a .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire caliber bullet of 40 to 60 grains, fired by 2 to 3 rifles of the .22 WMR rifle class,” the lawyers wrote.

Rather than the Nevada Department of Corrections’ current “torturous” 3-drug lethal injection cocktail, they added, a firing squad would ensure that “Floyd’s death would be extremely rapid.”

His attorneys have filed a series of briefs this week after the Clark County district attorney’s office formally sought a warrant of execution.

The goal of Floyd’s attorneys, according to the motions, is a stay of execution that would prevent the state from “attempting to implement any aspect of Nevada’s execution protocol against him.”

And the court papers filed Friday make clear that the U.S. Supreme Court requires alternatives in order to challenge a method of execution.

“Execution by firing squad is a feasible alternative method of execution that would significantly reduce the substantial risk of pain from Nevada’s current 3-drug protocol,” the document filed in U.S. District Court states. “For example, a firing squad eliminates risks associated with establishing IV access. And a firing squad eliminates concerns with inmates’ physical and medical conditions.”

Another possible alternative would consist of injecting Floyd with 2 drugs — including pentobarbital, which has been used in federal executions — instead of 3.

“The 2-drug alternative significantly reduces the substantial risk of pain inherent in Nevada’s current protocol,” the document states.

Officials with the Nevada Department of Corrections have not made public what drugs would be used for Floyd’s execution, and his lawyers say that violates his constitutional rights.

“The State is treating Floyd disparately in depriving him of his fundamental right to notice of the manner in which the State intends to carry out his execution,” they wrote in a separate pleading. “Floyd does not possess the most basic information regarding the State’s intended method of execution and is not even assured that the intended method is by lethal injection as opposed to some other means.”

As Nevada lawmakers weigh the possibility of abolishing capital punishment, Floyd’s lawyers have asked state and federal judges to stop what would be the 1st execution in 15 years.

A jury sentenced Floyd to die for the 1999 killings inside a grocery store on West Sahara Avenue. He was dressed in military fatigues and armed with a 12-gauge shotgun hidden under a robe when he shot everyone he encountered.

4 employees — Lucy Tarantino, 60, Thomas Darnell, 40, Chuck Leos, 40, and Dennis “Troy” Sargent, 31 — died. Zachar Emenegger, 21, was shot twice and survived after playing dead in the produce section.

Floyd previously has tried and failed to challenge Nevada’s lethal injection protocol, which faced drawn-out legal scrutiny after another death row inmate, Scott Dozier, asked to be executed more than 4 years ago.

2 of the drugs proposed for that killing have since expired, and the state’s supply of a third drug, fentanyl, was expected to expire in June.

Under Nevada law, the prison director must “select the drug or combination of drugs to be used for the execution after consulting with the Chief Medical Officer.”

Dozier killed himself in an Ely State Prison cell in 2019 as his case lingered in the court system.

(source: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

CALIFORNIA:

Steven Crittenden murder case will be resolved today in Placer County

A case lasting more than 3 decades will reach a more resolute conclusion Friday morning when Steven Crittenden, 53, whose 1987 murder convictions in the killing of a Chico couple were overturned before the Butte County District Attorney’s Office prepared to retry Crittenden, will be sentenced based on a plea deal struck between Crittenden’s defense team and the prosecution, led by District Attorney Mike Ramsey.

Crittenden, who will be sentenced in the Placer County Superior Court by Judge Jeffery F. Penney, was a 19-year-old Chico State student and football player when he was accused of killing a well-known Chico doctor William Chiapella and his wife Katherine Chiapella in an apparent burglary and robbery at their Downing Avenue residence on Jan. 13, 1987.

The killings were particularly gruesome and received substantial media coverage. The publicity tied to the case would later prompt the trial to be moved out of Butte County.

Crittenden was arrested eight days after the killing, and his trial took place in Placer County in 1989, a change of venue decision that was based on that publicity in the case as well as the admiration and sympathy for the Chico husband and wife in the local community, Ramsey said.

While awaiting trial, Crittenden attempted to escape from the Butte County Jail multiple times. On May 11, 1987, he freed himself from the jail and coerced a resident in a nearby neighborhood to drive him to Sacramento. He was then recaptured in Sacramento.

A Placer County jury convicted Crittenden in a 1989 trial for the murders of the Chiapellas, counts of robbery and the use of knives in the killings, as well as escape and kidnapping charges for when he fled to Sacramento.

The jury also returned a death penalty verdict, finding various “special circumstances” of multiple homicide, murder during a robbery and torture to be true.

With a long list of twists and turns in the three decades to follow, the case was far from over.

The California Supreme Court upheld the death penalty verdict in December 1994. However, a federal judge overturned Crittenden’s convictions in 2013 on the basis that the original prosecutor in the case, Gerald Flanagan, was substantially motivated by race in excluding the only prospective Black juror at Crittenden’s trial. Crittenden is Black.

The prosecution appealed the decision in the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in favor of the the lower court decision to overturn the verdict in a split, 2-1 decision in 2015. That decision led the Butte County District Attorney’s Office to prepare to retry Crittenden with the death penalty.

In early 2019, Crittenden’s defense team and the prosecution, led by Ramsey, appeared to have a deal that Crittenden would agree to be tried in Butte County in exchange for the prosecution agreeing to no longer seek the death penalty.

Yet shortly after Gov. Gavin Newsom took office, he announced a moratorium on the death penalty at San Quentin State Prison, where Crittenden was being held pending his retrial, as long as Newsom remained in office. As a result of that decision, Crittenden would no longer agree to a Butte County trial.

Another round of negotiations between the defense and the prosecutor Ramsey was launched. The end result was a plea deal that spared Crittenden of a potential death sentence, however, he was required to plead guilty to all the counts the earlier Placer County jury convicted him of in the 1989 trial.

Additionally, Crittenden was required to write letter to the Chiapella family fully confessing to the crimes. The DA’s Office noted that could be used if Crittenden ever attempted to deny his responsibility for the crimes in the future.

“Basically, this is a long slog we have done to make sure that justice is done,” Ramsey said. “I’ve talked quite a bit to the surviving Chiapella family (who) agree that this isn’t perfect justice, but it is as close to justice as they can get, particularly with the confession that was written to them.”

Surviving members of the Chiapella family will also be in the courtroom to give victim impact statements.

Crittenden also agreed to a non-appealable 63-years-to-life sentence and to waive all credit for the time he served in custody up to 2015, in lieu of a potential retrial. Crittenden would not have a chance at a parole hearing until 2035 under current California law, the DA’s Office said.

Crittenden is due to be sentenced in Department 31 of the Placer County Superior Court in Roseville at 8:30 a.m.

(source: Enterprise-Record)

USA:

Prosecutors Should Stop Seeking the Death Penalty

A growing number of Americans oppose the death penalty, but prosecutors—even some who call themselves “progressive”—continue to seek it. All prosecutors should stop pursuing and protecting capital convictions. Prosecutors should end capital punishment:

•Prosecutors should no longer seek the death penalty. When prosecutors seek the death penalty, they contribute to a system of punishment that is disproportionately wielded against Black people, poor people, and people who have suffered from abuse, trauma, or mental illness.

•Prosecutors should stop opposing challenges to death sentences. Prosecutors who recognize the fundamental injustice of capital punishment should not expend resources defending a predecessor’s poor judgment in pursuing it.

•Prosecutors should seek resentencing for those on death row from their jurisdictions. For example, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón has promised to seek resentencing for the more than 200 people on death row from Los Angeles County.

•Prosecutors should stop asking for execution dates. Despite signing an open letter in opposition to the federal death penalty, Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot has twice sought to set an execution date for Charles Flores, who recently filed a petition for a new trial based, in part, on claims of actual innocence.

The death penalty is arbitrary, racist, and unjust:

•Whether someone is sentenced to death has become more a function of the prosecutor on their case than the severity of their crime. Supreme Court Justice Breyer noted this in his dissenting opinion in Glossip v. Gross: “Between 2004 and 2009, for example, just 29 counties (fewer than 1% of counties in the country) accounted for approximately half of all death sentences imposed nationwide. And in 2012, just 59 counties (fewer than 2% of counties in the country) accounted for all death sentences imposed nationwide.”

•Prosecutors purport to only seek the death penalty for the “worst of the worst,” but this subjective standard is belied by data. Every person executed in 2020 had a significant mental or emotional impairment or had committed the offense before reaching 21 years of age. And several individuals who were executed had a more culpable co-defendant who received a lesser sentence, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in its 2020 year-end report.

•Racial discrimination drives capital punishment. Numerous studies show that a person is more likely to be sentenced to death if they are Black or if their victim is white. DPIC’s report, “Enduring Injustice: The Persistence of Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Death Penalty,” further explores racial disparities in the death penalty system and connects it to America’s history of racial injustice.

•“Justice demands consistency and it’s not consistent to have such overwhelmingly differing ends of punishment in a system that says it’s about treating all fairly regardless of their background,” explained Fanon Rucker to The Appeal: Political Report when he was running against Joe Deters for Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney. Deters, having sent more people to death row than any other prosecutor in Ohio, is a prime example of this country’s “personality-driven” death penalty.

Dive Deeper

•D.A.s Are Asking Biden to End the Death Penalty. But Some Are Still Wielding It Themselves. Prosecutors who have championed criminal justice reforms are still seeking death sentences, opposing appeals, and, in some cases, have even petitioned for execution dates.

•Why Virginia Prosecutors Want the Legislature to Abolish the Death Penalty. Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales joins The Appeal Live to talk about the need to end capital punishment.

•His Attorneys Say He’s Intellectually Disabled. A “Reform” Prosecutor Wants the Death Penalty. State Attorney Melissa Nelson is pushing for a death sentence even as more prosecutors reject capital punishment.

•Newly Elected Prosecutors Are Challenging the Death Penalty. 2 more anti-death penalty prosecutors were elected last week, adding to an earlier string of similar results. On Monday, the new Los Angeles DA confirmed he would review past sentences.

•As Support for Capital Punishment Wanes, an Ohio D.A. Continues to Push for Death. In Franklin County, experts say Ron O’Brien’s capital cases—which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars— amount to “just taxpayer money being lit on fire.”

(source: theappeal.org)

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

Letters: A just America would acknowledge its racist past while ending death penalty

It wasn’t just the South. Ohio held at least 15 lynchings, as documented by the Equal Justice Initiative (or EJI), between 1877 and 1950.

As a white woman with German roots, I am appalled that the (mostly white) leaders of our state and country have yet to acknowledge, admit and be appalled at this ugly history. It is time to reckon with our painful past. As EJI states “in order to overcome racial inequality, we must confront our history.”

Across the pond, Germany has eliminated the death sentence from their country’s options for how to treat a person who commits a crime. German leaders know that their past of systemically executing a people group through the Holocaust is a horrific stain on their legacy.

I hope that white Americans will admit that our nation was founded on a "narrative of racial inferiority," and it is driving our actions. I pray that the death penalty will be ended. I hope that Ohio leaders will acknowledge our past.

There is a way for a system of restoration instead of execution. Ask Germany about the blueberry patches in their prison campuses and how those incarcerated go home on the weekends. There is another way.

Gretchen Greenawalt, Columbus

(source: Letter to the Editor, Columbus Dispatch)

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

MLK III: What we can learn from Virginia decision to end the death penalty

“As the united South goes, so goes the nation.” These words by W.E.B. Du Bois explain the South’s strong influence on human rights issues in the United States. The South has often failed to pioneer change. Too frequently, its history of racial oppression and lynching has gone untold and unaddressed.

For far too long, policymakers have shied away from open and honest discussions about capital punishment’s deep connection to lynching, Jim Crow laws and racial oppression. Last month, the tide turned and we witnessed the demise of the death penalty in Virginia, the former home of the Confederacy.

With this step, Virginia shows us what is possible when we confront this country’s racist past, and acknowledge how racism permeates this country’s practices and laws.

Once this sordid history was laid to bare, a majority of lawmakers were willing to part ways with a practice that reflects a significant and shameful part of Virginia’s history. I applaud Gov. Ralph Northam for championing this effort. The dwindling number of states that continue to use the death penalty, especially in the South, should follow.

As a Black man, born and raised in the South, this issue is deeply personal to me. Not only was my father, Martin Luther King Jr., murdered, but my grandmother was also a victim of homicide. While many know the story of my father, years later, my grandmother was shot to death in our beloved Ebenezer Baptist Church. Both of these were heinous crimes, but despite our immeasurable grief, our faith and the racist roots of capital punishment led my family to reject the death penalty.

You see, the death penalty was never intended to be used to give Black families like mine so-called justice or to show that society values Black life.

You see, the death penalty was never intended to be used to give Black families like mine so-called justice or to show that society values Black life. Getting the death penalty in response to wrongs committed against my loved ones would not bring them back; it would have only tied their legacy to a deeply racist system.

Virginia’s history of racial discrimination in the death penalty is extensive. Going as far back as the 17th century, the state has used the death penalty significantly more against Blacks. Lawmakers claimed they needed the death penalty to placate white mobs who wanted to continue using lynchings to maintain racial control.

Executions were so rare for whites that in 1858, when a white man was hanged, it was reported in Charleston as “the first occurrence of the kind ever known to have taken place within the county.”

In 1899, a Black man named Noah Finley was convicted of robbing a former legislator in Pulaski. Despite his lawyer pleading for mercy, the demand for Finley to be hanged was so great that the law acquiesced. Finley was executed essentially by mob rule.

Despite many changes to capital punishment laws over the years, race continues to influence who is convicted and sentenced to die. One study found that in Virginia, a defendant was more likely to face the death penalty if the victim was white than if the victim was Black.

If we shine a light on any of the other Southern states that were known for high rates of lynchings, we are likely to find plenty of similarities. Lawmakers in these states should also be prepared for their racist death penalty practices to be exposed for all to see.

I commend Northam and Virginia lawmakers.

When they were confronted with their own state’s immoral history, they did not look away. They did not hide or deny. Instead, they confronted Virginia’s racist past and vowed to do better. Ending capital punishment in Virginia is a decisive step toward the racial reckoning that our country desperately needs. The rest of the South should follow suit.

(source: Opinion; Martin Luther King III is a global human rights activist and the chairman of the Drum Major Institute0000USA Today)

US MILITARY:

Senators Urge Biden To Shut Down Guantánamo, Calling It A 'Symbol Of Lawlessness'

In a letter to the White House, 24 senators said the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba "has damaged America's reputation, fueled anti-Muslim bigotry, and weakened the United States' ability to counter terrorism and fight for human rights and the rule of law around the world."

Calling the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a "symbol of lawlessness and human rights abuses," 2 dozen U.S. senators are urging President Biden to shut it down quickly and find new homes for the 40 men remaining there. Many of the detainees have been confined at Guantánamo for nearly two decades without being tried or charged, and some have been cleared for release but are still being held.

In a letter sent to Biden on Friday and reviewed by NPR, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin and 23 of his Democratic-voting colleagues outlined immediate steps they believe the administration should take to close the secretive, deteriorating island detention facility. Among them:

--Reestablish the State Department office, dismantled by the Trump administration, that negotiates with foreign governments to transfer Guantánamo prisoners to other countries.

--Begin negotiating overseas transfers for the 6 men already approved for release as well as for any detainees who will not be charged with crimes.

--Use the U.S. federal courts to pursue plea agreements with detainees who can be federally charged and let them serve any remaining prison time overseas.

--Have the Justice Department conduct plea agreements remotely via videoconference since current federal law prohibits Guantánamo prisoners from entering the U.S. for any reason.

The senators said in the letter that Guantánamo "has damaged America's reputation, fueled anti-Muslim bigotry, and weakened the United States' ability to counter terrorism and fight for human rights and the rule of law around the world." As a result, they wrote, "it is past time" to shutter the prison, which opened in 2002, and "end indefinite detention."

Biden's likelihood of success at closing Guantánamo is unclear. His efforts are applauded by human rights groups but criticized by several Senate Republicans, who say releasing the prisoners would endanger the country. Former President Barack Obama never fulfilled his pledge to shut down Guantánamo due to vehement Republican opposition.

In their letter, the senators described Guantánamo's military court, which has finalized only 1 conviction in almost 20 years, as "thoroughly failed and discredited." The court has been perpetually problem-plagued, and legal proceedings there have been at a virtual standstill since February 2020 when the pandemic drastically limited access to the island.

Guantánamo's highest-profile legal matter — the Sept. 11 death penalty case involving five defendants — has not gone to trial even though the 20th anniversary of the attacks is fast approaching, and at this point few Guantánamo lawyers believe it ever will. The case has repeatedly been delayed by ongoing setbacks, including a sort of musical chairs of judges, one of whom quit last fall after 2 weeks on the job.

To date, according to an NPR investigation, Guantánamo's military court and prison have cost the U.S. more than $6 billion, money the senators called "wasted taxpayer dollars."

The 24 lawmakers — 23 Democrats and 1 independent — who signed the letter include Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla of California, and Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. The letter was also sent to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Attorney General Merrick Garland.

In February, the White House said it would review Guantánamo's prison with the goal of closing it permanently but provided few details. A National Security Council spokesperson said the review would involve the NSC, Congress and the departments of Defense, State and Justice.

Meanwhile, many of the prisoners are aging, as well as weakened by their past CIA torture. And in a rare development in December, a "forever prisoner" who has been held at Guantánamo for more than 18 years despite never being criminally charged was cleared for release after a parole-like board concluded he is no longer a significant threat to the United States. However, it is unclear when he may leave Guantánamo and where he would go, because his home country of Yemen is in a state of collapse.

And Guantánamo's facilities are rapidly decaying. Earlier this month, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other so-called high-value detainees were moved from a crumbling secret detention facility to a main prison area, a move the military said would cut expenses.

In recent years, about 1,800 troops — mostly National Guard members — have overseen Guantánamo's 40 remaining detainees, costing an estimated $13 million per prisoner per year. That guard force now numbers about 1,500. Almost 800 detainees have passed through the prison since it opened in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

(source: npr.org)

GLOBAL:

Global Death Penalty Report: Executions for Drug Offenses Down 75% Worldwide -- Executions for drug offenses plummeted worldwide during 2020, according to a new report by the global drug-policy monitor Harm Reduction International (HRI).

3 countries — China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran — carried out 30 confirmed executions for non-violent drug crimes over the course of the year, the group reported in its annual analysis, The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: Global Overview 2020. The total, the April 7, 2021 report said, was the lowest since HRI began reporting on executions for drug offenses in 2007. Drug-related executions were down 75% from the 116 confirmed drug executions worldwide in 2019 and have declined by a staggering 96% from the 755 confirmed drug executions in 2015.

HRI attributed some of the decline in execution to the COVID-19 pandemic, but said that “political developments played an important role.” Drug executions were down from 84 in 2019 to 5 in 2020 in Saudi Arabia, after the Kingdom proclaimed a moratorium on the practice. The report noted what it called a “slight” but “significant … decrease in confirmed executions in Iran” from 30 in 2019 to 25 in 2020 following legislative amendments to the nation’s drug laws. For the 1st time since 2013, HRI said, Singapore did not carry out any drug-related executions.

“It is too early to definitively conclude if this is the beginning of a long-term trend, or the outcome of an exceptional year,” the report said. HRI cautioned that cumulative data on the death penalty for drug offenses “is grossly insufficient, partly due to a lack of information on executions in China and Vietnam.” The organization confirmed that drug executions had taken place in China in 2020 but noted that “both [countries] are reported to routinely execute people for drug offences.”

While executions for drug offenses dramatically declined, HRI reported that death sentences imposed worldwide for non-violent drug crimes and the number of prisoners on death rows worldwide for drug offenses both rose in 2020. 35 countries still authorize the death-penalty for drug offenses and ten imposed death sentences under those laws. HRI confirmed the imposition of at least 213 new death sentences for drug offenses in 2020, a 16% increase. At least 3,000 people are currently on death rows worldwide for drug offenses, HRI said.

HRI Executive Director Naomi Burke-Shyne called the continued use of the death penalty for drug offenses “amidst a global pandemic … abhorrent and emblematic of an overly punitive approach to drug control.” “Too many countries remain reluctant to move away from capital punishment and their false belief that the death penalty deters drug offences,” she said.

Pointing to China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam, HRI sharply criticized the use of secrecy to conceal information about the extent to which “high application” countries were employing capital punishment for drug offenses. “It is essential to note that there remains a pervasive and systemic lack of transparency around the death penalty, which is in violation of clear international standards,” the report said. That problem “was exacerbated in 2020,” HRI said, when the pandemic, restrictions on travel, and “the shrinking of civil society space” combined to make the collection of information and independent monitoring of death-penalty practices “even more challenging than in previous years.”

The report also noted widespread fair trial abuses as countries denied defendants confidential communications with lawyers and in-person trials during the pandemic. Lacking the infrastructure for virtual meetings, some defendants held in Indonesian detention centers had to speak with their lawyers in the presence of prison guards using the guards’ personal cellphones. At least 17 defendants in Indonesia and one in Singapore were sentenced to death in trials conducted over Zoom or other virtual platforms. “[A]dministering the death penalty requires a complicated, complex and (to a degree) expensive machinery,” the report said. The “already problematic functioning” of capital drug trials, the report concluded, “was further challenged by the pandemic.”

Harm Reduction International is an international non-governmental organization engaged in research and advocacy on the health, social, and legal affects of drug use and drug policy. It holds Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

COUNCIL OF EUROPE:

Measures against the trade in goods used for the death penalty, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

On 31 March 2021, the Committee of Ministers has adopted the Recommendation CM/Rec(2021)2 to its member States on measures against the trade in goods used for the death penalty, torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishement, thus inviting member States to regularly review their national legislation and practice related to this serious issue, in order to make sure that they comply with the measures set out in the appendix to this Recommendation.

This instrument has been prepared by the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) in close co-operation with representatives of the civil society.

(source: coe.int)

IRAN:

Execution Record Under Rouhani Demonstrates Meaninglessness of “Moderation” in Iran

On Tuesday, the organization Iran Human Rights published a 120-page report, co-authored by Together Against the Death Penalty, detailing the usage of capital punishment in Iran since the election of President Hassan Rouhani. The report noted a significant increase in the total number of executions compared to the period overseen by Rouhani’s avowedly hardline predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The findings seemingly reinforce the conclusion that many Iranian dissidents and human rights activists made immediately after the current president took office in 2013, namely that expectations of reform under his leadership were groundless.

Rouhani’s election came as a surprise to many observers of Iranian affairs, given that he was not the favored candidate of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or any other powerful hardline official. This in turn led some commentators to describe the 2013 election as a partial vindication of Green Movement from four year earlier, which emerged grew out of disputes regarding Ahmadinejad’s supposed election. But underlying the expressions of surprise was recognition of the fact that clerical authorities wield tight control over the electoral process, particularly via the Guardian Council’s power to bar undesirable candidates.

Dissident groups like the National Council of Resistance of Iran highlighted this feature of the ruling system in order to argue that if Rouhani’s election was, at best, a concession in name only. Many of Rouhani’s early supporters seemed to embrace this conclusion during his first term in office, which was marked by inaction on virtually all of the progressive talking points that had defined his campaign.

It is generally understood that when the Islamic Republic holds its next presidential election in June, Rouhani’s successor will be drawn from the hardline faction that is closely associated with Khamenei and the regime’s paramilitary force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Some Western policymakers have expressed concern over the impact this transition may have on negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program. But Tehran has already taken a distinctly hardline position on the status of the 2015 agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and Rouhani has personally insisted that the US must remove all sanctions before Iran takes any steps back toward compliance with the restrictions that deal imposed.

Of course, the deal itself was harshly derided by some Western policymakers as well as by representatives of Iran’s regional adversaries. Skepticism about the regime’s supposed moderation under Rouhani’s nominal leadership helped to drive the US withdrawal, in May 2018, under then-President Donald Trump. His successor, Joe Biden, has signaled willingness to rejoin the pact, but the 2 sides are recognizably at an impasse and the European signatories are struggling to achieve a breakthrough before Rouhani is replaced.

The potential implications for the JCPOA are unclear, but what is even less clear is what, if any, practical impact Rouhani’s exit will have on domestic affairs in the Islamic Republic. The recent report on capital punishment raises the possibility that a “hardline” presidency could actually coincide with a downturn in certain indicators such as the number of executions. More to the point, the report reinforces the NCRI’s position that the political affiliation of leading figures is irrelevant as long as the existing system of government remains in place. In recent years, that position has been publicly embraced by large numbers of Iranian citizens, via their participation in at least three nationwide uprisings that featured slogans such as, “Hardliners and reformists: the game is over!”

The 1st of those uprisings took place in December 2017 and January 2018, and encompassed well over 100 cities and towns. A subsequent uprising in November 2019 saw participation in nearly 200 localities and also led to perhaps the most severe political repression since the 1980s. In a matter of only days, the Revolutionary Guards fatally shot approximately 1,500 people, while another 12,000 were arrested. Many of those arrestees were subjected to torture over a period of weeks and months, and a full accounting of the death toll may never been known.

Naturally, deaths from shooting incidents and torturous interrogation are not counted in the official tally of the regime’s executions. This goes to show that the difference in scale of government-sanctioned killing under Ahmadinejad and Rouhani may be even greater than the Iran Human Rights report suggests. While acknowledging that all Iranian death penalty statistics are estimates, the report concludes that 3,327 people were hanged during eight years of the Ahmadinejad administration, and about 4,050 have been hanged so far during Rouhani’s. This breaks down to an average of 35 executions per month in the first place, and 45 per month in the 2nd.

This is contrary to what one might expect if one were to focus solely on news that comports with Rouhani’s moderate public image. In 2017, the Iranian parliament changed the law to allow for lesser sentences in the case of non-violent drug crimes that traditionally accounted for the majority of the country’s executions. This should have led to a precipitous drop in annual death penalty statistics, but in reality the drop-off was modest and was preceded by an especially prolific period of executions.

What’s more, the number of hangings soon began to rise again, owing both to capricious application of the parliamentary reform and to an increase in the pace of implementation for other types of death sentences, including sentences for political charges like “enmity against God” and “spreading corruption on earth.” Iran Human Rights Monitor recently reported that after a 20-day pause in hangings around the time of the Iranian New Year holiday, Nowruz, the Iranian judiciary implemented at least 14 capital sentences during a one-week period.

Although Iran Human Rights acknowledged that the judiciary is technically independent of the presidency, it also emphasized that this does not necessarily absolve the president of responsibility for the overall pace of execution or other forms of corporal punishment. At no point since he took office has Rouhani lived up to his moderate credentials by urging clemency or speaking out publicly against instances of politically motivated execution or execution for crimes that do not rise to the international standard for “most serious.”

Although it is virtually certain that Rouhani’s successor will be similarly deferent to the judiciary and to other hardline authorities, the final months of his 8 year administration will most likely reinforce one legacy ahead of all others: confirmation that a moderate public image makes little to no practical difference where the character of an official in the Islamic Republic of Iran is concerned.

(source: iranfocus.com)

MYANMAR:

Over 23,000 prisoners remitted sentences in Myanmar in New Year amnesty

Myanmar's State Administration Council remitted sentences of a total of 23,184 prisoners on Saturday, the 1st day of Myanmar calendar New Year.

According to the council's orders, 23,047 Myanmar national prisoners and 137 foreign prisoners are remitted sentences to mark Myanmar's traditional new year and on humanitarian ground as well as in view of relations between the respective countries and Myanmar.

According to a separate pardon order, the council reduced the death penalty to life imprisonment with no possibility of release, and reduced the life imprisonment with no possibility of release to 40 years, excluding those who have been pardoned from death penalty to life imprisonment in the previous amnesty orders.

Prisoners who have been sentenced to life imprisonment in the previous amnesty orders will be reduced to 50 years of imprisonment, and punishment of more than 40 years of imprisonment will be reduced to 40 years while 40 years and under are cut 1/4, the order said.

The council also remitted sentences of 23,314 local prisoners and 55 foreign prisoners on Feb. 12 after a one-year state of emergency was declared in Myanmar on Feb. 1 this year.

The state power was handed over to Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, chair of newly formed State Administration Council.

(source: xinhuanet.com)

SINGAPORE:

4 S'poreans & 2 M'sians arrested at Chinatown hotel in S$45k drug bust----A total of about 1,718g of cannabis, 104g of ‘Ice’, 8 ‘Ecstasy’ tablets and 20 Erimin-5 tablets were seized during the operation.

4 Singaporeans and two Malaysians have been arrested in a drug-bust that saw S$45,000 worth of narcotics seized.

The arrests came on the evening of Apr. 15, 2021, when officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) conducted an anti-drug operation at a hotel located in the vicinity of Chinatown.

According to a CNB press release, officers first apprehended a 26-year-old Malaysian male in the hotel lobby and brought him to his hotel room where about 10g of cannabis and 20 Erimin-5 tablets were seized.

At another room in the same hotel, 4 Singaporeans — a 33-year-old female and three men aged 26, 27, and 30 — and a 26-year-old Malaysian male were arrested.

In their hotel room, officers uncovered about 118g of cannabis, 104g of ‘Ice’, 8 ‘Ecstasy’ tablets and various drug paraphernalia.

The 26-year-old Singaporean man from the 2nd hotel room was later found to have stored 50g of cannabis in his motorcycle and about 1,540g of cannabis in his Bukit Batok residence.

A total of about 1,718g of cannabis, 104g of ‘Ice’, eight ‘Ecstasy’ tablets and 20 Erimin-5 tablets were seized during the operation.

Trafficking could result in the death penalty

Investigations into the drug activities of all the suspects are ongoing. The total amount of 1,718g of cannabis that had been seized in the operation is sufficient to feed the addiction of about 245 abusers for a week.

The Misuse of Drugs Act states that an individual in possession of more than 15g of cannabis or 25g of methamphetamine shall be presumed to have had them the purpose of trafficking unless it is proved that his possession of that drug was not for that purpose.

According to the CNB, those found guilty of trafficking more than 500g of cannabis could face the death penalty.

Being in possession or consuming methamphetamine could result in up to 10 years of imprisonment, a S$20,000 fine or both.

(source: mothership.sg)

ZIMBABWE:

Zimbabwe prisoners released amid overcrowding during Covid-19 pandemic----Prisoners await their early release from Chikurubi Maximum Prison in Harare on April 17, 2021 after a presidential amnesty by Zimbabwe President.

Zimbabwe has begun releasing about 3,000 prisoners under a presidential amnesty aimed at easing congestion to reduce the threat of COVID-19 in the country’s overcrowded jails. About 400 prisoners were released from Chikurubi prison and other jails in the capital, Harare, on Saturday with more coming from other prisons countrywide.

Zimbabwe’s prisons have a capacity of 17,000 prisoners but held about 22,000 before the amnesty declared by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

"We were crowded in the cells despite the Covid scare and sometimes we were 25 in a single cell," said former prisoner Kudakwashe Maoneka.

"We were aware of the prevention measures but it was difficult to stay even a metre apart from the next person and we even slept as a crowd."

Those to be released had been convicted of non-violent crimes. Those convicted of crimes such as murder, treason, human trafficking, and sexual offenses will not benefit.

All females imprisoned for non-violent crimes and who served a third of their sentences are to be released, as will all disabled persons convicted of non-violent crimes. Mnangagwa also commuted death sentences to life sentences for many prisoners on death row. Zimbabwe still has the death penalty but has not hanged anyone in years.

The amnesty “will go a long way” to reduce expenditure and the threat of the spread of the virus in prisons, said Alvord Gapare, the commander for prisons in Harare. He said prisons in the capital had recorded 173 confirmed infections and 1 death.

Zimbabwe has recorded 37,534 cases of COVID-19, including 1,551 deaths by Apr. 17, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Authorities have suspended visits to prisons while plans are made to vaccinate inmates as part of measures to combat the spread of the virus, said Gapare.

Political activists who have been sent to prison as part of a government crackdown on dissent have spoken of dire conditions, which they said put inmates at risk of both starvation and disease outbreak.

In another response to the pandemic, Zimbabwe has canceled the Independence Day celebrations planned for April 18 to combat the spread of COVID-19.

(source: africanews.com)

APRIL 16, 2021:

FLORIDA:

Russell Tillis avoids death penalty for Joni Gunter’s murder----Tillis, 59, guilty of kidnapping and killing 30-year-old Gunter

A jury of 12 men and women on Thursday did not unanimously recommend the death penalty for Russell Tillis, the man convicted in the murder and dismemberment of Joni Gunter. That means, according to Florida law, he will receive a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

Before the decision was made, prosecutors argued that Tillis, 59, has a long history of victimizing women and therefore deserved to go to death row. Tillis’ defense argued that he had a violent and traumatic childhood, deserves mercy, and should be given life without parole.

The jury, who convicted Tillis last week of 1st-degree murder, kidnapping and dismemberment in Gunter’s death, heard what was basically a miniature trial before being asked to recommend whether Tillis should be put to death for the crime or face a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

The jury began deliberations just after 2 p.m. and spent more than four hours in discussions. The majority of the jurors (9-3) voted in favor of the death penalty, but the vote was not unanimous, therefore, Tillis can not be sentenced to death, according to Florida law.

When asked if he felt as though Gunter’s family received justice, Alan Mizrahi, the assistant state attorney, responded: “I don’t want to speak for them, but my conversation afterward, the grandmother appeared to be satisfied that the verdict and the trial were over, and that the verdict would ensure that Russell Tillis would never leave the Florida state prison system.”

The judge said there will be an imposition of the sentence during the week of May 17.

Before the jury began deliberations, it first heard from Shannon Brinkley, the mother of one of Tillis’ sons Nathan, who also testified Thursday morning.

Brinkley testified that she and Tillis had a relationship and a child when she was 17 living in California but she ended the relationship after he started selling drugs when they were together. She also said she heard other things about his past that scared her, such as the apparent abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of his father.

She also testified that as an older child, Tillis told her he would drive around with other family members and beat up Black people in Florida. They were then paid by his grandfather for the acts, she said.

Nathan Tillis also testified and said the 1st time he ever spoke with his father he was 12 years old. Nathan Tillis said his father told him not to be like him.

Closing arguments wrapped up late Thursday morning before the jury was given instructions ahead of their deliberation.

The proceedings included lists of aggravating and mitigating circumstances in the case to inform the jurors’ decision. Among the aggravating circumstances for jurors to consider -- whether Gunter’s murder was “heinous, cruel and atrocious,” as well as being “cold and calculated.”

They also weighed mitigating circumstances, including Tillis’ age and his mental state.

During witness testimony Wednesday, the goal of the prosecution was to paint Tillis as a man who has abused women for decades and Gunter’s murder was just one of many victims.

“What happened to Joni Gunter wasn’t an isolated incident on his worst day,” Assistant State Attorney Alan Mizrahi told the jury in its opening statement. “It was his every day.”

The state called 2 women who testified that Tillis also abused them. The first victim was 14 years old in 2006 when he offered her a ride and sexually assaulted her.

“He went into that vacant lot he put the car in park and right then I knew it was trouble -- something bad was going to happen to me,” she said.

The 2nd victim met Tillis in 1989 when he stopped as her car was broken down along I-75 and attempted to kidnap and rape her.

“I thought they were going to find my body down in a ditch,” she testified. “I slept with a bat beside my bed for a year. I was so afraid he would know where I live and come back to me.”

After about 2 hours, the prosecution rested and Tillis’ defense began working to prevent a death sentence by portraying him as a victim of violence and trauma starting as a young child.

(source: news4jax.com)

OHIO:

Mother of slain Struthers boy indicted on weapons offense

Alexis M. Schneider, 23, of Struthers, mother of Rowan Sweeney, was indicted Thursday on a charge of improperly handling firearms in a motor vehicle, as was Yarnell C. Green Jr., 30, of Youngstown.

Rowan is the boy, 4, who was shot to death Sept. 21, 2020, in the Perry Street home in Struthers where his mother and Green were living. Schneider and Green also were shot, but survived.

Three men are facing charges that could include the death penalty in Rowan’s death, the shooting of Schneider, Green and two other people; plus armed robbery and other offenses.

Schneider and Green were charged with the weapons offense March 21 after police found a gun under the front seat of the car near the center console after an 11:13 p.m. traffic stop on Dewey Avenue on the South Side. Schneider was in the front passenger seat, and Green was driving.

A Youngstown police officer said he spotted Schneider’s car on Cameron Avenue with one operational headlight. The car then turned onto Homestead Avenue and then Pasadena Avenue, then failed to signal as it turned onto East Dewey Avenue, the officer stated in a police report.

The officer turned on his lights and siren, and the car stopped quickly and turned into a driveway on East Dewey. The driver and passenger were both seen reaching toward the center console and moving their arms as if they were shoving something between the seat and center console on the passenger side, the officer stated.

Green appeared to be nervous, and his hands were shaking, as were Schneider’s, the officer stated. Green said his driver’s license was suspended, which officers confirmed, resulting in Green being charged with misdemeanor driving under suspension.

The gun had a bullet in the chamber and additional bullets in the magazine. The firearm was reported stolen out of Boardman in January, according to the police report.

No arraignment date has been set. If convicted, each could get up to 18 months in prison.

(source: Youngstown Vindicator)

TENNESSEE:

Tennessee legislation would stop executions of intellectually disabled

Tennessee lawmakers are advancing legislation designed to prevent death row inmates with an intellectual disability from being executed. The proposal has gained a groundswell of support from disability advocates and death penalty critics. They argue that Tennessee is long overdue in addressing the issue.

They also point to inmate Pervis Payne, who attorneys call intellectually disabled as he awaits an execution date. Payne was sentenced to death in the 1987 fatal stabbings of Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter.

So far, the bill has faced minimal resistance advancing out of legislative committees, but it still must clear the full House and Senate.

(source: WREG news)

ILLINOIS:

Dramatic reading of “The Exonerated” play reveals stories of death row exonerees

In 1994, Gary Gauger was wrongfully placed on death row, but was proven innocent a few years later. After his sentence was overturned, Gauger was profiled in a 2000 play called “The Exonerated.”

Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law and School of Communication hosted a dramatic reading of the play Thursday — a reading that has a connection to the University because Gauger was a death row client at NU’s Center on Wrongful Convictions.

“I was one of the lucky people… my friends were behind me, they went to Chicago (and) tried to get lawyers,” Gauger said. “I also realized how totally screwed this up was, and I went into (the experience) realizing I’ve got to turn this into a positive experience.”

“The Exonerated,” written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, tells the stories of 6 innocent people, all of whom were sentenced to death for murders they did not commit. The characters are based on real individuals interviewed by the playwrights throughout the writing process.

Director Jordan Donica said the reading marks the 10th anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in the state of Illinois. Each exoneree offers a unique perspective on the justice system, along with the spirit that carried each one through their time on death row.

A younger version of each of the exonerees was incorporated into the reading, playing alongside their older counterpart — a choice Donica said was made to emphasize the impact of the justice system.

“I was struck by what this does to the innocence of youth, and how people maintain that innocence in the face of a system that seeks to destroy all of who they are,” Donica said.

Pritzker’s Interim Dean James Speta said the reading intends to emphasize the most critical issue in the criminal justice system: the death penalty. While there is continued advocacy for abolishing the death penalty, wrongful convictions still exist in society today.

Speta said 185 innocent people have been exonerated from death rows around the country, and the Center on Wrongful Convictions has been at the heart of this fight for justice since its launch in 1999. The Center has represented over 45 individuals in legal proceedings that have led to their exonerations, he said.

“It is my hope that tonight’s event will further accelerate our discussions around the country and result in critical reformation of the death penalty and other criminal justice issues that result in wrongful convictions,” Speta said.

Speta said the 10th anniversary coincides with the resurgent national effort to abolish the death penalty, both at individual states and the federal level.

School of Communication Dean Patrick Johnson said the event fulfilled the school’s mission of creating a “more expansive, inclusive and justice-oriented creative community.” He also praised the talent of the students, staff and alumni involved.

“We’re using performance to call attention to the state’s ongoing participation in these rituals of human sacrifice, but also to demonstrate how we might use performance as a radical act of resistance,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he also wants to broaden the scope of material students study and perform so it includes works by artists from underrepresented groups, or stories of people at the margins.

Ultimately, Donica said it was “special” to bring together different members of the Northwestern community for this reading.

“Tonight is to celebrate those who have been freed, but it is also to lift up those who are still waiting,” Donica said.

(source: The Daily Northwestern)

NEBRASKA:

Sentencing date set for convicted murderer Aubrey Trail

A Wilber man accused of killing and dismembering a woman will soon learn his fate.

According to court records, Aubrey Trail, 54, is scheduled to appear Saline County District Court at 9 a.m. June 9 before a 3-judge panel for sentencing. The panel consists of Judges Vicky Johnson, Susan Strong and Michael Smith.

The panel will decide whether Trail receives the death penalty or serve life in prison without parole. The sentencing comes months after a March hearing was held on whether Trail should receive the death penalty.

Trail has been convicted of killing Sydney Loofe and discarding her dismembered body in rural Clay County, back in 2017.

(source: nebraska.tv)

MONTANA:

Lethal injection drug bill voted down by Montana Senate

A bill that would have allowed the state of Montana to resume executions via lethal injection was voted down in the Senate on Thursday afternoon.

House Bill 244 brought by Rep. Dennis Lenz, R-Billings, proposed revising Montana’s death penalty law in an effort to comply with a 2015 district court ruling. That ruling halted the use of one drug the state used for executions.

In 2015, Lewis and Clark County District Court Judge Jeffrey Sherlock ruled that pentobarbital, a drug used by the state in its lethal injection cocktail, did not meet the definition of "ultra-fast" identified in law because it takes several minutes to work.

HB 244 proposed revising state law to remove mention of a specific drug, replacing it with a fast-acting substance “sufficient to cause death.” The legislation was endorsed by Republican Attorney General Austin Knudsen, who told lawmakers the change would fix the legal issue identified by the court with language similar to that of legally tested laws in Texas and Florida.

Sen. Carl Glimm, R-Kila, carried the bill onto the Senate floor Thursday. The bill was about a technical change to allow some flexibility for the Montana Department of Corrections to decide the appropriate drugs to use for executions, he said.

“I’m sure we could have a vigorous debate about the death penalty, but that’s not what this is about,” he told the Senate.

Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, said the bill was not about a technicality, but how the Legislature will decide to authorize the execution of a human being. She further referenced expert testimony from HB 244’s committee hearing, which included concerns certain drugs used nationally in executions have been linked to severe pulmonary edema, which produces sensations of drowning and panic.

“The issue is whether we as the Legislature will authorize that form of death on our behalf to be done in the state of Montana,” Sands said.

Sen. Brad Molnar, R-Laurel, also opposed the bill, detailing his history with the issue as a lawmaker. Citing those who have been wrongfully convicted, and concerns that people could continue to be executed for crimes they did not commit, he detailed his opposition vote.

“When you separate body and soul, there is no monetary settlement,” he said, in reference to a bill to compensate the wrongfully convicted.

Republicans Sen. Teresa Manzella of Hamilton and Keith Regier of Kalispell spoke in favor of HB 244. Manzella said she had grappled with the issue but had ultimately “came down on the side of protecting innocent life” by supporting the death penalty. Regier questioned why if drugs could be prescribed for doctor-assisted suicide why there has been such a national issue with the use of drugs in lethal injections.

Glimm reiterated that the bill was not about the death penalty itself.

“The state of Montana has the death penalty, it just doesn’t have a way of carrying it out,” he said. “We need to make the law work.”

HB 244 failed on a vote of 24-26, with 7 Republicans and 19 Democrats voting against the measure. It previously passed the House on a vote of 56-42.

Montana’s last execution was carried out in 1996, when the state put to death David Thomas Dawson for a 1986 triple homicide in Billings.

Montana currently has 2 inmates on death row.

A bill to repeal Montana’s death penalty was introduced this session by Rep. Ed Stafman, D-Bozeman, but was tabled in committee.

(source: helenar.com)

NEVADA:

Hearing set on bid for 1st execution since 2006 in Nevada

A Nevada judge has scheduled a hearing next month on a bid by prosecutors to set an execution date for a man convicted of walking into a Las Vegas supermarket with a shotgun and shooting 5 people, killing 4, in 1999.

Zane Michael Floyd’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Brad Levenson, said Thursday that Floyd has not given up appeals and will “vigorously” fight in state and federal courts prosecutors’ efforts to carry out the death sentence.

A filing Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas claims that execution by lethal injection would violate Floyd’s constitutional rights. A hearing was not immediately set.

Meanwhile, a state judge in Las Vegas set the May 12 hearing on a Wednesday filing by Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson seeking a death warrant.

Levenson has already filed several procedural challenges of that effort.

Floyd, now 45, is being held at Ely State Prison. He would be the 1st person executed in Nevada since 2006, when Daryl Mack asked to be put to death for his conviction in a 1988 rape and murder in Reno. The state allows executions only by lethal injection.

In 2017 and 2018, executions of a twice-convicted killer, Scott Raymond Dozier, were canceled close to his scheduled dates amid legal battles over plans to use a 3-drug combination that had never been used for a lethal injection in the U.S.

Dozier had given up appeals, insisted he wanted to die and had been placed on suicide watch before he hanged himself in his cell at Ely State Prison in January 2019.

Floyd appeared to exhaust federal appeals last November of the death sentence he received in 2000. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his case.

“There is no longer any legal reason or good cause why the judgment of death should not be executed,” Wolfson’s motion for a death warrant said.

The developments come at the same time a bill aimed at abolishing the death penalty in Nevada advanced further in the Legislature than any similar measure in recent years.

Now before the state Senate, it would commute the sentences of about 70 inmates on death row to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Scott Coffee, a veteran deputy Clark County public defender and longtime advocate for abolishing capital punishment in Nevada, called passage of the bill on a party-line vote in the Democratic-controlled Assembly “the 1st real recognition of how broken the death penalty is in Nevada.”

Coffee called the timing of prosecutors’ effort to execute Floyd “interesting.”

Wolfson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal the timing was coincidental, and that Floyd was “an example of the type of murderer that the death penalty was designed for.”

“It is my responsibility to move forward as the jury and citizens of this community have asked me to do to seek the warrant of execution,” the district attorney said.

Today, the killings would be characterized as an active shooter attack. Supermarket manager Carlos Chuck Leos and employees Thomas Darnell, Lucille Alice Tarantino and Dennis Troy Sargent died. Zachary Emenegger was shot twice but survived by playing dead.

The attack was captured on store security video and Floyd was arrested by police in the supermarket parking lot.

(source: Associated Press)

IRAN:

12 women detained on death row in the Central Prison of Urmia

A Kurdish human rights organization has reported the names of 12 women detained on death row in the women’s ward of the Central Prison of Urmia. All 12 women are convicted of deliberate murder. Their names are:

Mohabbat Mahmoudi, from Urmia; Zahra Farhadi, from Urmia; Parisa Moradi, from Bukan; Nishteman Mohammadi, from Sardasht; Golzar Ahmadian, from Sardasht; Faranak Beheshti, from Takab; Soheila Nematzadeh, from Miandoab; Mojgan Abdollahi, from Mahabad; Zeinab Khaled, from Sardasht; Mojgan Azarpisheh, from Urmia; Tahmineh Danesh, from Khoy; Ziba, from Bukan.

The Iranian Judiciary does not categorize murder charges. It categorically hands down the death penalty for murder convicts regardless of their motivation. Nevertheless, many women executed or sentenced to death on the charge of murder were victims of domestic violence and acted in self-defense.

At least 116 women have been executed during Hassan Rouhani’s tenure as the mullahs’ president.

A case in point

Mohabbat Mahmoudi, 64 with 5 children, has been detained on death row for 20 years.

She has been deprived of furlough for 18 years.

Mohabbat Mahmoudi was arrested on April 21, 2001, on the charge of murdering a man who had trespassed into her house. Armed with a knife, he intended to rape her.

She was arrested and detained in the Central Prison of Urmia since then. She went on furlough only once for several days 18 years ago.

On the day of the incident, Mohabbat and her daughter-in-law were home. At 8 a.m. Hatam Mahmoudi Gonbadi, the victim, armed with a knife broke into their house intending to rape them. He stabbed Mohebbat 3 times in the side and abdomen. He refused to leave the house. So, Mohabbat pointed a gun at him. She shot him inadvertently, and he died.

When police officers came to the scene, the knife was still in the hand of the victim. Nevertheless, the court sentenced Ms. Mahmoudi to death.

The victim had 2 wives and 16 children.

(source: women.ncr-iran.org)

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

Arsalan Khodkam’s Death Sentence Commuted to Life Imprisonment

According to a notice served to Arsalan Khodkam today, the Kurdish political prisoner’s death sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment.

According to Iran Human Rights, following the publication of the Amnesty Commission’s list, Arsalan Khodkam was served a notice from Branch One of the Urmia Military Court informing him that his death sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment.

Arsalan Khodkam is a Kurdish political prisoner in Urmia Central Prison who was sentenced to death on charges of “espionage for a Kurdish dissident group.” His sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court.

A Mahabad native, Arsalan is married with a 16 year-old son. He joined the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the 1990s. After 16 years in the IRGC, Arsalan was arrested in March 2018 for links to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), while he was on duty in Oshnavieh.

Arsalan was tried by the Urmia Revolutionary Court over the course of 6 sessions without a verdict ,and his case was referred to the Urmia Military Court. He was denied access to the lawyer of his choice and due process throughout his sentencing and appeal process. Those close to Arsalan have previously told IHR that he was tortured and pressured to force a false confession in prison.

He wrote an open letter to Iran’s head of judiciary in December, in which he described details of ill-treatment and torture and the injustices in his case and requested “a retrial and a fair trial, without any influence and pressure from intelligence and security forces.”

(source: iranhr.net)

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

VUB guest professor Djalali moved out of solitary, says Amnesty

Ahmadreza Djalali, the Swedish-Iranian professor who guested at the Free University (VUB) in Brussels, has been moved out of solitary confinement in Iran, according to Amnesty International.

Professor Djalali, an expert on disaster medicine, was arrested while visiting a conference in Iran in 2016 on charges of espionage. The charges were an invention, his supporters argue, trumped up after he refused to spy for Iran in the West. They also point out his trial, where he was sentenced to death, lacked even the most basic democratic protections.

Since then he has been imprisoned, and Amnesty has picked up his case.

Sweden, where he lives with his wife and family, granted him nationality. And the fact that he had been a guest professor at the VUB brought Brussels into the case. The rectors of both Brussels universities, ULB and VUB, have called for international action on his behalf.

Recently, it seemed as if the clouds were gathering. First, he was moved into solitary confinement, normally a precursor to execution. Then in December, it was announced he was being moved from Evin prison in Tehran to Rajaj Shar prison in Karaj, where executions are carried out.

However, the move was suspended by a judge, ostensibly to allow him one more contact with his family.

At the time, it appeared that Iran might be playing a game of chicken with the Belgian authorities, in connection with a trial taking place in Antwerp involving an Iranian diplomat accused of taking part in a plot to blow up a meeting of Iranian dissidents near Paris.

In the event, the trial ran its course, and the diplomat was convicted in absentia, though is unlikely ever to face justice. It seems unlikely that Iran, whatever its own internal system, does not understand that political pressure is of little weight in European justice systems.

Nonetheless, Amnesty now reports Djalali has been moved out of solitary after 20 weeks spent alone in a constantly lit cell for one in Evin prison.

“We are somewhat relieved that this ends long-term solitary confinement, which was a form of torture,” Amnesty posted on Facebook.

“Djalali is in bad shape. He must have again lost a lot of weight. He still faces the death penalty, to which he was sentenced after a manifestly unfair trial. And so we continue to campaign: www.amnesty-international.be.”

(source: Alan Hope, The Brussels Times)

MYANMAR:

Myanmar Regime Hands Mentally Ill Man Death Sentence

A person who suffers from mental illness was sentenced to death along with 18 other people by Myanmar’s military regime on April 8 after being accused of banditry and murder in North Okkalapa Township, Yangon, in late March.

On March 27, an army officer and his civilian friend were attacked by 19 people in Nya ward in the township, according to the regime.

During the attack, an army officer was injured and his friend allegedly stabbed to death and a pistol and radiophone were taken from the officer.

Ko Aung Aung Htet, who suffers from mental illness, and the 18 other suspects were charged under Articles 396 and 397 of the Penal Code.

The court-martial sentenced them all to death for committing dacoity – an Indian term for banditry – with murder.

Only Ko Aung Aung Htet and another suspect, Ko Bo Bo Nge, are in detention while the other 17 are in hiding.

Ko Aung Aung Htet’s mother claims he only witnessed the attack from a distance.

Due to a mental illness caused by alcohol abuse, Ko Aung Aung Htet has been treated at a mental health hospital and was on medication, his mother told The Irrawaddy.

“I feel pain over the sentence. Please release my son as he is innocent,” she said.

Five men and a woman were also sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment with labor by a court-marital over an arson attack on the North Okkalapa court office on March 15 and 16.

By Tuesday more than 3,000 people, including elected leaders, election commissioners, anti-regime protesters, activists, teachers, doctors, journalists, writers and artists, had been detained by the junta since the Feb. 1 coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

(source: irrawaddy.com)

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

Death sentences: the junta’s latest tactic to instill fear ---- ‘They want people to be scared of them and bow to them’, one lawyer says of the recent announcement that 19 people have been sentence to death

The junta’s announcement that a group of people have been sentenced to death is part of an attempt to instill fear in Myanamr’s population, legal experts have said.

Military-run television last week announced that 19 people from Yangon’s North Okkalapa township, which is under martial law, had received the sentence for killing an army officer’s associate, beating the officer and stealing their guns in late March.

Only 2 of the 19 – Aung Aung Htet and Bo Bo Thu – have been captured while the remaining 17 were convicted in absentia.

“They’re announcing death sentences but they’ve been killing people recklessly on the ground,” said a lawyer who has been providing free legal aid to protesters and wished to remain anonymous. “They’re officializing fear.”

On Tuesday night, 7 people who were accused of killing a woman in Hlaing Tharyar on March 15 were also given death sentences by a military tribunal, according to state-run newspaper The Mirror. Four have been arrested and 3 are still on the run, the paper said. Hlaing Tharyar is also under martial law.

The death penalty has been officilaly on the books in Myanmar since 1988, but authorities have never carried out an execution, said lawyer Kyi Myint.

He believes, contrary to concerns raised by some rights groups, that the military will maintain this moratorium on executions. “They’re just scaring people. They gave the death penalty but they won’t go through with it. So many were given the death penalty during the Than Shwe regime. But no one was executed,” he said.

Myo Aung, a lawyer in Myawaddy, Karen State, said: “They mainly want people to fear them. They want people to be scared of them and bow to them. If people show their loyalty to them and listen to what they say, they will immediately be safe from being murdered by them.”

In a civilian court, the death penalty is given by a district level court and must be appealed within 7 days. Appeals can be made at state and regional courts, the Supreme Court, and to the President. Only if the President rejects the appeal is the sentence final.

Since the coup, appeals must be made to the military council or the head of Yangon Regional Command.

“The law is a weapon to stabilize the administrative mechanism,” he said. “This case carries that principle. I assume it depends on the idea that people won’t dare to do the same after this precedent.”

The junta’s armed forces murdered at least 10 people in North Okkalapa on March 3 and injured dozens of others, according to a volunteer group based in the township.

Protesters said there could have been over 20 deaths that day, but Myanmar Now has not been able to confirm that number.

Over 100 young protestors were arrested in the township on the morning of March 10 when armed forces broke up a protest near Kan Thar Yar park.

On March 14 and 15 the military council declared martial law in Hlaing Tharyar, Shwe Pyi Thar, South Dagon, North Dagon, Dagon Seikkan, and North Okkalapa townships.

It also announced 23 crimes that would be heard by the military tribunal if committed under areas covered by martial law.

The 19 who were sentenced to death are accused of murdering Thant Sin Htwe, who was accompanying Captain Htet Aung Kyaw.

The junta said the killing took place at 3:30pm on March 27, but locals said it must have actually happened in the early hours of the morning that day, while the curfew was in effect, because the arrests began at 8am.

Military trucks took over the local ward administration office at 6am and started arresting people on Aya Kyaung street and several other streets two hours later, a witness told Myanmar Now.

“They captured everyone they could find,” the witness said.

Family members said that Aung Aung Htet and Bo Bo Thu were arrested and taken from their homes at 11:30am.

“They were beating up boys on Aya Kyaung street and asking who they had seen going out for protests and all that,” said Bo Bo Thu’s mother, Aye Aye Thin.

“When they came to Bo Bo Thu, they had this boy named Aung Htet in handcuffs who was beaten up badly. And he was saying ‘This is it, this is Bo Bo Thu’s house,’” she said.

Bo Bo Thu, who was eating a meal at the time, got up to run but the soldiers caught him and took him away after beating him up, Aye Aye Thin said.

Later, she saw her son, who is 28, on television covered in bruises. “He was bleeding; I couldn’t even recognize my own son... I only recognized him because of the shirt,” she said.

Aung Aung Htet, 27, was arrested while recovering from surgery for an injured leg. He suffers from other health issues and was unable to work, said his mother Myint Myint Than.

“They took him for what happened the night before,” added, referring to the killing. “They said an older person should come along, so his dad went. They took him to the Nya ward administration office. There were others who had been arrested as well.”

A lawyer working pro bono will make an appeal in his case through the prison management department, she added.

Over 40 people were detained and interrogated that day at the administration office until 8pm, and about twenty were then taken somewhere else, a witness said.

The military council has announced that appeals can be requested to the chair of the council and the Yangon Region Command Commander, and only the two of them have the right to make changes to cases or dismiss them.

(source: myanmar-now.org)

VIETNAM:

Nigerian man sentenced to death for transporting drugs from Cambodia to Vietnam

Share A Nigerian man has been condemned to death for transporting nearly 3 kilograms of narcotics from Cambodia into Vietnam.

The People’s Court in the southern province of Tay Ninh on Tuesday conducted the trial of Unachukwu Chiluba Paulinus, a 25-year-old man from Nigeria.

Paulinus was given the death penalty for the illegal transport of drugs.

According to the indictment, police and border guard officers in Tay Ninh Province caught the Nigerian man red-handed carrying 2.997 kilograms of methamphetamine on February 19, 2020.

At the police station, Paulinus said he had become acquainted with an unidentified man in Cambodia, who hired him to transport narcotics from Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City for US$2,000.

After receiving $650 in advance, he caught a cab from Phnom Penh to the Cambodia-Vietnam border.

He crossed the border illegally before being detected by officers in Ben Cau District, Tay Ninh Province.

The Nigerian added he had successfully transported a backpack containing unknown items from Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City on February 8, 2020.

He was paid $2,200 for the job.

In related news, the People’s Court in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang on Tuesday sentenced Du Quoc Cuong, 31, and Nguyen Thanh Hai, 42, to death for the illegal trade of narcotics.

The indictment showed that Cuong had met a Vietnamese man in Cambodia in February 2019.

The man later hired Cuong to transport drugs from Cambodia to another man named Sen in Ho Chi Minh City.

Sen would then sell the narcotics to Hai.

From March to April 2019, Cuong managed to transport the drugs on 3 occasions and was paid a total of $3,000.

The man added he carried about 4 to 6 kilograms of narcotics during each journey.

(source: Tuoi Tre News)

APRIL 15, 2021:

TEXAS----death sentences vacated

Texas’ highest criminal court tosses death sentence of Raymond Riles, state’s longest-serving death row inmate----Riles has been deemed mentally incompetent for execution repeatedly in his decades on death row.

Raymond Riles has been on Texas’ death row longer than anyone else, first sent there in 1976. Despite several execution dates being set, he has repeatedly been deemed mentally incompetent to be put to death, instead lingering on the row and the prison’s psychiatric units for more than 45 years. At one point, he set himself on fire and was hospitalized for months.

On Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals tossed his death sentence.

The state court sent his case back to Harris County to again determine his punishment because the jury wasn’t instructed to weigh his mental illness when deciding between a punishment of life in prison or death. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office, which supported tossing the sentence, did not immediately respond to questions Wednesday as to whether the office would again seek the death penalty. His conviction of capital murder is not changed.

“We’re very pleased,” said Thea Posel, one of Riles’ attorneys. “It’s clearly established under Texas and [U.S.] Supreme Court law that Mr. Riles’ death sentence is unconstitutional.”

Riles, now 70, was convicted in the 1974 shooting death of John Thomas Henry. Riles and another man were attempting to return a recently purchased car to Henry, a used car dealer, when Riles shot him, according to court records.

At trial, Riles claimed insanity, and multiple experts testified that he had paranoid delusions, psychosis and schizophrenia. Relatives noted a long line of severe mental illness in the family. But doctors for the prosecution argued Riles was faking, and the jury rejected the insanity defense.

So, when jurors were weighing Riles’ sentence, they were only tasked with deciding whether the murder was deliberate and if Riles would likely be a future danger. They decided he was, so he was sentenced to death.

Starting in 1989, death penalty juries were also required to consider mitigating evidence, like a mental illness, that may sway jurors to instead opt for the lesser punishment of life in prison. Because Riles’ jury was not given that instruction, the Court of Criminal Appeals said Wednesday his death sentence could no longer stand.

“The mental health evidence that [Riles] presented at his trial is the type of evidence that both this Court and the Supreme Court have come to regard as the kind of ‘two-edged’ mitigating evidence calling for a separate, mitigation focused jury instruction,” the judges wrote in their ruling. “[Riles’] jury did not receive any such instruction.”

Riles’ attorneys took his case back to the courts after the Texas high court tossed the death sentence of Cesar Fierro in 2019 for the same reason. Fierro, who had also been on death row for 4 decades for the murder of a taxi driver, was released on parole last year after the El Paso District Attorney decided not to again the seek death penalty.

Judge Michelle Slaughter, joined by Judges Bert Richardson and Kevin Yeary, disagreed with the majority of the court Wednesday, questioning if Riles had the mental capacity to consent to the legal argument and if he would be better served by staying on Texas’ death row.

“If he is released on parole, his mental illness could result in homelessness and/or joblessness,” Slaughter wrote.

“It seems at least plausible that significant changes to his environment and surroundings may cause further deterioration of his mental health status,” she added.

Jim Marcus, Riles’ other attorney, said Wednesday that Riles would be able to either find care outside of prison, if resentenced to life and released on parole or in a prison setting outside of death row, where inmates are kept in solitary confinement.

“All of the options available inside or outside the prison are better suited for somebody with severe mental illness than solitary confinement on Texas’ death row,” he said.

The Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday also vacated the death sentence of Humberto Garza, who was found guilty of killing six men in Hidalgo County in 2003. Garza argued, and the court agreed, that his lawyers at trial were ineffective because they did not present or investigate potential mitigating evidence, such as a childhood surrounded by drugs and violence.

(source: Texas Tribune)

NORTH CAROLINA:

Banning the death penalty

Virginia just became the 1st state in the South to abolish the death penalty, significant because Virginia was the 1st colony to execute someone in 1608 and 2nd only to Texas in the total number of executions.

Here are good reasons North Carolina should do the same.

1. We have unofficially already done away with capital punishment. Our state has the 4th largest number on death row: 137 men and 2 women, however no one has been executed since 2006 and only 4 have been sentenced to death since 2014. All executions have been on hold since 2013 due to court challenges that the “cocktail” of drugs used for lethal injections amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. The likelihood of future executions is small.

2. The death penalty is clearly not a deterrent. Between 2018 and 2019 homicides in our state rose 9 percent and rapes increased by 22 %. Some believe 2020 may have been the most violent in modern history.

3. There is too much unequal justice. Our flawed justice system doesn’t always get it right, especially regarding race. A comprehensive study found that African Americans are more than twice as likely as whites to be denied the right to serve on capital juries. African Americans make up more than half of our state’s death row prisoners, but fewer than 25 percent of our population. A person’s chance of being sentenced to death increases significantly if the victim is white. In far too many cases those accused in capital cases are poor, mentally ill or people of color, often with court-appointed attorneys and with juries that are not diverse. Since passage of the Racial Justice Act and The Actual Innocence Commission, 10 sentenced to death have been exonerated and more than 100 people currently on death row have presented evidence of significant racial bias and have claims currently pending.

4. There are better and less expensive alternatives. For too many years we would sentence someone to life in prison only to have them paroled, but now juries can sentence someone to life without parole. A 1993 Duke University study found that if carried through to execution, capital cases cost an average of $2.2 million more than non-capital ones. A death penalty trial is four times more expensive than a trial where the maximum punishment could be life without parole. A 2009 study estimated that North Carolina could save at least $11 million per year by abolishing the death penalty.

5. Moral reasons. Those in favor of capital punishment often quote Biblical scripture calling for “an eye for an eye,” but that passage is often incorrectly interpreted. What scripture is advocating is the assurance that punishment will be neither too lenient nor too severe. We prefer the moral imperative “Thou shalt not kill.” Substituting the life of one by taking another is not justice. Many families of victims say the lengthy trials actually make healing more difficult. It is interesting that the loudest advocates for capital punishment are the same ones most opposed to abortion, a contradictory stance on the value of a life.

There are now 23 states that have abolished the death penalty and three more have moratoriums. Popular opinion is changing. In the mid 1990s Gallup reported 80 % of those surveyed favored capital punishment for one convicted of murder. Last year the number had dropped to 55 % in favor and 60 % favored life without parole.

The evidence is convicting. It is time North Carolina formally called an end to capital punishment.

(source: Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina Broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. He recently retired from writing, producing and moderating the statewide half-hour TV program NC SPIN that aired 22 ½ years----Richmond County Daily Journal)

WYOMING:

Casper Death Penalty Case Moves Forward

The case of a Casper man facing the death penalty took a step forward Wednesday morning.

Dale Wayne Eaton, convicted for raping and killing a woman 4 years ago, will spend 30 days at the Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston. During that time, mental health professionals will evaluate whether Eaton is competent to be sentenced.

Eaton appealed his death sentence to the US Supreme Court in 2019. Last year, the Supreme Court denied that appeal.

The brutal kidnapping, rape and murder of the 18-year-old Kimmel drew national attention and was known as the 'Lil Miss murder case because that was the license plate on her car.

She was found in the North Platte River at Government Bridge in Natrona County on April 2, 1988. She was driving from Denver to her home in Billings, Mont., and was to pick up her boyfriend in Cody. He called to report that she never arrived.

The cases remained unsolved until 2002 when researchers found DNA from her rape kit matched Eaton's, who had owned property in Moneta between Casper and Shoshoni. Her car was unearthed on the property that summer.

Eaton, now 75, was tried and convicted in March 2004 on all counts in Natrona County District Court, and the judge sentenced him to death, according to the summary of the case in a July 23, 2019, ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

Natrona County District Attorney Dan Itzen filed a motion in August 2019 stating he will seek the death penalty.

According to a court filing, Eaton was convicted of premeditated 1st-degree murder, felony murder in the perpetration of kidnapping, felony murder in the perpetration of a robbery and felony murder in the perpetration of a sexual assault.

(source: k2radio.com)

ARIZONA:

Trump’s Killing Spree Continues----Arizona follows a model that lets the government ignore questions of cruelty.

Arizona’s attorney general, Mark Brnovich, has a problem: There’s no easy way to kill people. Arizona hasn’t carried out any executions since it bungled the killing of Joseph Wood in 2014, leaving him gasping and gulping for air during the roughly two hours it took him to die from a lethal injection. In a country where cruel and unusual punishment is constitutionally prohibited, Mr. Wood’s long and agonizing demise belied assurances that lethal injection is humane and scientific, providing a death akin to falling asleep.

But Arizona’s pause in executions may be nearing an end — not because someone has produced a cruelty-free method of killing a person, but because the state is following the blueprint pioneered by the Trump administration when it pushed through 13 federal executions in its final months.

In 2019, Attorney General Bill Barr announced that the federal government would resume executions after a 17-year lapse caused by the unavailability of certain lethal chemicals, and despite a still-pending lawsuit concerning the method of execution itself. Mr. Barr announced that the Justice Department had procured the sedative pentobarbital, often used to euthanize animals, from secret sources and that it would begin executing prisoners with that drug alone.

As soon as Mr. Barr shared his news — what pride the prospect of 13 corpses can supply! — Mr. Brnovich began lobbying Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona to follow his lead. Mr. Barr’s announcement, Mr. Brnovich wrote to Mr. Ducey, “suggests that the federal government has successfully obtained pentobarbital. These recent developments establish that it is now time to resume executions in Arizona.”

Mr. Brnovich got his wish. But legal challenges to death by lethal injection still remain, and it’s not at all clear that the way America kills Americans comports with our own founding principles.

Because the Eighth Amendment contains no explanation of what its ban on cruel and unusual punishment means, the Supreme Court has held that the principle “must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” And yet the court has also held that in order to successfully challenge a method of killing on Eighth Amendment grounds, a prisoner must provide an alternative that is “feasible, readily implemented” and likely to significantly reduce a “risk of severe pain.” In other words, the question of whether evolving standards of decency by a maturing society would find a method of execution cruel is irrelevant; all that matters is whether the prisoner can prove there’s a better alternative.

Yet cruelty does matter. And scientific evidence suggests that pentobarbital poisoning is an excruciating way to die.

Joel Zivot, an anesthesiologist, intensive care physician and associate professor at Emory University School of Medicine, deduced as much when he pored over autopsy reports of executed prisoners. He noticed that the lungs removed from the corpses were roughly double the weight of ordinary cadaver lungs.

“The only way for that to happen would be that fluid is filling into the lungs during execution,” he said. As the bloody, frothy fluid saturated the lungs, Dr. Zivot told me, “it would be perceived by the person,” as they lay “choking to death and drowning in their own lung secretions.”

“And so I thought, well, that’s terrible,” he said. “And I’m so glad to bring it forward. And now we know, and we can dispense with this method of execution that’s clearly bad.”

Dr. Zivot began writing about the issue, then testifying in court as an expert on lethal injection for defense teams. He was disheartened — and infuriated — to find that the facts about death by lethal injection seemed irrelevant to judges.

“They seem to just believe that this doesn’t matter,” Dr. Zivot said. “I can’t make sense of it. It’s not that they say this isn’t happening. They’ll say, ‘Well, you know — it’s brief and it’s not material.’”

A great tangled mass of thought coils around the question of how much suffering ought to be inflicted upon a person as the state kills him.

“To constitute cruel and unusual punishment, an execution method must present a ‘substantial’ or ‘objectively intolerable’ risk of serious harm,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a 2008 opinion.

What do courts consider serious harm when death is the intended outcome?

“I would say they are looking for pain,” Megan McCracken, a capital defense attorney and expert on method-of-execution challenges, told me. “And they’re looking often for a drawn-out process. But they never find it.”

Yet past lethal injection protocols have included paralytics, which would prevent prisoners from describing their condition.

Both the federal supply of pentobarbital and Arizona’s cache of the poison were obtained in secrecy. A recent investigation by The Guardian revealed the state’s stock arrived in unmarked bottles and boxes, from a vendor not revealed to the public, with a $1.5 million dollar price tag. Other states, too, are pursuing the drug.

While a Federal District Court judge ruled last summer that injecting lethal chemicals without physicians’ prescriptions violated the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the court declined to order a remedy or relief on the grounds that no harm could be demonstrated and the execution of Keith Nelson went forward. If the courts believe that drug regulations don’t necessarily apply to killing drugs, it’s difficult to determine how anyone would know if the particular batch deployed was defective or expired, or how those flaws would affect inmates. The only people who could helpfully remark on the experience are dead.

Is it cruel to kill a person with this drug, in this era, in this particular way? Does it matter that we can’t know with any certainty, and that what we do know suggests the possibility of suffering not unlike death by drowning? Is it bad for us, as a people, to be reduced to assenting to the best kind of cruelty we can conjure, as opposed to permitting no cruelty at all?

I have seen a person poisoned to death by pentobarbital. It isn’t still, it isn’t a peaceful drifting. Someone hiding behind a wall introduces a chemical into the vein of the prisoner strapped to a gurney, helpless, as witnesses on three sides watch through glass as the prisoner dies, heaving for breath.

In his essay on cruelty, Montaigne quotes Seneca lamenting “that a man should kill a man, not being angry, not in fear, only for the sake of the spectacle.” It’s hard to think of a more fitting indictment of the American practice of execution.

If the law fails to conform to justice and Mr. Brnovich is able to set execution dates for the souls eligible for killing on Arizona’s death row, history will record that he did so using a legally dubious drug protocol that is most likely agonizing, that he did it for the sheer spectacle of it and that Mr. Barr and Mr. Trump showed him the way. (source: Elizabeth Bruenig (@ebruenig) is an Opinion writer----New York Times)

NEVADA:

Execution warrant sought for Nevada death row inmate Zane Floyd

Clark County prosecutors formally requested an execution warrant on Wednesday for Zane Floyd, convicted of fatally shooting 4 people inside a Las Vegas Albertsons nearly 22 years ago.

Nevada Assembly voted to abolish capital punishment and commute the sentences of those on death row to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

While the legislation faces another vote in the Senate, opponents have cited a need for the harshest penalty in heinous murder cases, like the killings for which a jury sentenced Floyd to die.

Speaking on Tuesday on the floor of the Capitol, Assemblywoman Annie Black, R-Mesquite, relayed the gruesome details of June 3, 1999.

“There is no doubt about Mr. Floyd’s guilt,” Black said before a 26-16 vote in favor of repeal. “He was given a fair trial and sentenced to death by a jury. Considering the circumstances, it was the right and proper sentence.”

District Attorney Steve Wolfson called the timing “purely coincidental” and said his office started working toward Floyd’s execution in the months before lawmakers gathered for this legislative session.

“Zane Floyd is an example of the type of murderer that the death penalty was designed for,” he said Wednesday. “It is my responsibility to move forward as the jury and citizens of this community have asked me to do to seek the warrant of execution.”

In the motion filed Wednesday in Clark County District Court, Chief Deputy District Attorney Alex Chen asked that the execution be carried out “no less than 15 days but no more than 30 days” after a judge signs the warrant.

“The defendant has exhausted his legal remedies thereby leaving no valid legal reasons against the issuance of an order to carry out the jury’s sentence of a judgment of death,” the prosecutor wrote.

Defense to seek stay of execution

Brad Levenson, a federal public defender who represents Floyd, said that the move from prosecutors would prompt defense attorneys to seek a stay of execution and other litigation in state and federal court later Wednesday.

Defense attorney Scott Coffee, who sits on the Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty, spoke to lawmakers in opposition to capital punishment last month.

“The timing is interesting, and you hope it’s not political,” he said Wednesday. “I don’t think this is any evidence the death penalty system is working. We are 20 years into this case with more litigation to come.”

Floyd’s crimes troubled even those in law enforcement who were dedicated to maintaining impartiality.

Crime scene analyst reflects

Surveillance footage of Floyd marching methodically through the grocery store aisles before dawn, shotgun in hand, hunting for victims, continues to haunt retired crime scene analyst Rick Workman.

“When I read about the case, with Zane Floyd meeting his end potentially, it really kind of choked me up,” he said. “It’s one of those things that you just never get over.”

Four employees — Lucy Tarantino, 60, Thomas Darnell, 40, Chuck Leos, 40, and Dennis “Troy” Sargent, 31 — died that morning.

Zachar Emenegger, then 21, was shot twice and survived after playing dead in the produce section.

In a recent interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Workman recalled arriving at the store at 6:05 the morning of the killings. He and his colleagues walked directly to the manager’s office to watch the video.

Their job was to observe the crime scene; photograph, document and diagram what they found; and collect any potential evidence for trial.

Workman spent 11 hours inside the Albertsons on West Sahara Avenue.

“I can remember to this day, vividly, how the store looked, what we did, and just the utter devastation to these victims,” said Workman, who spent six years with the Metropolitan Police Department and another 20 with Henderson police. “It’s one of the few cases that really tugs at you, your heart, your soul, just tears you down when you think about it.”

Workman prefers to use words like “the killer” or “the suspect” or other unprintable nouns when discussing Floyd.

“I hate to give him a name,” Workman said. “I hate saying his name, because he treated those victims not as people. And how could he be considered a human being with what he did?”

Darnell was shot first, as he pushed a shopping cart back into the store. Customers and employees scrambled, running for the exits, hiding among displays, climbing up ladders.

“Every time he encountered someone, he shot them,” Workman said.

Tarantino was about 20 feet from a back door, wearing headphones. She didn’t hear the shotgun blasts before Floyd found her.

A witness reported hearing her scream.

As police arrived that morning, Floyd walked calmly out of the store, kneeled in the parking lot and pointed the muzzle at his head.

Workman later checked the weapon.

“He had no intention of killing himself, because he knew it was on safe,” he said.

‘It just tears you up’

Workman has not previously spoken publicly about how the slayings affected him.

“Externally, it never really shook me up,” he said. “People probably couldn’t see it. I may not have shed a tear, necessarily, but inside it just kicks your ass. It just tears you up.”

He still thinks about the families of the victims and how they suffered, and may continue to suffer. Workman said he has concerns about the death penalty, particularly in cases where guilt may be in question.

Floyd, whose federal appeals exhausted in November after the U.S. Supreme Court denied his case, would be the first executed in Nevada in 15 years.

His attack was captured on video. He was arrested moments after the murders. Like the assemblywoman, Workman has no doubt about Floyd’s guilt.

“He should pay the price for what he did. Whatever that price may be, he ought to pay the damn price,” Workman said. “I have an opinion. I just kind of hate stating it. You can probably guess what my opinion is. He’s been living for 22 years. The families have been living with the thought of their loved ones for 22 years, and they will for the rest of their lives. I hope that the victims’ families can have any way to feel better throughout their lives if it’s possible.”

(source: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

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Nevada State Assembly Passes Bill to Repeal Death Penalty and Resentence Death-Row Prisoners to Life

The Nevada State Assembly has passed a bill that would abolish the state’s death penalty and resentence the prisoners currently on its death row to life without parole. It was the 1st time any death-penalty abolition bill had been reported out of committee and considered by either house of the Nevada legislature.

AB 395 passed the Assembly on April 13, 2021 by a vote of 26-16, with all Democrats supporting the measure and all Republicans opposing it. The bill advances to the state senate, where it faces uncertain prospects. SB 228, a less expansive bill that would have repealed the death penalty for future offenses but left it in place the death sentences of those already on death row, failed when the Senate Judiciary Committee took no action on it before the deadline for committee passage during the 2021 legislative session.

During argument on the Assembly floor, the bill’s sponsor, Las Vegas Assemblyman Steve Yeager, told his fellow legislators that “[n]ow is the right time to end our costly ineffective and inhumane death penalty.” “Nevada should join 2/3 of the world’s countries who have already banned the death penalty, many of whom have determined that it violates fundamental human rights,” he said. “The government simply should not be in the business of death.”

If Nevada abolishes the death penalty, it will be the 24th state to do so, and the second this year. Virginia abolished the death penalty in March, following Colorado’s repeal of its death penalty in 2020 and New Hampshire’s abolition in 2019.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada hailed the Assembly’s vote, calling it “a historic moment” that brings the state “one step closer to ending this racist, barbaric practice.” However, the next step, passage in the Senate, remains problematic.

While Democrats have a 3-seat majority in the Senate, 2 of its most prominent members — Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Judiciary Committee Chair Melanie Scheible — are employees of the Clark County (Las Vegas) District Attorney’s office and their boss, District Attorney Steve Wolfson, along with several other district attorneys and the Nevada District Attorney’s Association testified against the bill. Cannizzarro and Schleible wield significant power over whether the bill will be considered in committee and on the House floor and, if the bill reaches the floor, its supporters can afford only one Democratic vote against it unless they can attract support from Republican senators.

Clark County’s Historical Abuse of Capital Punishment

Clark County’s disproportionate use of capital punishment and history of misconduct in death penalty cases shines a spotlight on the potential conflict of interest facing the senators who have dual employment in the Clark County D.A.’s office, as well as the outsized influence of prosecutors in the legislative process. A Death Penalty Information Center analysis of death-row data collected by the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund found that, as of October 1, 2020, the 52 people on death row or facing capital retrials or resentencings in Clark County were more than in all but 6 other U.S. counties. By itself, Clark County accounted for 3/4 of Nevada’s death-row population. It is 2 of only 4 counties in the nation — trailing Riverside, CA; Los Angeles, CA; and Maricopa, AZ — to have averaged more than 2 death sentence per year since 2012. All the other counties in Nevada combined have imposed just 1 new death sentence in the past decade.

A 2016 study by Harvard University’s Fair Punishment Project found that of the 16 most prolific death-sentencing counties in the U.S. in the years 2010 through 2015, Clark County had the highest rate of convictions or death sentences overturned as a result of prosecutorial misconduct. The Project reported that the Nevada Supreme Court had found misconduct in 47% of the Clark County death penalty cases it reviewed on direct appeal during the previous decade.

2 Clark County capital defendants, Paul Browning and Roberto Mirando, have been exonerated following wrongful capital convictions. Another, Ha’im Al Matin Sharif, spent 30 years on death row after being wrongfully convicted of killing his girlfriend’s 11-month-old daughter based on junk-science testimony. Medical evidence later revealed that the baby had actually died from infantile scurvy. Clark County prosecutors nonetheless insisted that, to secure his release, Sharif plead guilty to lesser charges, leaving him a murder conviction on his record.

In November 2017, the Nevada Board of Pardons Commissioners pardoned Fred Steese, who had spent 21 years in prison wrongfully convicted of murder. Clark County prosecutors had sought the death penalty against him while having in their possession — and withholding from the defense — evidence that Steese was not even in Nevada when the murder occurred. In 2012, a Nevada trial judge issued an Order of Actual Innocence, declaring that Steese didn’t kill anyone. However, Clark County prosecutors refused to admit they had convicted an innocent man and agreed to release Steese from prison only if he entered a plea admitting that there had been sufficient evidence on which he could be convicted.

Clark County prosecutors also have a history of racial discrimination in capital prosecutions. Between 2014 and 2017, the Nevada Supreme Court ordered new trials in three death penalty cases because Clark County prosecutors had discriminatorily excluded individuals of color from jury service.

Nevada has sentenced 189 defendants to death under its 1973 statute. The majority of those death sentences have been reversed on appeal. As of October 1, 2020, seventy people remained on the state’s death row or were facing capital sentencing retrials. The state has executed 12 prisoners since the 1970s but has not carried out any executions since April 2006. 11 of the prisoners it has executed waived their appeals. The state has not executed anyone who contested his conviction or death sentence since March 1996.

In 2017, Clark County death-row prisoner Scott Dozier waived his appeals in an effort to force Nevada to execute him. A Nevada trial court halted the execution after drug manufacturer Alvogen sued the state, alleging that the Nevada Department of Corrections had obtained the drugs “by subterfuge.” Dozier subsequently hanged himself in his death-row cell.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

USA:

How to end the arbitrariness of capital punishment in America

2 recent developments revealed the unsettled state of the American death penalty. First, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the federal government’s appeal of the decision overturning the death sentence of the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Second, the Virginia became the 23rd state, and the first south of the Mason Dixon Line, to repeal the death penalty. Together, these developments reflect both our past and our future, and illuminate the contrast between who we are as a nation and who we want to be.

Political majorities in state legislatures have realized that having the death penalty means accepting the risk of executing the innocent, a high risk when there is one exoneration for every nine executions. The expense associated with a death sentence is so enormous, it has led even conservative lawmakers to consider abolition. The racist origins of the death penalty have become ever more apparent as the nation grapples with its sordid history of enslaving and lynching people of color. While repealing the death penalty may be a pragmatic decision for state leaders, likely based more on cost-benefit analyses than on the death penalty’s inherent inhumanity, abolition also eliminates the disparate imposition of the ultimate penalty.

Despite these concerns about capital punishment, which are endemic to both the state and federal systems, the federal government has executed more people in the past year than all 50 states combined. Federal prosecutors pursued executions with renewed vigor at the behest of the previous administration, putting 13 people to death in six months, over the objection of some of the victims’ families. The Supreme Court allowed the executions to proceed without considering such legitimate issues as deficiencies at trial and sentencing; disabilities and illnesses of the condemned, including intellectual disability, mental illness, and the coronavirus, as well as concerns about lethal injection drugs. In none of these cases did the court issue a written opinion, which means we do not know why the justices saw no merit in the prisoners’ challenges.

All of this makes the court’s decision to review the Tsarnaev ruling particularly striking. Unlike the cases in the recent spree of federal executions, Tsarnaev’s does not appear to raise any of the extraordinary issues that typically capture the court’s attention. The appeals court reversed his death sentence because the trial court failed to sufficiently question jurors about their exposure to pretrial publicity and because it excluded evidence regarding the crimes of Tsarnaev’s accomplice, his older brother. Neither of these grounds is particularly remarkable, or unsupported by the record. Perhaps the court accepted the appeal because of Tsarnaev’s notoriety, which, if true, would be emblematic of the arbitrariness inherent in the administration of capital punishment.

Even more puzzling than the court’s acceptance of the case is the new administration’s continued pursuit of death. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that President Biden has “grave concerns about whether capital punishment as currently implemented is consistent with the values that are fundamental to our sense of justice and fairness.” Yet his administration continues to seek reinstatement of Tsarnaev’s death sentence.

Almost 50 years ago, Justice Potter Stewart, disturbed by what he called the “wanton and freakish” imposition of the death penalty, wrote that “death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual.” This is no less true today: we do not know why the previous administration decided that those 13 death row prisoners should die as soon as possible, or what distinguished them from the dozens of others awaiting execution. We do know that the decision whether to seek the death penalty, or to continue to pursue it, will continue to be based upon factors like race or geography.

Tsarnaev continues to face a death sentence because he was prosecuted in federal court on federal charges. Though he committed his crimes in Massachusetts, the Commonwealth conducted its final executions in 1947 and abolished the death penalty in 1984. As Virginia has recently determined, the only way to eliminate the arbitrary imposition of the death penalty is abolition. No doubt some citizens of Virginia – and Massachusetts, for that matter – may still believe the death penalty serves some salutary purpose, all evidence to the contrary. But at least they know that their state governments will not kill anyone based upon a rationale no better than the flip of a coin.

(source: Opinion; Lawrence Friedman teaches constitutional law for the New England Law in Boston. Nicole Noel is an assistant director with the academic excellence program with New England Law in Boston and is a former capital defense attorney representing death row inmates in both state and federal courts----thehill.com)

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Can The Death Penalty Be Fixed? These Republicans Think So ---- A growing number of conservative lawmakers want to overhaul capital punishment, or end it.

2 years ago, a group of Republican lawmakers toured the death chamber in Oklahoma, which has been responsible for more executions per capita than any other state in the last half-century. They took in the jet-black gurney straps, the phone connected to the governor’s office and the microphone used for last words.

“The hair rises on the back of your neck,” said state Rep. Kevin McDugle. “A few legislators couldn’t be in the room very long.”

They continued on to death row to see Richard Glossip, who has spent more than 2 decades in solitary confinement, facing execution for a 1997 murder. Glossip says he had nothing to do with the crime, and a growing number of conservative lawmakers believe him.

“I just remember putting my hand up on the glass,” McDugle recalled, “and he put his hand up, and I said, ‘You've got people fighting for you. Keep your head up, brother.’”

As Oklahoma officials seek to resume putting prisoners to death later this year, McDugle has pursued bills in the state legislature to help those on death row prove their innocence, knowing Glossip could be among the first facing execution.

“My fear is some people will be executed before we pass a bill,” McDugle said.

Glossip’s case is reaching the highest echelons of politics in a deep-red state at a time when Republicans across the country are increasingly split on the future of capital punishment. Support for the death penalty used to be popular in both parties, but over the last three decades, Democrats have turned away from the punishment, leaving Republican legislators, governors, prosecutors and judges to fight for its continued use. At the same time, a small conservative movement — including groups like Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty — has been openly questioning capital punishment. It’s now clear their efforts are paying off.

Earlier this year, Virginia became the first Southern state to repeal the death penalty after three Republicans voted with the state legislature’s Democratic majority. A Marshall Project review found that in roughly half the states with an active death penalty system, Republican lawmakers have recently sponsored or written bills to ban or constrain the punishment, or to help potentially innocent prisoners avoid it.1

The death penalty is legal in 27 states, but three have governor-imposed moratoria. Of the remaining 24, Republicans have sponsored bills in 5 states to repeal the punishment in their most recent legislative sessions (Wyoming, Ohio, Kansas, Georgia and Kentucky). In 5 states, they have sponsored bills to ban the punishment for various categories of defendants (South Dakota, Missouri, Kentucky, Florida, Texas). In Oklahoma and Texas, they sponsored bills to protect innocent defendants. In Tennessee, one sponsored a bill allowing death row prisoners to argue they are barred from execution due to an intellectual disability. In Indiana, they sponsored a bill to create a commission to study the system and propose reforms. This list does not include the many bills sponsored by Democrats and was compiled with input from the Death Penalty Information Center and the 8th Amendment Project, both of which track legislation.

Although many of these bills are unlikely to pass, their sheer volume suggests a significant shift in conservative views. Some of these Republican legislators see their bills as incremental steps toward ending the punishment. But others, like McDugle, don’t want to end the death penalty — they just want to fix it.

“I want to make darn sure that if we as Oklahoma are putting someone to death, they deserve to be there,” McDugle said. “I know there is human error all the way through.”

Conservatives have been slowly turning away from the death penalty for years, as high-profile innocence cases have helped frame capital punishment as a problem of out-of-control big government. In 1999, after a series of exonerations of people who had been sentenced to death, the Republican governor of Illinois, George Ryan, declared a moratorium on executions. At the time, Texas Gov. George W. Bush was running for president, and the national press questioned whether an innocent person had faced execution under his watch; soon after, his fellow Republicans in the state legislature voted to make DNA testing more available for prisoners. From 2014 to 2019, Republican support for the death penalty, as opposed to life sentences, dropped from 68% to 58%, according to Gallup Polls. Republican legislators in Nebraska voted to repeal the punishment in 2015, although the state’s residents then voted to bring the punishment back.

Some lawmakers have been motivated by anti-abortion arguments about the sanctity of human life and stories of Christian redemption on death row. Others talk about the cost to taxpayers. South Dakota state Sen. Arthur Rusch previously served as a judge in a capital case. “My case cost at least $1 million if not more,” he said, noting that the court paid for counseling for some jurors who suffered from post-traumatic stress after the lengthy trial. He was elected to the senate in 2015, and has filed numerous bills to abolish or restrict the punishment; none have succeeded, he said, but each time he brings along a few more peers.

“Changing your mind on an emotional subject like this can be difficult,” said Hannah Cox, who writes columns for Newsmax, a conservative web outlet, and serves as national manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. She’s found that efforts to fix the system can serve as “baby steps,” as she tries to show her fellow conservatives that the system can’t be saved. “If you fix 1 of 13 problems with the death penalty, there are still another 12.”

Of those problems, conservatives have been less likely to cite the racial disparities in capital punishment that animate many of its liberal opponents. Of the more than 2,500 people on death rows around the country, 41% are Black. In contrast, Black people make up 13% of the total U.S. population. For his part, McDugle acknowledges the disparity but said it isn’t what motivated his efforts.

“When I look at a bill, I don’t see color at all. I look at an individual and say, ‘If an individual commits a crime of this nature, should they be put on death row or not?’” he said.

Robert Dunham, the executive director of the nonpartisan Death Penalty Information Center, said it’s wrong to think that conservative lawmakers only get involved in cases where White people face execution. “Where the case looks like a 21st-century lynching, it offends conservatives’ consciences,” Dunham said, adding, “I think that the fact that extreme injustices also do happen to White capital defendants is eye-opening to people who have not appreciated the depth of the problems in capital punishment.”

Many conservatives focus on the moral calculation of who deserves the ultimate punishment. Ohio recently passed a bill, sponsored by a Republican legislator, to ban the execution of anyone with a serious mental illness. Republicans are pushing similar bills in Florida, Kentucky and Missouri.

In Texas, state Rep. Jeff Leach has filed a bill that would ban the death penalty for people who were technically “accomplices” to murders but played a minor role, including getaway drivers. Much like the Oklahomans, he was motivated by a single case — that of Jeff Wood, who was sentenced to die after his friend killed a store clerk while Wood waited outside in the car, after what they thought would be an easy robbery.

Though Wood’s case is not in Leach’s district, he wrote to the North Texas lawmaker and pleaded for help. His letter ended up on the top of Leach’s pile of prison mail, and he picked it up one day on vacation when it was too rainy to go to the beach. He’d been hoping to catch up on his backlog of letters, but Wood’s story sucked him in.

“It’s been on my mind and on my heart ever since,” Leach said. “Jeff Wood isn’t innocent, but the state shouldn’t even be considering putting him to death.”

Other lawmakers are more concerned about the risk of executing an innocent person. Texas Rep. Steve Toth, a Republican lawmaker from just north of Houston, filed a bill banning the death penalty in cases where there’s only one eyewitness and no other evidence. As a Baptist pastor, he was moved by seeing death row exonerees speak to the legislature several years ago, as well as the film “Just Mercy.”

“Even the Bible says you shouldn’t put someone to death without a corroborated eyewitness,” he said, citing the Book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. “If we’re going to put someone to death we need to be absolutely certain.”

The crime that landed Glossip on death row took place in the early morning hours of Jan. 7, 1997, at the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City. Sometime before dawn, owner Barry Van Treese was bludgeoned to death and left in Room 102. As the motel’s live-in manager, Glossip quickly became a suspect, and police arrested him two days after the killing.

Later, authorities realized that 19-year-old handyman Justin Sneed was the one who actually carried out the fatal beating. They arrested him, too, and under questioning Sneed confessed, but claimed that Glossip had masterminded the killing.

There was scant evidence of Glossip’s involvement, but an Oklahoma jury still found him guilty, based largely on Sneed’s testimony. In exchange for that testimony, Sneed got a life sentence, while Glossip went to death row.

An appeals court tossed out the verdict, saying Glossip’s lawyers hadn’t done a good enough job. When the case went back to trial in June 2004, it ended with the same result.

In 2015, Glossip came within hours of execution before the governor called it off over a controversy involving the state’s death drugs. Since then, his case has continued attracting celebrity attention, and his lawyers say they’ve found more witnesses who could help prove their client’s innocence. Right now, they’re fighting to get access to files the district attorney’s office is refusing to turn over, but that Glossip’s team says could hold the key to proving his innocence.

A few years ago, conservative business owner Justin Jackson watched “Killing Richard Glossip,” a four-part series on Investigation Discovery, the true crime television network, and couldn’t stop thinking about it. Jackson is friends with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, and while the two were hunting deer, he voiced his concerns. Eventually, he cold-called Glossip’s lawyer and offered his help, and started talking about the case to friends in the legislature, including McDugle.

One of McDugle’s bills would require prosecutors to share materials with defense lawyers. (Around the country, prosecutors frequently tangle with the defense over what they must share.) Another bill would allow the parole board to create a Conviction Integrity Review Unit to study innocence claims (usually these are housed in county-level prosecutor offices, although Michigan and Pennsylvania have statewide units.) The third would create a “Prosecutor Conduct Review Panel,” which would decide what evidence is potentially favorable and must be given to the defense. (Currently, prosecutors get to decide.)

McDugle failed to get these bills out of legislative committees and blamed prosecutors for undermining his efforts. He will continue to push the proposals next year but also knows it may be too late. He plans to lobby the state’s parole board directly to study the Glossip case and recommend that Stitt free him from death row. McDugle has also been swayed to advocate for a Black man on death row who maintains his innocence, Julius Jones.

Some opponents of the death penalty hope these bills will eventually bring legislators like McDugle to the conclusion that capital punishment is broken beyond repair.

“It’s easier to start naming specific policies you don’t like before getting to ‘throw the whole thing out,’” said Laura Porter, executive director of the 8th Amendment Project, which works on anti-death penalty legislation across the country. “I’ve seen that growth from an individual issue, or case, to ‘OK, I’m done with it.”

(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 first formerly incarcerated reporter----themarshallproject.org)

MYANMAR:

Myanmar rebel group executes child rapist freed by junta

A rebel group in Myanmar has executed a man for raping and killing a 5-year-old girl shortly after he was released in a prison amnesty by the military junta, a spokesperson for the group said Wednesday.

It is the 2nd case since December of a child killer and rapist receiving the death penalty from an ethnic armed group in Myanmar's Shan state.

Myanmar's judiciary has not ordered prisoner executions since 1988. However, in some border territories controlled by ethnic armed groups a parallel legal system operates and capital punishment is exercised.

A court administered by the Ta'ang National Liberation Army in Namhsan township sentenced the 24-year-old perpetrator to death earlier this month.

Rebel group spokesman Major Tar Aik Kyaw told AFP that the man had received an amnesty from the junta and had only been back in his home village for 21 days before committing the crime.

‘Our court found clearly he was guilty of this crime. He even committed (similar) crimes in the past. Therefore, the court gave him the death sentence,’ the spokesman told AFP.

The man had previously faced allegations of raping a 54-year-old woman and a 4-year-old girl but did not face legal action after he paid compensation, according to the spokesperson.

He was serving a 7-year sentence for robbery and accessory to murder when the junta released him on February 12.

Myanmar's junta released more than 23,000 inmates in February.

Shan State is home to several ethnic armed groups that control territories where their civilian populations are governed under each group's set of laws.

In December, another armed ethnic group in the same state -- the Shan State Progress Party -- sentenced a 30-year-old man to death for the kidnap, rape and murder of a 6-year-old girl.

Non-governmental organisations say child rape is common in Myanmar, and have long called for increased child protection and sex education programs.

Since the military coup in Myanmar on February 1, which ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the military junta has sought to revive the death penalty.

At a military tribunal in Yangon, seven protesters accused of murdering a suspected informer were sentenced to death, state media said Tuesday.

3 of the demonstrators were tried in absentia.

Last weekend, state media reported that 19 people had been sentenced to death for robbery and murder by a military court, with 17 of them tried in absentia.

(source: New Age Business)

SOUTH KKOREA:

Woman in South Korea toddler murder case begs for forgiveness

South Korean prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for a woman charged with gross negligence manslaughter in the death of her 16-month-old girl. The defendant, identified only by her surname Jang, is being tried for the murder of the toddler, Jeong-in, Yonhap and News 1 reported Wednesday. The calls for the death penalty came during the trial at Seoul Southern District Court. Prosecutors also asked that the defendant be required to wear an electronic bracelet for 30 years and be placed under probation for 5 years, reports said.

The child's death ignited widespread anger in South Korea. Politicians on the left and the right have unanimously approved tougher laws against child abusers.

Earlier this year, South Koreans paid tribute to Jeong-in at public memorials. Activists have demonstrated and called for the defendant's execution.

Jang's husband, identified by his surname, Ahn, was sentenced to 7 years, 6 months in prison. South Korean prosecutors want the man to complete a program on child abuse and be banned from working at childcare-related institutions, according to News 1.

At the trial Wednesday, Jang said she would "kneel and seek the forgiveness" of her deceased daughter.

"I will accept any punishment," Jang said at court, according to Newsis.

Jang denied during a cross-examination that she stepped on Jeong-in or threw the child on the floor. Earlier this year, South Korea's National Forensic Service said in its autopsy that Jeong-in died of serious internal bleeding of her organs caused by external force.

Lee Jeong-bin, a professor at Gachon University of Medicine and Science, said at the trial Wednesday that Jeong-in likely was stomped on by the defendant. Jeong-in's ruptured pancreas and mesentery are an indication Jang used her feet rather than her arms to assault the girl, Lee said.

Jang may not have used her arms because she had received breast surgery, Lee said.

Jeong-in was adopted by the couple as a companion for their 4-year-old biological daughter in January 2020, according to local press reports.

(source: United Press International)

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES:

MURDERER SENTENCED TO DEATH PARDONED BY VICTIM'S FAMILY

The Sharjah Court of Appeal has reduced a sentence of death issued against a 34-year-old Asian accused of killing his roommate to seven years in prison, Khaleej Times reported on 14 April 2021.

The accused was also found guilty of attempting to murder the nephew of the victim as well as of consuming alcohol. The court further ordered that he be deported after the completion of his term.

The ruling came after the victim's family pardoned the accused after he agreed to pay Dh200,000 as legal blood money to the deceased's heirs.

According to the police investigation, the accused used a kitchen knife to kill the victim while he was asleep in his bed.

He also assaulted the nephew of the victim violently, causing serious injuries that necessitated his transfer to the hospital for treatment.

The Public Prosecution referred the accused to trial and charged him with premeditated murder for killing the victim and attempting to kill another person by assaulting him with a knife. He was stopped from committing the second murder by other roommates, who intervened.

The criminal court had earlier issued a death sentence against the accused on the charge of premeditated murder and ordered that the execution be carried out in the presence of the victim's family.

(sources: Khaleej Times)

IRAN----execution

Prisoner Arsalan Zare Executed in Shiraz, Iran

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

According to Iran Human Rights, a man was executed at Shiraz Central Prison in the early hours of April 12. His identity has been established as Arsalan Zare, who was around 45 years old and had been sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for murder.

“Arsalan Zare was a farmer before being arrested and had been in prison for nearly 15 years,” an informed source told IHR.

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

According to Iran Human Rights’ Annual Report on the Death Penalty, at least 211 of the 267 people executed in 2020 were sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for "premeditated murder."

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

(source: iranhr.net)

MALAYSIA:

Married couple, friend escape the gallows after High Court acquits them of drug trafficking

3 people, including a couple, escaped the gallows after the High Court here acquitted them for a drug trafficking charge.

In his judgement here on Wednesday (April 14), Judge Azizul Azmi Adnan said the prosecution had failed to prove a prima facie case against crane driver P. Sivaprakash, his wife S. Thulasy, both 49, and their friend, a contract worker, G. Chandran, 40.

“Having perused all the evidence and submissions by both parties, I hereby rule that the prosecution has failed to prove on a maximum evaluation, a prima facie case against all 3 accused, and I hereby acquit and discharge them, ” he said.

The 3 were charged with trafficking 25.8g of heroin and monoacetylmorphine at their home at the Sikamat New Village here at 12.30pm on Feb 3,2019.

The suspects were charged under Section 39B (1)(a) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, which carries the mandatory death penalty, when read together with Section 34 of the Penal Code.

According to the facts of the case, a raiding party found the drugs hidden in the ceiling of the couple’s rented house.

The 3, who were in the house, were subsequently detained. 2 of the couple’s 4 children were also at home during the raid.

Lawyer Datuk Hanif Hasan represented Thulasy, Haresh Mahadevan and Ramzani Idris appeared for Sivaprakash, while Jamal Abbas was counsel for Chandran, in the case prosecuted by Noor Aishyah Ahmad.

(source: The Star)

APRIL 14, 2021:

TEXAS:

Trial date set for man accused of killing San Antonio Police detective in 2016

It's been over 4 years since San Antonio Police detective Benjamin Marconi was gunned down outside Public Safety Headquarters.

And finally, a trial date has been set for his suspected killer.

Jury selection ended on Apr. 9 and the trial of the suspected shooter, Otis McKane, is set to begin on July 12 in Judge Ron Rangel's courtroom.

Marconi was sitting inside his patrol cruiser handling a traffic stop when the alleged shooter walked up and fired a shot. Marconi was a 20-year veteran of the department.

McKane was captured 2 days later. He allegedly admitted to the shooting and initially told investigators he was upset over a child custody situation.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus also said at the time Marconi was targeted only because he was wearing the uniform of a law enforcement officer.

McKane has been held on a $2 million bond. He previously asked that it be lowered, but his request was denied.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

(source: foxsanantonio.com)

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BOOKS----Why the death penalty came back--And why it might be abolished

IN REVIEW

Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty By Maurice Chammah

After decades of debate, US society still has not made up its mind about the death penalty. The popularity of the punishment has plummeted, with support dropping well below 50 percent from a high in the 80s in 1994. But deep ambivalence about it and its implications remains a key aspect of American culture, and the most serious problems associated with it have not been resolved.

Thus journalist Maurice Chammah’s book comes at an important time. When members of the Trump administration undertook to kill as many prisoners on federal death row as they could in the short time before they left office, they inadvertently highlighted the arbitrariness and capriciousness of the criminal justice system’s approach. This has coincided with public questioning about whether the government can ever be trusted to make life-and-death decisions, whether our criminal justice system can ever be just enough to hold in its hands the life of a human being, and whether people—with their central capacity for change—can ever be called evil enough to deserve to die at the hands of the state.

To trace the decline of the death penalty, Chammah, who works for the Marshall Project, focuses on Texas, which has been singularly responsible for more than a third of the 1,500 executions carried out in the United States over the last 50 years. He begins with a moment in 1982 when a small prison in Texas prepared to execute its first prisoner in 18 years. No one who worked in the prison unit responsible for these executions particularly relished the task. None of them knew anything about lethal injection. But they began a process that would become the deadliest in the country.

Chammah embeds well-wrought cultural analysis within the ins and outs of historical narrative. So, for example, as Texas began to reconsider its death penalty laws in 1973, after the 1972 Supreme Court decision that current death penalty laws constituted “cruel and unusual punishment,” Chammah shows how a particular frontier-oriented identity, with roots in slavery and in lynching, played a masked role in those conversations. This kind of analysis is useful, because it allows us to see the ideological frames in which these histories are contained. Chammah zeroes in on one detail at a time, but his intent to provide both texture and breadth is evident.

As we see what all of this death has wrought, the effect is devastating. Unlike with many policy decisions, public opinion—that is, what each of us believes and perceives about the death penalty—has played a direct role in its functioning. It was public opinion that revived the death penalty in the 1970s. We were, Chammah says, a “national culture that favored retribution.”

Chammah shows that this is in part because of the overriding nature of American individualism. Individualism blinds us to the racial and social dynamics at play in execution. It allows us to believe that juries make impartial decisions based on the merits of an individual case and that local traditions and ideologies play a legitimate role in life-and-death decision making. White Americans have been able to believe that the government, in its death practices, is merely carrying out the will of the people, those who sit on juries and vote in elections. This makes the United States different from an authoritarian government.

But to maintain the myth of local control and the people’s will, you have to ignore the history of racism deeply embedded in the system—which many, many have done. Chammah cites the all but unchallenged words of Robert Bork, arguing before the Supreme Court in 1976: “Capital punishment has not been shown to be inflicted on the basis of race.” Forty-five years and 1,500 deaths later, such a declaration is revealed as absurd, but individualism is part of the logic that made Bork’s statement seem reasonable to some of his listeners at the time.

After the Supreme Court’s 1972 decision, which condemned the current practices but did not close the door on the death penalty altogether, the debate in the general public became about abstractions. Were you an “eye for an eye” person? Or did you believe in “just mercy”? Because people no longer gathered in public squares to watch the condemned die, the realities of the lives and deaths of the condemned were obscured. These abstract conversations also obscured what Chammah’s account tries to make visible:

In every death penalty case . . . you will find the family members, the lawyers, the journalists, the prison workers—each of them touched, in ways large and small, observable and invisible, by the moment a person takes a life, the moment the state takes a life, and the many moments in between.

To everyone else, the death penalty can feel like an abstraction, a source of dinner table quarrels that reemerge when a major case hits the news and we marshal the arguments we’ve heard before, citing the Bible or statistics or anecdote to make our case for or against.

The accumulation of moments and personalities in the story of the death penalty in America is exactly what makes Chammah’s account so compelling. It’s true that there are many times in this story where readers lose a view of the forest for the trees. The storytelling is so fine-grained that readers may often wonder where the focal points are. And yet it is this moment-by-moment accumulation that allows us, eventually, to see how the death penalty no longer has a place in American society. Sister Helen Prejean has long pointed out that if we really saw the death penalty up close and personal, we would all become anti–death penalty. We would question its processes and understand its costs.

If one thing can be said about the death penalty over the last 50 years, it’s that thanks to the tireless work of lawyers and advocates, famous and unknown, many Americans have been awakened to the reality that innocent people have been executed, as in the 2004 case of Cameron Todd Willingham. They have had questions raised in their minds about how people change, as in the highly visible case of Karla Faye Tucker, executed in 1998. And they have been awakened to the reality that the main way to get yourself put on death row is to be poor, Black, and southern, as in the case of Anthony Ray Hinton, exonerated and released from death row after nearly 30 years. These awakenings have gradually, one opinion at a time, eroded public confidence in the death penalty. But they have been a long time coming, and the human costs have been uncountable.

(source: thechristiancentury.com)

FLORIDA:

Sonny Boy Oats Found Ineligible for the Death Penalty After 40 Years on Florida’s Death Row

After more than 40 years on Florida’s death row, Sonny Boy Oats, one of the nation’s longest serving death-row prisoners, has been found ineligible for the death penalty.

On April 2, 2021, a Marion County trial court vacated Oats’ death sentence and resentenced him to life in prison, accepting a stipulation between prosecutors and the defense that Oats is intellectually disabled. In February 2020, Ric Ridgway, Chief Assistant in the Florida Fifth Circuit State Attorney’s office, advised Circuit Judge Steven Rogers that prosecutors would not contest Oats’ claim of intellectual disability, after eight of nine mental health experts who had evaluated Oats concluded he is intellectually disabled.

With the consent of the parties, the court delayed resentencing Oats for more than a year because of coronavirus-related health concerns. Rogers’ order indicated that the court “proceeded with the resentencing at this time, given the understanding that the Defendant has requested and will soon receive a COVID-19 vaccine.” Once he is vaccinated, Oats will be removed from death-row isolated confinement.

Oats was convicted of robbery and murder in February 1981 and was sentenced to death. He was tried and convicted 1 year later of another robbery/murder in which he received a life sentence. The Florida Supreme Court overturned his death sentence in 1984, finding that the trial judge had considered three invalid aggravating circumstances. Without empaneling a new jury, the trial court reimposed the death penalty, which the Florida Supreme Court upheld in 1985.

In 1990, Oats sought to overturn his death sentence on the grounds that his trial counsel had failed to investigate and present evidence that Oats was mentally retarded (now known as intellectually disabled). After an evidentiary hearing, the prosecution conceded that Oats met the diagnostic criteria for intellectual disability and was “mildly mentally retarded.” Nonetheless, the trial court denied Oats’ ineffectiveness claim.

Nearly a decade later, in 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court declared in Atkins v. Virginia that it was unconstitutional to impose or carry out the death penalty against individuals with intellectual disability. Oats then filed a new claim under Atkins, which the trial court denied on the grounds that Oats had not been diagnosed as intellectually disabled before the age of 18. The court refused to consider the evidence of Oats’ intellectual impairments and deficits in daily functioning that he had presented in the 1990 hearing. The Florida Supreme Court reversed that ruling in 2015 and returned the case to the trial court to conduct a new evidentiary hearing. The court noted: “Based on numerous psychological tests, Oats’s IQ is between 54 and 67, well within the range for an individual who has an intellectual disability. Up until the current litigation, expert after expert consistently recognized that Oats has an intellectual disability.”

That remand order led to the state attorney’s concession that Oats was ineligible for the death penalty.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

ALABAMA:

Alabama judge is suspended from bench after she is accused of evident anti-death-penalty predilection

A judge in Birmingham, Alabama, has been suspended with pay after the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission alleged that she showed an apparent predisposition against the death penalty, ignored appellate directives, and showed a lack of appropriate demeanor to prosecutors.

Judge Tracie Todd’s legal errors are part of a continuing pattern with the capacity to harm public confidence in the judicial process, particularly with regards to death penalty issues, according to the commission’s April 6 complaint.

The ethics complaint alleges abuse of judicial power and “abandonment of the judicial role of detachment and neutrality.” The allegations concern mostly incidents from 2014 through 2018 in matters involving the death penalty, prosecutors and personal vindication of her prior rulings and actions, the complaint says.

“This complaint is about a judge who continued to fail to respect and follow clear directives and rulings of the appellate courts,” the complaint says.

The death-penalty imbroglio began in March 2016, when Todd struck down Alabama’s capital sentencing scheme in which judges could impose the death penalty even when jurors recommended life without parole.

The Alabama Supreme Court later upheld the judicial override system in October 2016. A state law passed in 2017 eliminated the judicial override system but allowed jurors to recommend the death penalty by a 10-2 vote.

Todd had ruled that judicial override was unconstitutional under the U.S. Supreme Court’s January 2016 decision, Hurst v. Florida, which struck down Florida’s death penalty scheme because it allowed juries, rather than judges, to find it necessary to impose the death sentence. Todd then banned Alabama from seeking the death penalty.

The complaint says Todd’s order denied the state its right to seek the death penalty because her ruling only applied to judicial override cases, not cases in which jurors recommended the death penalty. Her order also “exhibited an apparent predisposition against the death penalty generally,” the ethics complaint says.

Todd’s order also cited secondary sources that she had independently collected, including information that judges are more likely to impose the death penalty during an elections cycle, and that unqualified lawyers were being appointed in capital cases based on campaign contributions. Those extraneous sources “violate a judge’s duty of detachment and neutrality,” the complaint says.

Todd’s order was released to the media, and she gave two interviews the same day that criticized partisan judicial elections, judicial override and attorney appointments based on campaign contributions. The comments also gave the appearance of a preconceived bias against the death penalty, the complaint says.

She also denied prosecution motions to recuse in two other death penalty cases, saying the motions were moot after Alabama eliminated the override system. But the ethics complaint noted an appellate ruling finding that the new law did not apply retroactively.

An appeals court ordered Todd to recuse herself in the cases. She nonetheless ordered a status conference in one case and then said she hadn’t received notice of the appeals court’s judgment.

In November 2017, Todd also banished from her courtroom the prosecutor who had been assigned there, which was “an extreme and unwarranted abuse of judicial authority,” according to the ethics complaint. She cited the prosecutor for contempt the same day and scheduled a hearing.

The prosecutor emailed Todd’s judicial assistant to say he planned to continue coming to the courtroom, absent a judicial order to the contrary.

In an email to the sheriff, Todd said the prosecutor displays “unpredictable mood swings,” and his insistence on appearing before her “demonstrates willful disregard or mental instability.” She then requested extra security in case the prosecutor came to her court.

She also emailed the district attorney about her concerns that the prosecutor displayed a lack of concern and a lackluster performance in two rape prosecutions in which the accusers were Black women. She also noted another person’s observations after viewing one of the prosecutor’s “conniptions” that his behavior toward Todd stemmed from the fact that she was a Black woman, the ethics complaint says.

Todd should not have participated in the contempt proceeding against the prosecutor, the complaint says.

The prosecutor then sought Todd’s recusal in all his cases before her. Todd denied the recusal motions. On appeal, Todd told the appeals court that she was being “persecuted” and “bullied,” and the recusal motions were retaliation for her decision striking down the death penalty.

“Historically, judges in Alabama who made unfavorable rulings against the interests of the power structure were threatened, ostracized and made subject of personal and political retaliation,” she wrote in opposing the recusal appeal. “The methods employed in these petitions amount to tactical relics of dark days past.”

Despite previous appellate rulings on the standards for disqualification, “Todd continued to be unconcerned with any appearance of bias or impropriety,” the complaint says.

Todd did not immediately respond to the ABA Journal’s message left with her office.

(source: ABA Journal)

OHIO:

3 facing capital charges in murder of Struthers boy to be tried separately----3 face capital charges in murder of Struthers boy

2 more co-defendants were indicted last month on death penalty-level charges in the aggravated murder case against Kimonie Bryant, but their cases will not be tried together.

During a pretrial hearing in Bryant’s case Tuesday, prosecutors said that when more than one person is indicted on charges that could lead to a death sentence, all must be tried separately.

Dawn Cantalamessa, assistant county prosecutor, said she thinks everyone involved in the case has now been charged.

Last month, Brandon L. Crump Jr., 18, and Andre S. McCoy, 21, were indicted on aggravated murder and other charges that could result in the death penalty. Bryant, 23, was indicted months ago on death penalty-level charges.

All 3 are charged in the Sept. 21, 2020, shooting death of Rowan Sweeney, 4, in the home where he lived with his mother and her boyfriend on Perry Street in Struthers.

All 3 also are charged with attempted murder for being responsible for shooting several adults at the same time Rowan was killed.

2 women also were indicted on tampering with evidence in the case, Lawshawn A. Scott, 43, Bryant’s mother; and Odyssie O. Butler-Reed, 19, Crump’s girlfriend.

Bryant and Crump are being held in the Mahoning County jail. McCoy still is not in custody, Assistant Prosecutor Mike Yacovone said. Scott and Butler-Reed are free on bond.

Judge Anthony D’Apolito, who will preside over all 5 cases, concluded that it is best to have separate hearings for each of the five, but he would like to hold the hearings close together, timewise, to help him keep track of them.

During Tuesday’s monthly hearing, Bryant was arraigned on 1 new charge he faces — a conspiracy charge added when the 4 other defendants were indicted.

D’Apolito also discussed with Bryant’s lawyers how well they are receiving the pretrial evidence in the case from prosecutors — known as “discovery.”

Defense attorney John Juhasz said it is going “voluminously,” meaning there is a lot of it.

Prosecutors still need to provide additional information on search warrants that were issued in the case, Cantalamessa said. She noted there were “a lot of search warrants in this case.”

About 30 warrants were served, defense attorney Lynn Maro said.

For now, the judge is keeping Bryant’s Sept. 13 trial date, he said, but things will be more complicated now with Bryant having 4 co-defendants.

The next pretrial hearing is 2 p.m. May 4.

(source: Youngstown Vindicator)

TENNESSEE:

Governor Bill Lee continues review of Pervis Payne case as reprieve expires

The Tennessee Supreme Court could set a new execution date any moment for a Mid-South man on death row.

It comes as Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee considers whether to spare the man’s life by granting clemency.

Pervis Payne was convicted of stabbing Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter, Lacie, to death in 1987.

Christopher’s 3-year-old son, Nicholas, was also stabbed but survived.

Lee granted Payne a temporary reprieve, postponing his December execution date because of the pandemic.

That reprieve expired on Friday and now the state supreme court could set a new execution date any moment.

Kelley Henry is Payne’s attorney.

She says investigators dropped the ball by mishandling evidence that could have pointed to another suspect.

Henry also says Payne’s race was also a big factor in his conviction.

“It’s been so difficult because the deck has been stacked against him from the beginning. He’s a black man accused of the brutal murder of a white woman,” said Henry.

Henry also says Payne has an intellectual disability and it would violate the U.S. Constitution to execute him.

Tennessee lawmakers are considering a bill that would let Payne and others on death row petition a trial court to determine if they’re ineligible for the death penalty due to intellectual disability.

They’re set to hear testimony on the proposed legislation on Wednesday.

“A person of his age and intellectual disability in 1987 in Memphis was no match for a powerful Shelby County district attorney,” said Henry. “You simply cannot execute a man with this much doubt. He is innocent and he deserves justice after all this time.

This case is getting new attention because Payne’s story is being told on TikTok.

Henry said nearly 700,000 people have also signed a petition at PervisPayne.org in an effort to stop his execution.

The governor has not announced any decision on his part.

“I know that (Governor Lee) has received thousands of letters, emails, telephone calls from supporters of Mr. Payne and I believe that he has taken this case very seriously,” said Henry. “We had the opportunity to make a presentation to his legal counsel prior to the reprieve, and we continue to investigate the case in order to come up with even more evidence of Mr. Payne’s innocence.”

But Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich says nothing Payne’s attorneys have presented proves his innocence.

Weirich released the following statement:

“If the facts aren’t on your side, attack the investigation. Mr. Payne has been vigorously defended by teams of lawyers for more than 30 years. The case has been reviewed by the Shelby County Criminal Court, by the U.S. Supreme Court and by every state and federal court in between. The proof of his guilt is overwhelming. As with nearly every death penalty case, this is a last-ditch defense effort to use press releases and social media to shift public sympathy to the convicted offender and away from the only victims in the case – a young mother and her young children who were stabbed more than 100 times.”

(source: wmcactionnews.com)

NEVADA:

Nevada's new execution chamber at Ely State Prison. Courtesy: Nevada Department of Corrections.

Members of the Assembly voted on party lines Tuesday to advance a bill abolishing the death penalty, pushing the concept further than ever in the state even though its prospects are in question in the Senate.

AB395 was approved on a 26-16 vote, with all Republicans opposed. While abolition bills have been introduced in 2001, 2003, 2017, 2019, 2021, they never passed a policy committee until Friday and never made it to a vote on the floor, according to the Nevada Coalition on the Death Penalty.

“Now is the right time to end our costly ineffective and inhumane death penalty,” Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) said in a speech on the Assembly floor where he argued Black Nevadans are disproportionately sent to death row. “Nevada should join 2/3 of the world's countries who have already banned the death penalty, many of whom have determined that it violates fundamental human rights."

The bill would turn all existing death sentences into sentences of life in prison without parole. Another death penalty abolition bill in the Senate that is more modest — abolishing capital punishment for crimes committed after the law takes effect — failed to get a hearing before a legislative deadline.

Nevada is 1 of 27 states that still has the death penalty, although nobody has been executed in Nevada since 2006. The most recent state to end the practice is Virginia, which outlawed capital punishment last month.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Nevada has carried out 12 executions.

Assemblywoman Annie Black (R-Mesquite) went into detail during a floor speech about murders that landed people on death row.

“Only the worst of the worst are sentenced to death,” she said. “That is as it should be, and we should not abolish the death penalty.”

The bill faces a more uncertain climate in the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas), who is a prosecutor, would not commit on Tuesday to giving the bill a hearing. Both Cannizzaro and Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, have day jobs at the Clark County District Attorney's Office; District Attorney Steve Wolfson testified in opposition to the bill.

“Right now we've got a lot of Assembly bills coming over," Cannizzaro said in a brief interview. "We're looking at our schedules, and we'll go through the legislative process, but obviously haven't had time to sit down, make any commitments on anything."

Asked at a press conference on Tuesday if he would sign the bill, Gov. Steve Sisolak said he was anticipating the question and read from a prepared statement that expressed openness to keeping the death penalty as an option but also openness to the legislation that would arrive at his desk:

"What I've said on the record in the past has not changed. Under most circumstances. I'm opposed to capital punishment. I know there have been wrongful convictions. I know there are significant costs associated with capital punishment, and more. But as also said on the record the past, there are incredibly severe situations that may warrant consideration of capital punishment. But I believe, overall, it should be sought and used less often. I was on the ground, the night, and the morning after 1 October. I was there. I talked to families whose loved ones were victims. The experiences of victims' family members are always on my mind. Just like the majority of Nevadans, they consider this issue that weighs heavily on me, which is why I have a hard time with the idea of a complete abolishment of the death penalty. I'll continue watching this bill. As Governor, I have responsibility to be considerate of all these factors, while I weigh any legislation that could get to my desk."

(source: The Nevada Independent)

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

Nevada Assembly repeals death penalty, sends to Senate

Nevada's Assembly voted Thursday to abolish the death penalty, a bill that, if signed into law, would make the state the 24th to outlaw the punishment. The legislative body voted 26-16 in favor of AB395, which, in addition to repealing the death penalty, would commute the sentences of those on death row to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The bill now goes before the Democratic-controlled state Senate for a vote. The Senate is already considering a similar bill, SB288, which would not be retroactively applied to current death row inmates.

70 people currently sit on the state's death row.

If a death penalty repeal bill makes it to Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak's desk, it's unclear if he'd sign the legislation into law.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada called the vote "a historic moment" for the state.

"For the first time a retroactive death penalty abolition bill has passed the Assembly, and we are one step closer to ending this racist, barbaric practice," the organization said.

"Now the Senate needs to take heed. The fight is only just beginning, and we will not rest until this bill is sent to the governor's bill."

Assemblywoman Annie Black, a Republican, voted against the bill and wrote an op-ed last week saying the focus should be on the victims.

"The worst part about the organized campaign to eliminate capital punishment for the most heinous murderers is how they show such compassion for the killer while conveniently overlooking what the killer did to get on death row in the first place," she wrote.

23 states have abolished the death penalty, including Virginia, whose governor, Ralph Northam, signed the legislation in March.

(source: United Press International)

US MILITARY:

2 Indicted in Fort Stewart Soldier's Death

2 former soldiers have been indicted on charges in the stabbing death of another soldier on a Georgia military base, according to court documents unsealed Monday.

Byron Booker, 28, of Ludowici and Jordan Brown, 21, of St. Marys are charged in the death of Specialist Austin J. Hawke, 24, at Fort Stewart.

Booker is charged with premeditated murder and murder of an armed services member. Booker and Brown are charged with felony murder; assault on an armed services member; burglary; and conspiracy to retaliate and retaliation against a witness. If convicted, both men could face the death penalty.

The 21-page indictment alleges Booker and Brown conspired to commit the offenses against Hawke in retaliation for Hawke reporting Booker to Army leadership for "poor leadership, poor military performance, and maltreatment of subordinates" prior to Booker's Army discharge, and in retaliation for Hawke reporting Brown for drug use during his service.

The indictment said Booker and Brown discussed "silencing" Hawke, and discussed Brown providing Booker with a key to access Hawke's room. The indictment alleges Booker drove from his home on June 17, 2020, to Fort Stewart and entered the base on foot before walking to Hawke's barracks.

The indictment then alleges Booker killed Hawke by "stabbing, cutting, and slashing" him with an edged weapon, and afterward Booker disposed of the clothing and shoes he was wearing at the time.

Booker has been in custody since June 18, 2020. Brown was taken into custody after a U.S. District Court grand jury returned the indictment during its April 2021 term. Both defendants await further legal proceedings.

"It is a high priority for our office to pursue justice for members of the military who are victims of violent crime," said David Estes, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.

(source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

TAIWAN:

High court upholds death sentence for arsonist who caused 9 deaths

The Taiwan High Court on Wednesday upheld the death penalty handed down to Li Kuo-hui, an ethnic Chinese from Myanmar, for starting a fire in an apartment building in Zhonghe, New Taipei in November 2017 that resulted in the deaths of 9 people.

Li, in his 50s, claimed to have heard other tenants making fun of him from his rented room in the building.

Early in the morning of Nov. 22, 2017, Li went out with an empty bottle which he filled with gasoline. At 8:32 p.m. that day, he returned to the apartment building and poured the fuel on the staircase to the 4th floor, ignited it and fled.

The blaze rapidly engulfed the 4th and 5th floors, where there were 25 small units with wooden partitions.

The New Taipei District Court said in its ruling in 2018 that Li set the fire out of anger, taking the lives of nine innocent people and therefore sentenced him to death for murder.

The district court's ruling was upheld by the High Court.

However, in July 2020 the Supreme Court remanded the case to the High Court for a retrial.

The High Court ruled Wednesday that Li was guilty of murder with direct intent, High Court spokeswoman Huang Yu-ting said Wednesday.

Considering Li had no mental disorders when he set the fire and was wanted by the police for two earlier counts of arson when the incident took place, the High Court decided to uphold the previous ruling including the lifetime deprivation of civil rights and the death penalty.

However, the ruling can still be appealed, Huang said.

Li was previously indicted for two counts of arson by New Taipei prosecutors in connection with two fires in May and June 2017, but went on the run.

No one was hurt in the earlier incidents but two motorcycles were damaged in the 2nd one.

(source: focustaiwan.tw)

SOUTH KOREA:

Prosecutors demand death penalty for adoptive mother in death of toddler

Prosecutors on Wednesday demanded the death penalty for the adoptive mother in a highly publicized child abuse case that led to the death of a 16-month-old baby girl.

Prosecutors also requested during the trial at the Seoul Southern District Court that the defendant, surnamed Jang, be ordered to wear a tracking device for 30 years and be put under a 5-year probation.

For Jang's husband, who was also indicted along with her, the prosecution demanded a 7 1/2-year prison term.

Jang was indicted for abusing their daughter, Jung-in, to death, and prosecutors later added a murder charge. The father was charged with child abuse and negligence.

The toddler was adopted in February last year and died in October of severe abdominal injuries and internal bleeding that were caused by "strong external force." Her adoptive mother insisted the baby sustained the injuries because she accidentally dropped her.

The case has unleashed nationwide grief and anger over child abuse. Hundreds of people have sent petitions to the court to demand justice for the girl.

(source: Yonhap News Agency)

BANGLADESH:

2 decades gone by, yet no closure----Death reference, appeals in Ramna Batamul attack stuck in legal tangles

20 years on from the 2001 Ramna Batamul bomb blasts which killed ten people at Pahela Baishakh celebrations, justice is yet to be delivered to the family members of the victims as the appeals and death reference in connection with the carnage case are still pending with the High Court.

Legal tangles continue to cause delays in the hearing and disposal of appeals filed by the convicts and the death reference of the case at the HC for nearly 7 years, as 2 separate HC benches have refused to deal with them for different reasons.

For all latest news, follow The Daily Star's Google News channel.

Besides, the attorney general's office has not extensively taken any move for their expeditious hearings, considering that an expected judgment may not come from the HC as there are serious weaknesses in the investigation and lack of evidence and documents, say court sources.

The HC bench led by Justice Krishna Debnath and ASM Abdul Mobin is scheduled to hold hearing on the death reference and appeals of the case on May 30.

Contacted recently, Attorney General AM Amin Uddin could not specify how much time will be needed for hearing and disposing of the Ramna Batamul carnage case.

"I cannot say when the High Court can finish hearing and disposal of the [Ramna Batamul carnage] case. The court [HC] will hold the hearing after the state and defence lawyers will get prepared for placing arguments on the case," he told The Daily Star on March 30.

Last year, too, courts -- including the Appellate and HC divisions of the Supreme Court -- were closed across the country due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and the then attorney general Mahbubey Alam had told The Daily Star that his office would take steps for hearing and disposing of the death reference and appeals of the case after the court reopened.

Mohammad Shishir Manir, a defence lawyer for death-row convict Moulana Akbar Hossain alias Helaluddin, told The Daily Star recently that the case has been included in the HC's hearing lists 315 times since 2014, but the benches concerned adjourned the hearing each time following the state's adjournment prayers.

There is no evidence and documents to prove charges brought against the convicted accused of the case, he said, adding that the trial court has delivered an "emotional verdict" in the case, he said.

"My client has been suffering in a condemned cell for around 20 years although there is no evidence against him," he added.

On March 14 this year, Deputy Attorney General Shahin Ahmed sought adjournment from the HC bench led by Justice Krishna Debnath for hearing the case, saying that the Attorney General will place arguments on the issue.

Earlier, 2 separate HC benches had refused to hear the same matter for different reasons.

According to the sources in the attorney general's office, the investigation of the case was conducted carelessly during the rule of the then BNP-Jamaat alliance government.

Besides, the main accused, Mufti Abdul Hannan, has already been executed in 2017 in connection with another criminal case.

There are no proper documents and evidence, other than confessional statements from 1 or 2 convicts, to prove the charges brought against the accused and therefore the state counsels are not serious about this case, these sources said.

If a lower court sentences any person to death, its judgment is examined by the HC through hearing arguments for confirmation of the death sentence.

The case documents and judgement reach as death references to the HC from the lower court within seven days of the latter delivering the verdict, as per the relevant rules of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

The HC bench led by Justice M Enayetur Rahim had started hearing the death references and appeals of the Ramna case on January 8, 2017; after hearing for several days, it adjourned the hearing on February 22 the same year.

This bench then dropped the matters from its cause list on August 8, 2017 as state counsel had not officially informed it about the execution of Mufti Hannan.

Subsequently, the Chief Justice assigned the HC bench led by Justice Md Ruhul Quddus to finish the hearing of the death references and appeals. But this bench too could not hear the case as its hearing jurisdiction was reconstituted.

THE RAMNA BLASTS

2 bombs went off during Bangla New Year 1408 celebrations on April 14, 2001 organised by Chhayanaut, a leading cultural organisation, at Ramna Batamul in Dhaka. Ten people were killed and dozens injured in the incident.

On June 23, 2014 a Dhaka court handed down the death penalty to 8 militants of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (Huji), including its top leader Mufti Abdul Hannan, for the killings. 6 other militants of the banned Islamist outfit were sentenced to life imprisonment for their involvement in the blasts.

The accused who got capital punishment by the trial court are Mufti Abdul Hannan, Moulana Akbar Hossain alias Helaluddin, Moulana Mohammad Tajuddin, Hafez Jahangir Alam Badar, Moulana Abu Bakar alias Selim Hawlader, Mufti Shafiqur Rahman, Mufti Abdul Hye, and Arif Hasan Suman.

The court awarded life imprisonment to Moulana Abu Taher, Moulana Sabbir alias Abdul Hannan, Moulana Yahiya, Moulana Shawkat Osman alias Sheikh Farid, Moulana Abdur Rouf, and Shahadat Ullah alias Jewel.

9 of the convicted accused are in jail while 5 -- Tajuddin, younger brother of BNP leader Abdus Salam Pintu, Hafez Jahangir, Moulana Abu Bakar, Mufti Shafiqur, and Mufti Hye -- are absconding.

Mufti Abdul Hannan, one of the country's most notorious militants involved in plotting and carrying out terror attacks by Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami Bangladesh, was executed at Kashimpur High Security Prison on April 13, 2017.

Hannan was executed for carrying out a grenade attack on the then British High Commissioner Anwar Choudhury in Sylhet on May 21, 2004.

(source: The Daily Star)

MYANMAR:

More people sentenced to death by court-martial in Myanmar

Myanmar's state-run television reported Tuesday night that 7 people had been sentenced to death by court-martial for their roles in the killing of a woman who purportedly cooperated with the military.

The military has intensified its crackdown on protesters and others opposed to its rule following a February coup. Nineteen people were sentenced to death by court-martial last week for the killing of an associate of an army officer in the largest city Yangon.

The 7 either committed or aided in the killing of the woman on March 15 in an area of Yangon where martial law has been declared, according to the report. She had purportedly leaked information about protesters and others.

19 others were sentenced to 3 to 7 years in prison for their roles in the case. The sentences were dated Monday.

In areas where martial law has been declared, serious crimes are tried by court-martial, with the maximum penalty being death. No appeals are permitted.

Security forces had killed 714 people in Myanmar as of Tuesday since the military seized power, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors the situation in the Southeast Asian country.

Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, warned in a statement on Tuesday that Myanmar is heading toward a "full-blown conflict."

"States with influence need to urgently apply concerted pressure on the military in Myanmar to halt the commission of grave human rights violations and possible crimes against humanity," she said.

Myanmar has entered a traditional new year holiday period since Tuesday. But the country was not in a celebratory mood, with young people calling on others to shun celebrations and instead pray for those killed in the military's bloody campaign against protesters.

The holiday continues until next Monday.

(source: The Jakarta Post)

VIETNAM:

Nigerian drug transporter sentenced to death

The People’s Court of the southwestern province of Tay Ninh on April 13 sentenced Unachukwu Chiluba Paulinus, a Nigerian man born in 1996, to death for illegally transporting narcotic substances under Clause 4, Article 250 of the 2015 Penal Code.

He was arrested on February 19, 2020, in the Ta Pheng area of Thuan Tay hamlet in Loi Thuan commune, Ben Cau district, while transporting nearly 3 kilogrammes of methamphetamine.

Paulinus told police that he arrived in Cambodia in 2019, where he met an African man called Oscar who hired him to transport the drugs from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City for 2,000 USD. He was paid 650 USD in advance.

After traveling by taxi from Phnom Penh to the border, he crossed over into Vietnam and was arrested by Ben Cau district’s police.

He also confessed to having earlier transported a backpack containing drugs from Cambodia to HCM City, which he delivered to an unknown man.

(source: vietnamnet.vn)

KENYA:

Women have been disadvantaged under Kenyan laws - Koome Says laws socialised to look at women as 2nd class citizens.

Lady Justice Martha Koome has expressed her concerns on the country laws in relation to gender which she says have been socialised to look at women as 2nd class citizens who are not supposed to take part in leadership positions.

Justice Koome said she subscribes to feminist legal theories which say that the law corresponds with structures of patriarchal dominance and oppression.

"I subscribe to that 100 per cent. The legal structure is dominated by patriarchy because our society is patriarchal. Laws are made in parliament and the dominant majority in parliament is male so it's informed by their background and socialization," Koome said.

Justice Koome spoke on Wednesday as she faced the JSC panel on its 3rd day of interviews.

She is among 10 candidates shortlisted for the position of Chief Justice.

“We have come a long way especially with the Constitution that outlaws discrimination. The old Constitution out rightly discriminated against women as it did not allow citizenship and allowed customary law,” she said.

She held the view that the Constitution has now been remedied through provisions of gender equity.

She gave an example of a case where a woman won a discrimination suit against a hotel that turned her away for not being accompanied by a man.

On the issue of matrimonial property, Judge Koome believes that one is not entitled to property at the point of entry into marriage.

However, she says that if the spouse contributed to the development of existing property then he or she acquires occupational rights.

On the issue of mandatory death sentence, Judge Koome said doing away with mandatory aspects of it helped justice.

She said sentencing is a judicial authority however death penalty is still a provision of the law.

"But the death penalty as the only penalty is unconstitutional because it takes away judicial authority," she said.

She noted that not all murders are the same and therefore the sentencing ought not to be the same.

The judge was also grilled over the famous Muruatetu case which dealt with certain aspects of the death sentence.

In that precedent, the court held that the mandatory death sentence ought not to be imposed on every case.

The Death sentence concept promotes Hammurabi's code. Hammurabi is retaliatory justice 'an eye for an eye.'

However, she says the decision on the death penalty opened a Pandora's Box and she will follow up with the Attorney-General to find out if the sentencing report has been prepared to ensure the sentencing policy takes into account the decision of the Supreme Court.

"There is a need for a coherent sentencing approach to sentencing," she said.

Judge Koome revealed that the Court of Appeal has been reducing the sentences for convicts of defilement cases who are 19 to 20 years.

“We need to nurture our youth, cases where there was no violence for example a case of Romeo and Juliet I have seen the Court of Appeal reduce the sentence to 5 years which is more like a slap on the wrist,” she said.

The judge says this will depend on the circumstances of the particular cases that were before the court.

On the issue of the impasses of the appointment of 41 judges, she told the commission that she will endeavour to negotiate with the Executive.

"We must discuss the issue of the 41 judges with the President and we find out where the problem is resolved and have the judges sworn-in.

On BBI, Judge Koome said she would not comment on the ruling by the Supreme Court that the cases filed at the High Court should be determined first.

"Those are sensitive matters I can't discuss them since it will be prejudice. I will read the files, call the judges of the Supreme Court. Whether the Supreme Court takes over the cases will be a discussion arrived at a consultative forum," she said.

(source: the-star.co.ke)

IRAN:

Executions under Hassan Rouhani’s presidency

According to Iran Human Rights’ reports, at least 4,047 people were executed during the 7.5 years of Rouhani’s presidency.

The 13th Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran provides an analysis of the number of executions under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad compared to Hassan Rouhani.

The following is an excerpt from the Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran.

This 2020 annual report is being published just months before the end of Hassan Rouhani’s second and, according to the Constitution, last presidential term. Reports by IHR reveal at least 4,047 people have been executed during the 7.5 years of Hassan Rouhani’s presidency. This is significantly higher than the number of reported executions during the 8 years of Ahmadinejad’s presidency. Although the president does not have a direct role in issuing or implementing executions, Hassan Rouhani has never criticised or expressed concern about the sharp rise in the number of executions during his presidency.

The figures above show the reported execution numbers during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 2 terms in office (from June 2005 to June 2013) and 7.5 years of Hassan Rouhani’s presidency (July 2013 to December 2020). The figures are based on reported numbers and the actual numbers are probably higher. There are bigger margins of error for the numbers under the 1st round of Ahmadinejad’s presidency (2005-2009).

A review of Rouhani’s 7.5 years as president shows that the average monthly number of executions under his presidency was 45, compared to an average of 35 monthly executions during the 2 periods of the previous president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It should be noted that the Amendment to the Anti-Narcotics Laws in 2017 also significantly reduced the monthly average execution count during Rouhani’s presidency.

(source: iranhr.net)

APRIL 13, 2021:

CONNECTICUT:

Court dismisses long-standing appeals by Joshua Komisarjevsky in Cheshire home invasion and murder case

The state Supreme court on Monday denied a long-pending appeal by multiple murderer Joshua Komisarjevsky, a decision that keeps him in prison where he is serving 6 consecutive life sentences for the rapes and murders of 3 members of a Cheshire family during a notorious home invasion in 2007.

The court ruled against Komisarjevsky on a half dozen appeal claims.

He argued that the jury in his 2011 trial was biased by pretrial publicity, that his challenges of certain jurors were ignored and that prosecutors were late in providing him with letters written by his co-defendant, Steven Hayes.

Komisarjevsky also claimed prosecutors violated his rights by denying him access to all communications among police officers racing to the scene of the crime — a home owned by the family of Dr. William Petit — and by failing to correct erroneous trial testimony by an expert witness about an obscene photograph found on his telephone.

Finally, in a majority opinion written by Chief Justice Richard Robinson, the court dismissed Komisarjevsky’s claim that he was held in unconstitutionally inhumane prison conditions after the the court abolished capital punishment in 2015.

Komisarjevsky and Hayes were sentenced to death at separate trials in 2010 and 2011. When death sentences in Connecticut were abolished — in part by the legislature and then entirely by the court — the men were each resentenced to 6 consecutive life sentences followed by another 140 years in prison, due in part to a multitude of convictions for crimes including multiple murders, rape and arson.

Immediately following the abolition of capital punishment, former death row prisoners were confined in intentionally harsh conditions under a compromise hatched in the legislature by death penalty opponents.

Komisarjevsky and Hayes were convicted in the deaths of Petit’s wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and their 2 teenaged daughters. Petit survived after being bludgeoned repeatedly in the head with a baseball bat. He was bound with rope for hours in his basement, but eventually made it to a neighbors house to telephone police after regaining consciousness. He was hospitalized with head injuries and after losing as much as seven pints of blood.

Komisarjevsky conceived of the idea of robbing the Petit family, but claims Hayes strangled Petit’s wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and set the fire that killed his daughters.

Before the crime, while he was parked in a supermarket parking lot, Komisarjevsky said Jennifer Hawke-Petit drove by in a van that caught his attention. He said he followed her home and decided there might be money in the house that he could steal. He called Hayes and recruited him for the crime.

When the men found no money in the house, they ordered Jennifer Hawke-Petit to drive to a bank and withdraw $15,000. Later, Hayes raped and strangled Jennifer Hawke-Petit and Komisarjevsky raped 1 of her daughters. Both daughters died as police arrived, after Hayes set the house on fire to silence any witnesses and destroy evidence.

The appeal was pending for years because of delays associated with death penalty litigation and later pandemic-related court postponements.

(source: Hartford Courant)

NORTH CAROLINA:

Raleigh woman died from repeated stab wounds at Hillsborough Street apartment

Christina Maria Matos, the 20-year-old woman found slain in her Hillsborough Street apartment, died from multiple stab wounds to the neck, Wake County death records state. At her funeral Monday, friends and family filled the chapel and remembered a young woman of deep faith and a large heart, curious about the world and eager to help its less fortunate.

“She was always the one asking was everybody OK,” said Will Kelley, youth minister at Everett Chapel Freewill Baptist Church in Clayton. “She was always the one who took the initiative.

“You’re sad,” he continued outside Lea Funeral Home. “You’re confused. There’s a little bit of anger. There’s a lot of things you don’t understand, and you’re broken for the family.”

Matos’ death certificate states she died within minutes of being stabbed.

Erick Gael Hernandez-Mendez, also 20, is charged with her murder and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Classmates married week before killing

Former classmates at Clayton High School, Matos and Hernandez-Mendez received a marriage license in February and were married March 29, records show.

Last week, a friend said Hernandez-Mendez had offered to pay Matos $15,000 to marry him so so he could stay in the United States, according to ABC 11, the N&O’s media partner.

“He came to Christina in hopes that they could get married and he could be a legal citizen, and he promised, ‘OK, if we marry, I’ll give you $15,000 and we kind of like, kind of go our separate ways and eventually get divorced in 3 years,’ “ Savannah Ferrell told the station. “Christina had the full intention, just to get divorced, get her check and be gone.”

At the funeral, Kelley said he knew the suspect only in passing.

“I had met him a few times when he had been to church,” the youth pastor recalled. “I didn’t really have a close relationship with him. I knew him as a passerby.”

Matos took classes at Wake Tech in the fall, but was not enrolled in the spring semester, a school spokesperson told The News & Observer.

She was a former server at Jonathan’s Sports Lounge & Grill, according to the bar’s Facebook page. Matos’ father Gerardo Mato said his daughter worked as a waitress at Mango’s Nightclub.

Family did not know about marriage

Her family has said they knew little about the pair’s life together and the circumstances of her death.

“We know nothing,” said her aunt, Norma Matos. “Everything for us is a surprise. We don’t even know how she died. We have no forensics, nothing. Today is the day for saying goodbye to Christina. It is very tragic. Very sad.”

At Monday’s service, her brother Abraham stood before dozens of mourners in front of her open casket, struggling to say goodbye.

“It was a blessing to have been her brother,” he said. “She will always be remembered as that hard-working, big-hearted woman that she was.”

In a phone interview, he also said the family did not know about his sister’s marriage arrangement.

(source: The Durham Herald Sun)

FLORIDA:

Judge denies request for delay in Russell Tillis death penalty trial----Tillis' attorney wants to conduct psychological testing of Tillis specifically for the penalty phase.

Circuit Judge Mark Borello denied a motion Monday to continue the penalty phase in Russell Tillis’ death penalty case.

That request came Friday from Tillis’ attorney Donald Mairs who wants to conduct psychological testing of Tillis specifically for the penalty phase. Tillis has previously been very resistant of participating in what’s known as “mitigation,” gathering information that might prompt a jury to reach a verdict of life rather than death.

A jury found Tillis guilty Friday of first-degree murder, kidnapping and the abuse of a dead human body. The charges stem from the discovery of the dismembered remains of 30-year-old Joni Gunter in Tillis’ Southside backyard in 2015.

Specifically, Mairs wants to conduct a PET scan of Tillis’ brain and have it analyzed by a neurologist. He said that analysis would be available within 30 days.

But, prosecutor Alan Mizrahi said the case should not be delayed. He said they had assured the jury the penalty phase would be this week, and it should be this week.

Borello denied the request saying he understood the request for delay was no fault of the defense team. He has previously noted on the record that Tillis himself is responsible for most of the delays in this 4-year-old case.

The penalty phase of the trial functions as a separate trial beginning this week. Jurors will be asked to look at aggravators and mitigators and determine whether Tillis deserves the death penalty or life in prison.

(source: firstcoastnews.com)

LOUISIANA:

Permanent memorial on the way for slain Mandeville police officer

For a year and a half now people honoring slain Mandeville police officer Vincent Liberto have been placing makeshift memorials near the spot where he was fatally shot in the line of duty.

That memorial was just taken down, as his widow looked on.

On September 20, 2019 Mandeville police officer Vincent Liberto was fatally shot in the line of duty, near the intersection of Highways 190 and 22.

“Every time we come out here it’s hard to be quite honest with you. I still get very angry still very hurt,” said Mandeville police chief Gerald Sticker, Liberto’s former boss, and an old friend.

Citizens and people who knew Officer Liberto, immediately began making contributions to a makeshift memorial at the site of his death.

But now, with his widow looking on that memorial is coming down.

Mandeville police chief Gerald Sticker served with Liberto in the Marine’s and on the Mandeville police force. He joined state transportation workers, slowly taking down flags and tributes placed in Liberto’s honor on the highways chain-link dividing fence.

“The flags were tattered and in disrepair and I know Vincent being a Marine and a police officer would support our nations flag being represented a lot better,” said Sticker.

It has been a rough year for Liberto’s wife, Tracey. She’s had a hold her family together after police say Liberto was fatally shot by 22-year-old mark Spicer during a chase. But the hardship was eased somewhat by the community outpouring.

“I just want to thank the community for all their support in the last year and a half and I’m really excited,” said Liberto’s widow, Tracey.

Though the makeshift memorial has come down, the state plans to permanently memorialize a man who was a hero to his family and community.

“Today is about doing things properly and properly honoring Captain Liberto’s life and properly displaying the American flag,” said Michael Vinsanau, a spokesman for the La. Dept of Transportation and Development.

Tracey Liberto says she will take home the remembrances.

The state will soon begin working on a new permanent tribute to Vincent Liberto which will include an American flag and a renamed interchange in honor of a man who many will never forget.

“The tragedy, as horrible as it was does not define us,” said Sticker.

“The family is really excited to have a more permanent memorial,” said Tracey Liberto.

A memorial to a man who exemplified what duty is all about, and in so doing paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Mark Spicer is currently awaiting trial for Liberto’s murder. He could face the death penalty, if convicted.

(source: WVUE news)

ILLINOIS:

Northwestern’s role in overturning the Illinois death penalty observed ---- Pritzker Law and School of Communication present “The Exonerated” April 15

Alumni Harry Lennix and Katrina Lenk and School of Communication Dean E. Patrick Johnson are featured in the April 15 reading of 'The Exonerated.'

Stage and screen star Harry Lennix (C ’86), School of Communication Dean E. Patrick Johnson and Tony Award winner Katrina Lenk, a graduate of Bienen School of Music, will be featured in a dramatic reading of “The Exonerated” at 6:30 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 15.

Co-presented by Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law and School of Communication, this special online event recognizes the 10th anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois and the role of the Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) in its overturning.

Based on the documented stories of six innocent people sentenced to death, “The Exonerated” ran off-Broadway in 2000 to great acclaim, running 600 performances, and featuring actors such as Richard Dreyfuss.

A performance of the “The Exonerated” was organized by the CWC in December 2002 for then-Illinois Gov. George Ryan. In 1999, Ryan had issued a moratorium on executions in Illinois.

“By 2003, Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions and our partners had worked together to exonerate no fewer than 13 innocent people off Illinois’ death row,” said Laura Nirider, clinical professor of law at Pritzker and co-director of Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. “A few weeks after watching the play, the Governor came to Lincoln Hall at the Law School to make a historic announcement: He commuted the death sentences of all the men on Illinois’ death row — more than 160 — to life sentences because the risk of executing an innocent was too great. The moratorium and the mass commutation led to the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois on March 9, 2011.”

To date, a total of 21 innocent men who had been sentenced to death have been exonerated.

Performed by Northwestern faculty, alumni and students under the direction of Broadway and television star Jordan Donica, the prerecorded reading will be accessible only during the virtual event.

The program also includes a post-performance discussion with the actors, alongside Nirider and death row exoneree Gary Gauger, whose case was overturned by the Center.

“The occasion of this staged reading of ‘The Exonerated,’ marking the 10-year anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in the State of Illinois, reflects the role that art may play in political resistance to effect social change,” said School of Communication Dean E. Patrick Johnson. “This collaboration between the Center on Wrongful Convictions, the Pritzker School of Law, and the School of Communication’s faculty, students, alumni and staff speaks to the natural synergies among social justice, the law and artistic practice. As an artist, scholar, and administrator, it has been a privilege to be able to be a part of this historic collaboration.”

The invitation-only event is open to all members of the Northwestern community and select invitees.

RSVP online for a link to the event. For more information visit the Pritzker School of Law website: https://www.law.northwestern.edu/the-exonerated/.

(source: northwestern.edu)

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

Words: I Must Act

Following is the prepared text of Illinois Gov. George Ryan’s speech at Northwestern University College of Law before granting clemency to all inmates on the state’s death row -- (NYTimes.com, January 11, 2003)

4 years ago I was sworn in as the 39th Governor of Illinois. That was just 4 short years ago; that’s when I was a firm believer in the American System of Justice and the death penalty. I believed that the ultimate penalty for the taking of a life was administrated in a just and fair manner.

Today, 3 days before I end my term as Governor, I stand before you to explain my frustrations and deep concerns about both the administration and the penalty of death. It is fitting that we are gathered here today at Northwestern University with the students, teachers, lawyers and investigators who first shed light on the sorrowful condition of Illinois’ death penalty system. Professors Larry Marshall, Dave Protess have and their students along with investigators Paul Ciolino have gone above the call. They freed the falsely accused Ford Heights Four, they saved Anthony Porter’s life, they fought for Rolando Cruz and Alex Hernandez. They devoted time and effort on behalf of Aaron Patterson, a young man who lost 15 years of his youth sitting among the condemned, and LeRoy Orange, who lost 17 of the best years of his life on death row.

It is also proper that we are together with dedicated people like Andrea Lyon who has labored on the front lines trying capital cases for many years and who is now devoting her passion to creating an innocence center at De Paul University. You saved Madison Hobley’s life.

Together you spared the lives and secured the freedom of 17 men - men who were wrongfully convicted and rotting in the condemned units of our state prisons. What you have achieved is of the highest calling - Thank You!

Yes, it is right that I am here with you, where, in a manner of speaking, my journey from staunch supporters of capital punishment to reformer all began. But I must tell you - since the beginning of our journey - my thoughts and feelings about the death penalty have changed many, many times. I realize that over the course of my reviews I had said that I would not do blanket commutation. I have also said it was an option that was there and I would consider all options.

During my time in public office I have always reserved my right to change my mind if I believed it to be in the best public interest, whether it be about taxes, abortions or the death penalty. But I must confess that the debate with myself has been the toughest concerning the death penalty. I suppose the reason the death penalty has been the toughest is because it is so final - the only public policy that determines who lives and who dies. In addition it is the only issue that attracts most of the legal minds across the country. I have received more advice on this issue than any other policy issue I have dealt with in my 35 years of public service. I have kept an open mind on both sides of the issues of commutation for life or death.

I have read, listened to and discussed the issue with the families of the victims as well as the families of the condemned. I know that any decision I make will not be accepted by one side or the other. I know that my decision will be just that - my decision - based on all the facts I could gather over the past 3 years. I may never be comfortable with my final decision, but I will know in my heart, that I did my very best to do the right thing.

Having said that I want to share a story with you:

I grew up in Kankakee which even today is still a small midwestern town, a place where people tend to know each other. Steve Small was a neighbor. I watched him grow up. He would babysit my young children - which was not for the faint of heart since Lura Lynn and I had 6 children, 5 of them under the age of 3. He was a bright young man who helped run the family business. He got married and he and his wife had 3 children of their own. Lura Lynn was especially close to him and his family. We took comfort in knowing he was there for us and we for him.

One September midnight he received a call at his home. There had been a break-in at the nearby house he was renovating. But as he left his house, he was seized at gunpoint by kidnappers. His captors buried him alive in a shallow hole. He suffocated to death before police could find him.

His killer led investigators to where Steve’s body was buried. The killer, Danny Edward was also from my hometown. He now sits on death row. I also know his family. I share this story with you so that you know I do not come to this as a neophyte without having experienced a small bit of the bitter pill the survivors of murder must swallow.

My responsibilities and obligations are more than my neighbors and my family. I represent all the people of Illinois, like it or not. The decision I make about our criminal justice system is felt not only here, but the world over.

The other day, I received a call from former South African President Nelson Mandela who reminded me that the United States sets the example for justice and fairness for the rest of the world. Today the United States is not in league with most of our major allies: Europe, Canada, Mexico, most of South and Central America. These countries rejected the death penalty. We are partners in death with several third world countries. Even Russia has called a moratorium.

The death penalty has been abolished in 12 states. In none of these states has the homicide rate increased. In Illinois last year we had about 1000 murders, only 2 % of that 1000 were sentenced to death. Where is the fairness and equality in that? The death penalty in Illinois is not imposed fairly or uniformly because of the absence of standards for the 102 Illinois State Attorneys, who must decide whether to request the death sentence. Should geography be a factor in determining who gets the death sentence? I don’t think so but in Illinois it makes a difference. You are 5 times more likely to get a death sentence for 1st degree murder in the rural area of Illinois than you are in Cook County. Where is the justice and fairness in that ? where is the proportionality?

The Most Reverend Desmond Tutu wrote to me this week stating that “to take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, it is not justice. He says justice allows for mercy, clemency and compassion. These virtues are not weakness.”

“In fact the most glaring weakness is that no matter how efficient and fair the death penalty may seem in theory, in actual practice it is primarily inflicted upon the weak, the poor, the ignorant and against racial minorities. ” That was a quote from Former California Governor Pat Brown. He wrote that in his book - Public Justice, Private Mercy he wrote that nearly 50 years ago - nothing has changed in nearly 50 years.

I never intended to be an activist on this issue. I watched in surprise as freed death row inmate Anthony Porter was released from jail. A free man, he ran into the arms of Northwestern University Professor Dave Protess who poured his heart and soul into proving Porter’s innocence with his journalism students.

He was 48 hours away from being wheeled into the execution chamber where the state would kill him.

It would all be so antiseptic and most of us would not have even paused, except that Anthony Porter was innocent of the double murder for which he had been condemned to die.

After Mr. Porter’s case there was the report by Chicago Tribune reporters Steve Mills and Ken Armstrong documenting the systemic failures of our capital punishment system. Half of the nearly 300 capital cases in Illinois had been reversed for a new trial or resentencing.

Nearly Half!

33 of the death row inmates were represented at trial by an attorney who had later been disbarred or at some point suspended from practicing law.

Of the more than 160 death row inmates, 35 were African American defendants who had been convicted or condemned to die by all-white juries.

More than 2/3 of the inmates on death row were African American.

46 inmates were convicted on the basis of testimony from jailhouse informants.

I can recall looking at these cases and the information from the Mills/Armstrong series and asking my staff: How does that happen? How in God’s name does that happen? I’m not a lawyer, so somebody explain it to me.

But no one could. Not to this day.

Then over the next few months. There were 3 more exonerated men, freed because their sentence hinged on a jailhouse informant or new DNA technology proved beyond a shadow of doubt their innocence.

We then had the dubious distinction of exonerating more men than we had executed. 13 men found innocent, 12 executed.

As I reported yesterday, there is not a doubt in my mind that the number of innocent men freed from our Death Row stands at 17, with the pardons of Aaron Patterson, Madison Hobley, Stanley Howard and Leroy Orange.

That is an absolute embarrassment. 17 exonerated death row inmates is nothing short of a catastrophic failure. But the 13, now 17 men, is just the beginning of our sad arithmetic in prosecuting murder cases. During the time we have had capital punishment in Illinois, there were at least 33 other people wrongly convicted on murder charges and exonerated. Since we reinstated the death penalty there are also 93 people - 93 - where our criminal justice system imposed the most severe sanction and later rescinded the sentence or even released them from custody because they were innocent.

How many more cases of wrongful conviction have to occur before we can all agree that the system is broken?

Throughout this process, I have heard many different points of view expressed. I have had the opportunity to review all of the cases involving the inmates on death row. I have conducted private group meetings, one in Springfield and one in Chicago, with the surviving family members of homicide victims. Everyone in the room who wanted to speak had the opportunity to do so. Some wanted to express their grief, others wanted to express their anger. I took it all in.

My commission and my staff had been reviewing each and every case for three years. But, I redoubled my effort to review each case personally in order to respond to the concerns of prosecutors and victims’ families. This individual review also naturally resulted in a collective examination of our entire death penalty system.

I also had a meeting with a group of people who are less often heard from, and who are not as popular with the media. The family members of death row inmates have a special challenge to face. I spent an afternoon with those family members at a Catholic church here in Chicago. At that meeting, I heard a different kind of pain expressed. Many of these families live with the twin pain of knowing not only that, in some cases, their family member may have been responsible for inflicting a terrible trauma on another family, but also the pain of knowing that society has called for another killing. These parents, siblings and children are not to blame for the crime committed, yet these innocent stand to have their loved ones killed by the state. As Mr. Mandela told me, they are also branded and scarred for life because of the awful crime committed by their family member.

Others were even more tormented by the fact that their loved one was another victim, that they were truly innocent of the crime for which they were sentenced to die.

It was at this meeting that I looked into the face of Claude Lee, the father of Eric Lee, who was convicted of killing Kankakee police officer Anthony Samfay a few years ago. It was a traumatic moment, once again, for my hometown. A brave officer, part of that thin blue line that protects each of us, was struck down by wanton violence. If you will kill a police officer, you have absolutely no respect for the laws of man or God.

I’ve know the Lee family for a number of years. There does not appear to be much question that Eric was guilty of killing the officer. However, I can say now after our review, there is also not much question that Eric is seriously ill, with a history of treatment for mental illness going back a number of years.

The crime he committed was a terrible one ? killing a police officer. Society demands that the highest penalty be paid.

But I had to ask myself - could I send another man’s son to death under the deeply flawed system of capital punishment we have in Illinois? A troubled young man, with a history of mental illness? Could I rely on the system of justice we have in Illinois not to make another horrible mistake? Could I rely on a fair sentencing?

In the United States the overwhelming majority of those executed are psychotic, alcoholic, drug addicted or mentally unstable. The frequently are raised in an impoverished and abusive environment.

Seldom are people with money or prestige convicted of capital offenses, even more seldom are they executed.

To quote Governor Brown again, he said “society has both the right and the moral duty to protect itself against its enemies. This natural and prehistoric axiom has never successfully been refuted. If by ordered death, society is really protected and our homes and institutions guarded, then even the most extreme of all penalties can be justified.”

“Beyond its honor and incredibility, it has neither protected the innocent nor deterred the killers. Publicly sanctioned killing has cheapened human life and dignity without the redeeming grace which comes from justice metered out swiftly, evenly, humanely.”

At stake throughout the clemency process, was whether some, all or none of these inmates on death row would have their sentences commuted from death to life without the possibility parole.

One of the things discussed with family members was life without parole was seen as a life filled with perks and benefits.

Some inmates on death row don’t want a sentence of life without parole. Danny Edwards wrote me and told me not to do him any favors because he didn’t want to face a prospect of a life in prison without parole. They will be confined in a cell that is about 5-feet-by-12 feet, usually double-bunked. Our prisons have no air conditioning, except at our supermax facility where inmates are kept in their cell 23 hours a day. In summer months, temperatures in these prisons exceed one hundred degrees. It is a stark and dreary existence. They can think about their crimes. Life without parole has even, at times, been described by prosecutors as a fate worse than death.

Yesterday, I mentioned a lawsuit in Livingston County where a judge ruled the state corrections department cannot force feed 2 corrections inmates who are on a hunger strike. The judge ruled that suicide by hunger strike was not an irrational action by the inmates, given what their future holds.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional and cruel and unusual punishment to execute the mentally retarded. It is now the law of the land. How many people have we already executed who were mentally retarded and are now dead and buried? Although we now know that they have been killed by the state unconstitutionally and illegally. Is that fair? Is that right?

This court decision was last spring. The General Assembly failed to pass any measure defining what constitutes mental retardation. We are a rudderless ship because they failed to act.

This is even after the Illinois Supreme Court also told lawmakers that it is their job and it must be done.

I started with this issue concerned about innocence. But once I studied, once I pondered what had become of our justice system, I came to care above all about fairness. Fairness is fundamental to the American system of justice and our way of life.

The facts I have seen in reviewing each and every one of these cases raised questions not only about the innocence of people on death row, but about the fairness of the death penalty system as a whole.

If the system was making so many errors in determining whether someone was guilty in the first place, how fairly and accurately was it determining which guilty defendants deserved to live and which deserved to die? What effect was race having? What effect was poverty having?

And in almost every one of the exonerated 17, we not only have breakdowns in the system with police, prosecutors and judges, we have terrible cases of shabby defense lawyers. There is just no way to sugar coat it. There are defense attorneys that did not consult with their clients, did not investigate the case and were completely unqualified to handle complex death penalty cases. They often didn’t put much effort into fighting a death sentence. If your life is on the line, your lawyer ought to be fighting for you. As I have said before, there is more than enough blame to go around.

I had more questions.

In Illinois, I have learned, we have 102 decision makers. Each of them are politically elected, each beholden to the demands of their community and, in some cases, to the media or especially vocal victims’ families. In cases that have the attention of the media and the public, are decisions to seek the death penalty more likely to occur? What standards are these prosecutors using?

Some people have assailed my power to commute sentences, a power that literally hundreds of legal scholars from across the country have defended. But prosecutors in Illinois have the ultimate commutation power, a power that is exercised every day. They decide who will be subject to the death penalty, who will get a plea deal or even who may get a complete pass on prosecution. By what objective standards do they make these decisions? We do not know, they are not public. There were more than 1000 murders last year in Illinois. There is no doubt that all murders are horrific and cruel. Yet, less than 2 percent of those murder defendants will receive the death penalty. That means more than 98% of victims families do not get, and will not receive whatever satisfaction can be derived from the execution of the murderer. Moreover, if you look at the cases, as I have done - both individually and collectively — a killing with the same circumstances might get 40 years in one county and death in another county. I have also seen where co-defendants who are equally or even more culpable get sentenced to a term of years, while another less culpable defendant ends up on death row.

In my case-by-case review, I found three people that fell into this category, Mario Flores, Montel Johnson and William Franklin. Today I have commuted their sentences to a term of 40 years to bring their sentences into line with their co-defendants and to reflect the other extraordinary circumstances of these cases.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart has said that the imposition of the death penalty on defendants in this country is as freakish and arbitrary as who gets hit by a bolt of lightning.

For years the criminal justice system defended and upheld the imposition of the death penalty for the 17 exonerated inmates from Illinois Death row. Yet when the real killers are charged, prosecutors have often sought sentences of less than death. In the Ford Heights Four Case, Verneal Jimerson and Dennis Williams fought the death sentences imposed upon them for 18 years before they were exonerated. Later, Cook County prosecutors sought life in prison for two of the real killers and a sentence of 80 years for a third.

What made the murder for which the Ford Heights Four were sentenced to die less heinous and worthy of the death penalty twenty years later with a new set of defendants?

We have come very close to having our state Supreme Court rule our death penalty statute - the one that I helped enact in 1977 - unconstitutional. Former State Supreme Court Justice Seymour Simon wrote to me that it was only happenstance that our statute was not struck down by the state’s high court. When he joined the bench in 1980, three other justices had already said Illinois’ death penalty was unconstitutional. But they got cold feet when a case came along to revisit the question. One judge wrote that he wanted to wait and see if the Supreme Court of the United States would rule on the constitutionality of the new Illinois law. Another said precedent required him to follow the old state Supreme Court ruling with which he disagreed.

Even a pharmacist knows that doesn’t make sense. We wouldn’t have a death penalty today, and we all wouldn’t be struggling with this issue, if those votes had been different. How arbitrary.

Several years after we enacted our death penalty statute, Girvies Davis was executed. Justice Simon writes that he was executed because of this unconstitutional aspect of the Illinois law — the wide latitude that each Illinois State’s Attorney has to determine what cases qualify for the death penalty. One State’s Attorney waived his request for the death sentence when Davis’ first sentencing was sent back to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing. The prosecutor was going to seek a life sentence. But in the interim, a new State’s Attorney took office and changed directions. He once again sought and secured a death sentence. Davies was executed.

How fair is that?

After the flaws in our system were exposed, the Supreme Court of Illinois took it upon itself to begin to reform its’ rules and improve the trial of capital cases. It changed the rule to require that State’s Attorney’s give advance notice to defendants that they plan to seek the death penalty to require notice before trial instead of after conviction. The Supreme Court also enacted new discovery rules designed to prevent trials by ambush and to allow for better investigation of cases from the beginning.

But shouldn’t that mean if you were tried or sentenced before the rules changed, you ought to get a new trial or sentencing with the new safeguards of the rules? This issue has divided our Supreme Court, some saying yes, a majority saying no. These justices have a lifetime of experience with the criminal justice system and it concerns me that these great minds so strenuously differ on an issue of such importance, especially where life or death hangs in the balance.

What are we to make of the studies that showed that more than 50% of Illinois jurors could not understand the confusing and obscure sentencing instructions that were being used? What effect did that problem have on the trustworthiness of death sentences? A review of the cases shows that often even the lawyers and judges are confused about the instructions - let alone the jurors sitting in judgment. Cases still come before the Supreme Court with arguments about whether the jury instructions were proper.

I spent a good deal of time reviewing these death row cases. My staff, many of whom are lawyers, spent busy days and many sleepless nights answering my questions, providing me with information, giving me advice. It became clear to me that whatever decision I made, I would be criticized. It also became clear to me that it was impossible to make reliable choices about whether our capital punishment system had really done its job.

As I came closer to my decision, I knew that I was going to have to face the question of whether I believed so completely in the choice I wanted to make that I could face the prospect of even commuting the death sentence of Daniel Edwards - the man who had killed a close family friend of mine. I discussed it with my wife, Lura Lynn, who has stood by me all these years. She was angry and disappointed at my decision like many of the families of other victims will be.

I was struck by the anger of the families of murder victims. To a family they talked about closure. They pleaded with me to allow the state to kill an inmate in its name to provide the families with closure. But is that the purpose of capital punishment? Is it to soothe the families? And is that truly what the families experience.

I cannot imagine losing a family member to murder. Nor can I imagine spending every waking day for 20 years with a single minded focus to execute the killer. The system of death in Illinois is so unsure that it is not unusual for cases to take 20 years before they are resolved. And thank God. If it had moved any faster, then Anthony Porter, the Ford Heights Four, Ronald Jones, Madison Hobley and the other innocent men we’ve exonerated might be dead and buried.

But it is cruel and unusual punishment for family members to go through this pain, this legal limbo for 20 years. Perhaps it would be less cruel if we sentenced the killers to TAMS to life, and used our resources to better serve victims.

My heart ached when I heard one grandmother who lost children in an arson fire. She said she could not afford proper grave markers for her grandchildren who died. Why can’t the state help families provide a proper burial?

Another crime victim came to our family meetings. He believes an inmate sent to death row for another crime also shot and paralyzed him. The inmate he says gets free health care while the victim is struggling to pay his substantial medical bills and, as a result, he has forgone getting proper medical care to alleviate the physical pain he endures.

What kind of victims services are we providing? Are all of our resources geared toward providing this notion of closure by execution instead of tending to the physical and social service needs of victim families? And what kind of values are we instilling in these wounded families and in the young people? As Gandhi said, an eye for an eye only leaves the whole world blind.

President Lincoln often talked of binding up wounds as he sought to preserve the Union. “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”

I have had to consider not only the horrible nature of the crimes that put men on death row in the first place, the terrible suffering of the surviving family members of the victims, the despair of the family members of the inmates, but I have also had to watch in frustration as members of the Illinois General Assembly failed to pass even one substantive death penalty reform. Not one. They couldn’t even agree on ONE. How much more evidence is needed before the General Assembly will take its responsibility in this area seriously?

The fact is that the failure of the General Assembly to act is merely a symptom of the larger problem. Many people express the desire to have capital punishment. Few, however, seem prepared to address the tough questions that arise when the system fails. It is easier and more comfortable for politicians to be tough on crime and support the death penalty. It wins votes. But when it comes to admitting that we have a problem, most run for cover. Prosecutors across our state continue to deny that our death penalty system is broken ? or they say if there is a problem, it is really a small one and we can fix it somehow. It is difficult to see how the system can be fixed when not a single one of the reforms proposed by my Capital Punishment Commission has been adopted. Even the reforms the prosecutors agree with haven’t been adopted.

So when will the system be fixed? How much more risk can we afford? Will we actually have to execute an innocent person before the tragedy that is our capital punishment system in Illinois is really understood? This summer, a United States District court judge held the federal death penalty was unconstitutional and noted that with the number of recent exonerations based on DNA and new scientific technology we undoubtedly executed innocent people before this technology emerged.

As I prepare to leave office, I had to ask myself whether I could really live with the prospect of knowing that I had the opportunity to act, but that I failed to do so because I might be criticized. Could I take the chance that our capital punishment system might be reformed, that wrongful convictions might not occur, that enterprising journalism students might free more men from death row? A system that’s so fragile that it depends on young journalism students is seriously flawed.

“There is no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war. Except its ending.”

That’s what Abraham Lincoln said about the bloody war between the states. It was a war fought to end the sorriest chapter in American history—the institution of slavery. While we are not in a civil war now, we are facing what is shaping up to be one of the great civil rights struggles of our time. Stephen Bright of the Southern Center for Human Rights has taken the position that the death penalty is being sought with increasing frequency in some states against the poor and minorities.

Our own study showed that juries were more likely to sentence to death if the victim were white than if the victim were black—three-and-a-half times more likely to be exact. We are not alone. Just this month Maryland released a study of their death penalty system and racial disparities exist there too.

This week, Mamie Till died. Her son Emmett was lynched in Mississippi in the 1950s. She was a strong advocate for civil rights and reconciliation. In fact just three weeks ago, she was the keynote speaker at the Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation Event in Chicago. This group, many of whom I’ve met, opposes the death penalty even though their family members have been lost to senseless killing. Mamie’s strength and grace not only ignited the civil rights movement—including inspiring Rosa Parks to refuse to go to the back of the bus—but inspired murder victims’ families until her dying day.

Is our system fair to all? Is justice blind? These are important human rights issues.

Another issue that came up in my individual, case-by-case review was the issue of international law. The Vienna Convention protects U.S. citizens abroad and foreign nationals in the United States. It provides that if you arrested, you should be afforded the opportunity to contact your consulate. There are five men on death row who were denied that internationally recognized human right. Mexico’s President Vicente Fox contacted me to express his deep concern for the Vienna Convention violations. If we do not uphold international law here, we cannot expect our citizens to be protected outside the United States.

My Commission recommended the Supreme Court conduct a proportionality review of our system in Illinois. While our appellate courts perform a case by case review of the appellate record, they have not done such a big picture study. Instead, we tinker with a case-by-case review as each appeal lands on their docket.

In 1994, near the end of his distinguished career on the Supreme Court of the United States, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote an influential dissent in the body of law on capital punishment. 20 years earlier he was part of the court that issued the landmark Furman decision. The Court decided that the death penalty statutes in use throughout the country were fraught with severe flaws that rendered them unconstitutional. Quite frankly, they were the same problems we see here in Illinois. To many, it looked liked the Furman decision meant the end of the death penalty in the United States.

This was not the case. Many states responded to Furman by developing and enacting new and improved death penalty statutes. In 1976, four years after it had decided Furman, Justice Blackmun joined the majority of the United States Supreme Court in deciding to give the States a chance with these new and improved death penalty statutes. There was great optimism in the air.

This was the climate in 1977, when the Illinois legislature was faced with the momentous decision of whether to reinstate the death penalty in Illinois. I was a member of the General Assembly at that time and when I pushed the green button in favor of reinstating the death penalty in this great State, I did so with the belief that whatever problems had plagued the capital punishment system in the past were now being cured. I am sure that most of my colleagues who voted with me that day shared that view.

But 20 years later, after affirming hundreds of death penalty decisions, Justice Blackmun came to the realization, in the twilight of his distinguished career that the death penalty remains fraught with arbitrariness, discrimination, caprice and mistake.” He expressed frustration with a 20-year struggle to develop procedural and substantive safeguards. In a now famous dissent he wrote in 1994, ” From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.”

One of the few disappointments of my legislative and executive career is that the General Assembly failed to work with me to reform our deeply flawed system.

I don’t know why legislators could not heed the rising voices of reform. I don’t know how many more systemic flaws we needed to uncover before they would be spurred to action.

Three times I proposed reforming the system with a package that would restrict the use of jailhouse snitches, create a statewide panel to determine death eligible cases, and reduce the number of crimes eligible for death. These reforms would not have created a perfect system, but they would have dramatically reduced the chance for error in the administration of the ultimate penalty.

The Governor has the constitutional role in our state of acting in the interest of justice and fairness. Our state constitution provides broad power to the Governor to issue reprieves, pardons and commutations. Our Supreme Court has reminded inmates petitioning them that the last resort for relief is the governor.

At times the executive clemency power has perhaps been a crutch for courts to avoid making the kind of major change that I believe our system needs.

Our systemic case-by-case review has found more cases of innocent men wrongfully sentenced to death row. Because our three year study has found only more questions about the fairness of the sentencing; because of the spectacular failure to reform the system; because we have seen justice delayed for countless death row inmates with potentially meritorious claims; because the Illinois death penalty system is arbitrary and capricious - and therefore immoral - I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.

I cannot say it more eloquently than Justice Blackmun.

The legislature couldn’t reform it.

Lawmakers won’t repeal it.

But I will not stand for it.

I must act.

Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error, error in determining guilt, and error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die. Because of all of these reasons today I am commuting the sentences of all death row inmates.

This is a blanket commutation. I realize it will draw ridicule, scorn and anger from many who oppose this decision. They will say I am usurping the decisions of judges and juries and state legislators. But as I have said, the people of our state have vested in me to act in the interest of justice. Even if the exercise of my power becomes my burden I will bear it. Our constitution compels it. I sought this office, and even in my final days of holding it I cannot shrink from the obligations to justice and fairness that it demands.

There have been many nights where my staff and I have been deprived of sleep in order to conduct our exhaustive review of the system. But I can tell you this: I will sleep well knowing I made the right decision.

As I said when I declared the moratorium, it is time for a rational discussion on the death penalty. While our experience in Illinois has indeed sparked a debate, we have fallen short of a rational discussion. Yet if I did not take this action, I feared that there would be no comprehensive and thorough inquiry into the guilt of the individuals on death row or of the fairness of the sentences applied.

To say it plainly one more time- the Illinois capital punishment system is broken. It has taken innocent men to a hair’s breadth escape from their unjust execution. Legislatures past have refused to fix it. Our new legislature and our new Governor must act to rid our state of the shame of threatening the innocent with execution and the guilty with unfairness.

In the days ahead, I will pray that we can open our hearts and provide something for victims’ families other than the hope of revenge. Lincoln once said: ” I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” I can only hope that will be so. God bless you. And God bless the people of Illinois.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

MISSOURI:

Jury selection begins in death penalty trial in St. Louis----Jury selection began Monday in St. Louis Circuit Court in the death penalty trial of a man accused of killing 3 people

Potential jurors will be questioned this and next week for the trial of Eric Lawson, 32, accused of fatally shooting his ex-girlfriend, Breiana Ray, 22, and her mother, Gwendolyn Ray, 50, and setting an apartment fire that killed his 10-month-old son Aiden in 2012.

Eric Lawson, 23, is charged in the deaths of his ex-girlfriend, her mother, and his 10-month-old son.

Jurors will be sequestered for the duration of the trial, which is expected to conclude in early May.

It's the 2nd time Lawson's case has come to trial. In 2019, prosecutors and defense lawyers spent two weeks trying to sit a jury for Lawson’s case but were unable to find enough from a pool of hundreds either because of scheduling conflicts or because of their views on the death penalty.

The Missouri Attorney General's Office is trying Lawson's case because of a local conflict of interest.

(source: St. Louis post-Dispatch)

WYOMING:

Public defender cuts put agency on edge of crisis

With the signing of the state’s supplemental budget bill on April 1, Gov. Mark Gordon finalized nearly $3 million in budget cuts to the Wyoming Public Defender’s office.

And although they could have been worse, those cuts leave the office and its staff, along with the roughly 15,000 Wyomingites the office represents each year, teetering on the edge.

“We’re always one capital case or influx of cases or big multi-defendant case from having a budget crisis,” State Public Defender Diane Lozano said.

It’s the same position Lozano’s office found itself in back in May 2019, when her refusal to accept new misdemeanor cases in Campbell County because of heavy caseloads and understaffing led Circuit Judge Paul Phillips to find Lozano in contempt of court. As a result, Philips fined her $1,500 for each day the public defender’s office did not accept misdemeanor cases in the county.

Lozano won her case against Phillips and the Campbell County Circuit Court, with the Wyoming Supreme Court ruling in April 2020 that Lozano exercising discretion in which cases her office accepts did not place her in contempt of court.

But one year later, money that would have been allocated to preventing a similar situation from happening again by hiring additional attorneys in Campbell County was stripped away, along with two positions in the Newcastle public defender’s office, which covers both Crook and Weston counties, and funding reserved for representation in potential death penalty cases.

The cuts will also mean less training for attorneys, and no money to update what Lozano called an “antiquated” case management system.

In the public defender’s office’s 2021-22 supplemental budget request, Lozano and two other authors wrote: “As we all learned in the spring of 2019, when the Public Defender is not adequately funded or staffed, a constitutional crisis ensues, as well as creating an ethical crisis for the State Public Defender and her assistants,” referring to the Campbell County case.

When asked if she worries about that kind of thing happening again because of continued underfunding and understaffing, Lozano said it’s not a question of “if.”

“Yeah, it will happen,” she said. “I don’t know when, and I don’t know where, but I think it will happen.”

If a public defender is not available or there is a conflict of interest in a case, the Wyoming Public Defender Act allows courts to appoint private counsel that would be paid by the public defender’s office.

What’s unclear, Lozano said, is what would happen if the public defender’s office did not have the money to pay for those private attorneys.

“If we were to have to (refuse cases) again in Campbell County, and I had to use my money to cover a capital case, or caseloads go up, I might not be able to pay those private attorneys. And I don’t know what the statutory or the constitutional fix is for that,” Lozano said.

The public defender’s office in Campbell County is so understaffed that students from the University of Wyoming College of Law’s Defender Aid Clinic, located in Laramie, regularly drive the eight-hour round trip to Gillette to help with cases, UW professor and clinic director Lauren McLane said.

“I mean, (the law students are) great, but that’s what we’re going to do here to save us from that constitutional crisis – rely on law students?” McLane said. “I just haven’t seen that in any other states.”

McLane, a longtime public defender, said the Campbell County office would need to hire five full-time attorneys “to even begin to start to feel comfortable with that caseload.”

In the Laramie County public defender’s office, the busiest in the state, Lozano said she is having trouble recruiting enough attorneys and has had to take on some of the office’s caseload herself.

Still, Lozano said, the cuts weren’t as bad as they could have been. While many state agencies went through two rounds of substantial cuts, the public defender’s office only went through one, thanks to support from the governor’s office and the budget office, she said.

This means the public defender’s office will be able to survive, Lozano said – until a “big, tragic case happens,” and the office must fund defense in three or four death penalty cases.

“Then, we’re going to be in trouble,” she said.

If that second round of cuts had been required, the office projected they’d have about 5,000 cases each year they wouldn’t be able to take on, and they wouldn’t have had the funding to pay for private counsel to be appointed.

“It’s the state of Wyoming’s obligation to provide an attorney to everybody in court who’s charged with a serious crime. If we were to lose more money, I would have to start cutting attorneys, which would mean that poor people might not have the same access to an attorney as the Constitution mandates,” Lozano said. “That, to me, is a constitutional crisis that the state of Wyoming should do everything they can to avoid.”

The budget also eliminates the office’s funding for capital cases, or cases that involve the death penalty. Though these are relatively rare, if the public defender’s office is representing a person, and a prosecutor says they’re considering seeking the death penalty, the office is constitutionally required to begin funding that defense, including appointing at least two qualified attorneys, a mitigation investigation specialist and a qualified fact investigator, Lozano said.

Though it failed in the Legislature for the third year in a row, repealing the death penalty would have put an end to the issue altogether, she said, saving millions of dollars in the process and letting public defenders focus on everyday cases.

Even with the complications caused by getting rid of funding for capital case defense, it’s these everyday cases that would have suffered without the reduction, the office wrote in its supplemental budget proposal.

“Because of the costly results of eliminating capital case funding, it would be easy to not include the cut in this proposal; but not cutting monies that are designated to the rare case would only require the Public Defender to begin firing attorneys who handle the 15,000 cases annually, causing a constitutional crisis on a daily level,” the narrative reads.

Despite these very real risks, the state’s public defenders will carry on.

“We’ll be OK – we’ll continue to provide the best representation that we can,” Lozano said.

When public defenders are overworked and bogged down by too many cases, the people they represent suffer, Professor McLane said.

“They become numbers pretty quickly,” she said. “The personable nature that I think is required for constitutionally effective assistance of counsel is simply gone.”

Devon Petersen, now a private attorney in Laramie, worked as a public defender in Cheyenne from 2012 to 2018. During that time, he estimated he had about 100 felony cases on his plate at any given instance. Most of his time was spent in circuit or district court, representing clients, leaving little room to work on cases in the way he felt they deserved.

“You can’t really be in your office, you can’t really go to the jail, you can’t really answer your phone when you get back from court, you have 50 voicemails of people who haven’t talked to you and want to talk to you, and you’ve got new cases that are coming in – I mean, it’s just chaos, and it’s no way to represent someone,” Petersen said.

Since being in private practice, Petersen said he usually has about 10 cases at one time – 15 when he’s busy. This allows him to devote the time he feels does justice to his clients, and to the system as a whole.

In Petersen’s opinion, the Wyoming Public Defender’s office should have 10 times the amount of funding it currently has, with 10 times the number of attorneys, to properly represent defendants.

“It’s a terrible feeling. I became a public defender because I wanted to help people that had less resources and were vulnerable and were marginalized, and I wanted to give them as good a defense as anybody in the country,” he said. “There’s always this nagging thing in the back of your mind, like, what could I have accomplished in this case if I had more time?”

McLane thinks of public defenders as frontline workers against wrongful convictions. She said people should reframe the way they think about funding their state public defender’s office: rather than taking money away from “criminals,” cuts to that office mean less money for anyone accused of a crime who can’t afford to hire an attorney.

“When we are taking money away from the public defender’s office, we have to remember we’re taking money away from our Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial, to effective assistance of counsel,” she said.

McLane suggested Wyoming consider creating caseload standards like those that exist in some other states, which could limit the amount of cases assigned to one public defender, and where cases would be assigned to attorneys using a point system based around the severity or difficulty of a case.

She also suggested the Legislature consider how spending money on public defenders could save money down the road – on things like recidivism, appeals and resentencings.

“The fact is, is that public defenders are struggling, they’re stressed all the time, and it’s a backbreaking volume of cases. If we can articulate that need by measuring it up against other states and what their caseload standards are, I think it might be helpful in showing the Legislature why we need the funding that we need, and you need to stop slashing our funding,” McLane said.

Petersen left his job as a public defender after six years because there were just too many cases, and the job was too overwhelming.

By choosing to further cut the public defender’s office budget, Petersen said he believes the Legislature has let down the people of Wyoming.

“It was not fair to the clients, it’s not fair to the prosecutors, it’s not fair to the judges, it’s not fair to the attorneys,” he said.

(source: Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

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

Cody couple now faces 1st degree murder charges for death of child

2 Cody residents have now been charged with 1st degree murder for their role in the death of 2-year-old Paisleigh Williams.

Moshe Williams, 30, and Carolyn Aune, 28, are booked at the Park County Detention Center and each are being held with a $1 million cash-only bond. After initially being charged with aggravated abuse prior to the child’s death, the Park County attorney’s office filed the new charge on Monday morning. The 1st degree murder charge carries a maximum sentence of the death penalty in Wyoming.

An initial hearing was held for the couple on the new charges Monday afternoon. County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jack Hatfield argued that bond be taken away altogether for the couple, as this is allowed for capital punishment cases in Wyoming when the “proof is evident or presumption great.”

Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters rejected this and opted to stay with the current bond.

Moshe Williams is being represented by public defender attorney Branden Vilos and Aune is being represented by Travis Smith.

Paisleigh Williams passed away in Denver on April 4 as a result of the injuries she sustained through alleged child abuse. She was airlifted to Children’s Hospital Colorado from Cody for treatment.

Moshe Williams is the birth father of the victim while Aune has no biological relationship to them, but was living in the same home as the child and was considered a caretaker for her.

The couple’s arrest stemmed from an incident occurring in late March, when officers responded to the Cody Regional Health Emergency Room at the request of the hospital staff to investigate a report of an alleged child abuse involving the child.

New charges for the case relate to evidence now going as far back as Jan. 1.

When Moshe Williams brought his child to the emergency room the child was unresponsive and emergency personnel noticed numerous bruises on her body.

Medical staff in Denver offered the opinion the victim’s injuries were a result of child abuse. An autopsy performed last Wednesday in Colorado reaffirmed this opinion, showed possible fractures to Paisleigh Williams' left clavicle, C7, ribs, bruising and scraping on her head, a detached bowel, possible fractures to her hands, swelling of the brain, blunt force trauma, and slight malnourishment.

Based on the totality of the injuries, the Adams County Coroner's Office determined the injuries came at the hands of adults. A full report from the forensic pathologist is still pending.

Moshe Williams will have a preliminary hearing at 10:30 a.m. Friday while Aune will have hers at 9 a.m. on April 22.

(source: Cody Enterprise)

ARIZONA:

Arizona AG Asks Court to Set Execution Dates, Sparking Broad Backlash

Nearly 7 years after the botched execution of Joseph Wood put the death penalty on hold in Arizona, state officials are seeking to resume executions. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced on April 6, 2021 that he is asking the Arizona Supreme Court to set a briefing schedule and issue execution warrants for death-row prisoners Clarence Dixon and Frank Atwood. At present, no state but Texas has any pending executions scheduled for 2021.

The Attorney General’s announcement drew swift backlash from defense lawyers, racial justice and civil rights groups, former corrections officials, and spiritual advisors for the federal prisoners who were executed in 2020 and 2021.

In March, the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry (ADCRR) announced that it had obtained a supply of the barbiturate pentobarbital and was prepared to restart executions. Brnovich, who says the men have no appeals remaining in their cases, is seeking a “firm briefing schedule” to resolve execution-related issues in the cases before the Arizona Supreme Court issues the warrants. The Attorney General asserts that this schedule — which would limit the time in which the court could review issues — is needed to comply with ADCRR testing and disclosure obligations regarding the drug that will be used in the executions.

Attorneys for Dixon and Atwood issued statements sharply challenging the attorney general’s representations concerning the cases. Dixon, they say, is severely mentally ill and also has serious physical disabilities, and his mental status cannot be properly assessed while pandemic-related concerns limit expert’s ability to travel and to conduct necessary in-person evaluations. Atwood maintains his innocence, but his defense lawyers’ ability to investigate and present evidence supporting his innocence claim has been impeded by the pandemic.

“In light of Clarence Dixon’s severe mental illness and debilitating physical disabilities, including blindness, it would be unconscionable for the state of Arizona to execute him,” Dixon’s attorney Dale Baich said in a statement. “Moreover, by seeking to execute Mr. Dixon, the state is attempting to skirt its own responsibility for failing to protect him from the horrific abuse and neglect he suffered as a child, failing to implement proper supervision when he was found to be Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity in connection with a different crime and [released] just days before the murder, and failing to conduct a thorough and reliable investigation into the case.”

In an April 8 commentary, Is it not crazy to execute a mentally ill killer?, Arizona Republic columnist EJ Montini noted that Dixon’s “history of mental illness is long and unchallenged.” There is “something unhinged about a system that would execute him,” Montini wrote.

Atwood’s lawyer, Joseph Perkovich, also said significant issues were present in his case. “Frank Atwood’s litigation since early 2020 has been frustrated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Perkovich said in a statement. “The State is now attempting to sweep aside the most profound issues that can arise in our legal system, including whether the convicted is actually guilty of the crime and whether death is a morally or legally tenable punishment in the individual’s case. Mr. Atwood needs the opportunity to present these issues before the Arizona Supreme Court entertains setting an execution date.” Atwood says that eyewitnesses saw the victim in his case alive several hours after he allegedly encountered her.

Social justice advocates also strongly criticized Brnovich’s announcement. In a letter to Governor Doug Ducey, 18 national and local civil rights groups led by the state and national ACLU urged the governor to “reconsider the decision to resume executions.” Their letter noted that capital punishment “continues to be applied in a racist manner, is error-prone, costly, and disproportionately targets vulnerable individuals.” The letter warned of the unreliability of the death penalty, pointing to the 10 death row exonerations in Arizona and 185 nationwide since capital punishment resumed in the U.S. in the 1970s. It also raised concerns about Arizona’s history of botched executions.

21 former corrections officers also wrote to Gov. Ducey, cautioning him that resuming executions could exact a significant toll on prison workers tasked with carrying out the executions. “Those of us who have participated in executions experienced the trauma first-hand, while others of us witnessed the toll it has taken on colleagues. Post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and even suicide increase among corrections staff following proximity to an execution, even among those who did not participate directly,” they wrote. “The men and women who have undertaken the important and challenging job of keeping Arizona’s prisons safe and secure should not have to face this added burden.”

Four spiritual advisors who ministered to prisoners executed by the federal government also warned Ducey of the trauma caused by executions. “We recognize the deep pain the families of murder victims have suffered, and we wish them peace and healing,” they wrote. “At the same time, we have seen that carrying out executions does not provide that solace, it only perpetuates a cycle of violence and harm.” They described the “lasting horror” of watching “officials methodically prepare to end the life of a human being,” and expressed grief at the end of an opportunity for growth and redemption.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

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

Arizona’s attorney general wants to finish his term with a rush of executions

It’s been 7 years since the state of Arizona last executed someone convicted of murder, and given how poorly that went (it took Joseph Wood two gasping hours to die), it’s understandable that a judge ordered state officials to unplug the execution assembly line for a bit.

But after spending several years fighting with inmates and anti-death-penalty advocates in court, state Atty. Gen. Mark Brnovich seems to finally be on the verge of revving the machinery back up to execute 21 of the state’s 115 condemned inmates.

Brnovich notified the state supreme court last week that he intends to start with death warrants for two men after earlier announcing that “we’re gonna do everything we can, and do everything I can, to ensure that every 21 of those individuals [who] have exhausted their appeals ends up getting the death penalty before I leave office.”

Note that last phrase: Before he leaves office (Brnovich is termed out as of January 2023). So these execution dates will be dictated by the interests of politics, not the interests of justice.

In that regard, Brnovich, who is being discussed as a 2022 gubernatorial candidate, is taking a page from the playbook of former U.S. Atty. Gen. William Barr, who rushed to execute 13 people near the end of the Trump administration after a federal hiatus of nearly two decades.

In both cases the attorneys general provide yet more exhibits in a law library already full of them that capital punishment, as applied, is rarely about justice. Often arbitrary and capricious, it is also political, and often pursued to display a politician’s “tough in crime” credentials. Or in Brnovich’s admission, an apparent desire to send himself off on what he sees as a high note.

Funds built to look for what's beyond the numbers start with an approach designed to identify new opportunities.

Not that the conservative U.S. Supreme Court is likely to pay much heed to such arguments, especially given Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.'s views on the issue. Writing in Baze vs. Rees, a 2008 case upholding the constitutionality of Kentucky’s lethal-injection protocol, Roberts noted that the court had previously held capital punishment to be constitutional. “It therefore necessarily follows,” Roberts wrote, “that there must be a means of carrying it out.” No, it doesn’t.

The U.S. is a global outlier among developed nations in still following this barbaric practice, even as fewer and fewer Americans support it. The death penalty is supposed to be reserved for “the worst of the worst,” but it falls disproportionately on the poor, on people of color and on those with mental illness or other incapacities. And of late it seems to befall people out of not a penological interest, but a political one.

So maybe the nation should thank Barr and Brnovic for spotlighting this inherent failing of capital punishment. We can’t get it right, morally, legally or operationally, judging by the history of botched executions and erroneous convictions. It is a politician’s plaything, not a means of achieving justice. (source: Los Anngeles Times Editorial Board)

USA:

US States Must Redirect Sums Wasted On Death Penalty Into Cities' Safety - Advocacy Group

The astronomical sums of money, reportedly spent by Arizona, Tennessee and Missouri to procure execution drugs from illicit dealers, could better be spent on making communities safer, Hannah Cox, the senior national manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, told Sputnik.

Last week, a report released by the Guardian revealed that three states are spending huge sums of their taxpayer's money to buy pharmaceutical drugs for lethal injections from illicit dealers since pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors are against the use of their drugs in executions.

"This is money that could make communities safer as economic lockdowns have led to an increase in crime, or on many other essential services people actually need," Cox said.

The report is one of many reasons states should repeal the death penalty, she said when asked if such a practice should put on the table the discussions of immediate abolition of capital punishment across the US.

"It's a failed, broken system marked by government corruption, bias, and a lack of transparency. It does not make us safer and wastes millions that could be spent on programs that would," she added.

Arizona reportedly tops the list of these illegal spending with the state's department of corrections ordering 1,000 vials with pentobarbital - a substance used in lethal injections - totaling $1.5 million in October 2020. Meanwhile, in Tennessee and Missouri, the departments of corrections allegedly spent $190,000 and $160,000 respectively for lethal injection drugs over the past several years.

Since 2015, 10 inmates were put to death in Missouri by lethal injection, costing the taxpayers about $16,000 per execution on average.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry told Sputnik that it does not discuss its procurement process for execution drugs or services "rendered to carry out these legally imposed sentences." It added that the information which Sputnik asked to comment on was "statutorily confidential and not subject to disclosure pursuant to A.R.S. [Arizona Revised Statutes] ? 13-757(C) and controlling precedent from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals."

"The Department remains prepared to carry out these legally imposed sentences in fulfillment of its statutory obligations under A.R.S. ? 13-757. Pentobarbital has been administered lawfully and successfully for many years throughout the State and Federal correctional systems to ensure that these legally imposed sentences were carried out," it added.

Executions were put on hold in Arizona back in 2014 after the death of Joseph Wood, who was injected 15 times over almost 2 hours of gasping and groaning while being strapped to the gurney. The execution that should have taken about 10 minutes was described as "botched." The state is now seeking to restart executions.

(source: urdupoint.com)

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

Death penalty data might surprise you

For some, an “eye for an eye” is justice. To others, it makes the whole world blind.

Last month, Virginia became the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty, and 1st to do so in the South — where 4 times more people are executed than the rest of the U.S. combined. That’s a big change for a state second only to Texas in executions since 1976.

American public opinion is increasingly turning against the death penalty.

A 2020 Gallup Poll found 55 % of Americans support the death penalty in general, down from a peak of 80 % in 1994. And for the first time, a majority (60 %) say life imprisonment without parole is a better punishment for murder than execution.

70 % of nations have ended the practice (although 60 % of the world’s population live in death penalty nations), according to Amnesty International.

Unlike other issues, this doesn’t fall perfectly along party lines. While Democrats are less likely to support the death penalty over a life sentence, Gallup surveys show the percentage of Republicans who feel the same increased 10 points since 2016. Reasons for opposition are complicated, spanning generational, statistical, and moral grounds.

Fewer executions. According to U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 2010 and 2020 death sentences imposed nationwide numbered fewer than half of the decade before. Some states such as California have it on the books, but rarely use it or have a moratorium now.

Generational shift. The death penalty is one of those issues with an age divide. Gallup polls indicate Americans between 18 and 34 support the death penalty at almost half the rate (24 %) of their older peers (40 %).

Racial justice. Young adults also tend to be more passionate about racial justice, especially when it’s so final. A 1990 U.S. Government Accountability Office study found defendants of any race who murdered white people were more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered Black people.

Recent studies reported in the New York Times and The Monitor Weekly came to similar conclusions. Latinos, Native Americans and the poor are also disproportionately represented on death row. (A long history of race-dissimilar treatment in the justice system for other crimes was echoed in the oft-cited book, “The New Jim Crowe.”)

Debates in the legislature noted of nearly 1,400 people Virginia executed since 1608, it wasn’t until 1997 that a white man was executed for killing a Black man.

What if they’re innocent? Justice is earnest, but fallible. An average of four people on death row each year in the U.S. are exonerated. History has uncovered others who were exonerated too late. You don’t have to be young to feel the heartbreak in that.

Life in prison is cheaper. Because of high costs associated with capital trials and statutory appeals, life incarceration costs states less than execution. Virginia expects to save $4 million per year. Capital trials may also be more taxing on victims’ families, typically lasting up to four times longer than non-capital trials.

After 2 Idaho death-row inmates were released from prison in 1 year, Idaho’s bipartisan Joint Legislative Oversight Committee studied cases between 1998 and 2013. Their 2014 report concluded Idaho death penalty trials take an average 7 months longer than non-capital murder trials, and appeals took about 50 % longer.

Of the 251 defendants charged with 1st-degree murder during that period, 16 % faced the death penalty and less than 3 % received it. Of 40 sentenced to death in Idaho since 1977, 3 have been executed (21 got a new sentence on appeal). The JLOC reported other states had results similar to Idaho’s.

“Pro-life” consistency. Some conservatives oppose capital punishment on religious or moral grounds. Republican legislators in red states such as Wyoming, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, and Missouri have sponsored legislation to abolish it. Pro-life, they reason, applies to every life, not just the innocent unborn. And as death can’t be undone, life’s too precious (or constitutionally protected) to risk a mistake, they say.

Still, Republican majorities remain strongly in favor. Supporters say the death penalty is a just punishment for murder. And while life in prison can feel like a kind of hell, execution is seen as the only way to ensure the convicted will never kill again.

Is it a deterrent? Logic would presume yes, but states with death penalties don’t have lower crime rates. FBI Uniform Crime Report data culled by Deathpenaltyinfo.org indicate murder rates per population in death penalty states were consistently higher than in non-death penalty states between 1990 (4 % higher) and 2018 (30 % higher).

Do victims’ families want it? Numbers aside, closure and healing for victims’ families is high priority. Individual circumstances make it hard to gauge. Some ask prosecutors not to seek the death penalty — including a group of victims’ families who lobbied the Virginia Legislature to abolish it. Yet others vehemently want it, saying it’s the only way they can feel closure.

A 2012 study of 40 families by the universities of Texas and Minnesota found families in life-without-parole cases reported being able to move on sooner than those in the death-sentence cases. The death penalty case families said they felt continually retraumatized by the longer process.

Psychological and sociological research on closure suggests the legal process in general isn’t a reliable source to achieve it either way. It can feel symbolic and reassuring to seek justice, but the law doesn’t allow much room for emotion (Bandes, 2008).

This shifting trend is yet another illustration of American society’s impassioned debate with itself. Maybe we aren’t so “hopelessly divided” as we are experiencing growing pains in a rapidly shifting world.

Next time, an exploration of hidden common ground.

(source: Coeur d'Alene Press)

MALAYSIA:

In Putrajaya, 2 on death row want to include Hansard in review application

2 individuals on death row after they were convicted for drug trafficking want to include the current government’s stand on the abolishment of mandatory death penalty in their review applications.

Their lawyer Ramkarpal Singh told the Federal Court five-member bench today that he is seeking to include a Dewan Rakyat Hansard regarding the proposed death penalty amendments in the review applications filed by the men.

“What we have is the position of the previous government,” he said, adding that he needs to put forward to the court on what is the position of the current government on the abolishment of the mandatory death penalty before proceeding with the review applications.

Ramkarpal then requested the court to adjourn the hearing of the review applications to enable him to get the Hansard.

However, deputy public prosecutor How May Ling objected to the postponement, saying that Ramkarpal should have done it earlier.

Iranian Hamidreza Farahmand Hassan and Ranjit Singh Jit Singh, a Malaysian, filed review applications in 2018, seeking to stay the mandatory death penalty imposed on them by the High Court pending amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 to include provisions to allow the courts to use discretion to impose a sentence other than death.

Both of them were convicted for drug trafficking and they lost their appeals in the Court of Appeal and Federal Court.

Court of Appeal President Tan Sri Rohana Yusuf, who led the bench, said the men’s review hearing had been postponed several times while waiting for the Federal Court to decide on the death penalty challenge in another court case.

She then asked Ramkarpal if he was ready to make submissions on the review applications but Ramkarpal said he was not prepared to do so today.

The court did not allow the postponement of the hearing. Following this, Ramkarpal informed the court that he was withdrawing the review applications and the court subsequently struck out the applications.

The other judges presiding were Federal Court judges Datuk Vernon Ong Lam Kiat, Datuk Abdul Rahman Sebli, Datuk Zabariah Mohd Yusof and Datuk Mary Lim Thiam Suan.

Outside the court, Ramkarpal told reporters that he withdrew the review applications on the grounds that he needed to get the Hansard, adding that he would then seek instructions from his clients on whether to file a fresh review application.

(source: malaymail.com)

PHILIPPINES:

Beyond Duterte: A Legacy Of Punitive Drug Policies In The Philippines

These days, any invocation of the Philippine drug war instantly summons the figure of Rodrigo Duterte to mind. This is only understandable: under Duterte’s watch, “tens of thousands” have already been killed in the name of a war on drugs that has brutalised largely the lives of the poor. In February 2021, the Philippine state “finally admitted police culpability” in these killings.

The sobering reality, however, is that this punitive regime has been around for decades. In the early 1970s, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos substantiated his declaration of martial law by declaring his own drug war, following parallel currents in Nixon’s America and capitalising on people’s preexisting notions that equated drug use to criminality. Subsequent Philippine presidents and politicians would utilise the ‘moral panic’ around drugs to forward their own agenda, culminating with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s declaration of yet another drug war at the start of the 21st century.

One enduring legacy of these drug wars is Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, signed into law by Macapagal-Arroyo—and which takes after R.A. 6425 or the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972 under Marcos. In its totality, R.A. 9165 regards drugs as “today’s more serious social ills” and, consequently, treats drug-related offences as crimes deserving of severe punishment. The penalty for selling prohibited drugs, for example, is incarceration for the same period of time as that meted out to homicide. Such is the force of R.A. 9165 that it in fact serves as the blueprint for Duterte’s drug war—and the foundation for the acts of violence and culture of impunity that have thrived under the present government.

As if this draconian measure hasn’t been enough, various politicians have also pushed for more punitive legislation. In March 2021, the Philippine Congress approved a bill that would render anyone accused of being a drug importer, financier, or ‘protector’ guilty until proven innocent: a move that runs contrary to the country’s Constitution, not to mention the most basic tenets of human rights. Likewise emboldened by Duterte’s rhetoric, some state actors in recent years have also moved to reinstate the death penalty in the country—again, using drug use, drug offenders, and the guise of the drug war as justification.

What can account for this propensity of politicians to pursue ever-more-punitive measures toward people accused of drug-related offences?

One reason is that current paradigms continue to regard drugs as ‘exceptional’ evils—and therefore, as hinted at earlier, deserving of exceptional punishment. Even among sectors of society that can be regarded as so-called allies of people who use drugs—and even within the community of people who use drugs—this ‘exceptionalism’ pervades and moulds the discourse.

Taking after such ‘exceptionalism’, politicians have continually utilised drugs as populist tropes, amplifying the notion of drug use into a national crisis where ‘virtuous’ members of society must be saved from ‘evil’ drug users—and thereby justifying the bloodshed of a so-called war on drugs. In a heavily populist milieu, being “tough on drugs” somehow makes for an attractive leader. Duterte’s victory in the 2016 national elections, after all, was in part fuelled by his campaign promise to completely rid the country of drugs—and implicitly, the people who use them—within three to six months of his inauguration.

In spite of the Philippines’ increasingly authoritarian climate, civil-society groups have remained vigilant in monitoring the government’s punitive political agenda—and taking necessary, immediate action. Today, amid the threat of the above-mentioned bill becoming law, these groups have been organizing position papers and seeking representation in the Senate deliberations, hoping to block its becoming law - and to push for, as one position paper that the authors were able to read puts it, “a national drug regulatory framework that promotes justice and rule of law.” With the presence of a handful of allies in Congress, more humane, alternative bills have also been filed, including at least two that insist on a harm-reduction approach for drug interventions.

Such moves, however, are unlikely to sway prevailing public opinion on drugs and the drug war: Recent surveys, if they’re to be believed, revealed that Duterte remains wildly popular in the country, even among the poor who have borne the brunt of his policies., Bolstered by relentless rhetoric that insists on the indiscriminate death of anyone involved with drugs, the Philippines’ brutalist regime toward drugs will not end so easily—and will likely persist even after Duterte’s term expires in a year’s time.

For any meaningful and sustainable drug policy to take root and succeed in the country, it will take more than just opposing a murderous leader now; it will also require a closer, introspective look into societal attitudes—and addressing the prejudices that have festered freely for so long.

* Gideon Lasco is Senior Lecturer of Anthropology at the University of the Philippines Diliman and Fellow at the University of Hong Kong's Centre for Criminology.

* Vincen Gregory Yu is a physician and research associate at the Ateneo de Manila University's Development Studies Program.

(source: talkingdrugs.org)

TAIWAN:

Civil Society Groups Call for Tsai to Pardon Chiou Ho-shun

HUMAN RIGHTS groups marched to the Presidential Office last Wednesday, calling for death row inmate Chiou Ho-shun to be pardoned by President Tsai Ing-wen. An exhibition about the case is also currently running in Taichung at the Judicial Reform Foundation’s Taichung office, which Tsai has been invited to visit.

Chiou has been on death row for 31 years, having been put on death row in 1989. Chiou was put on death row for 2 murders, the 1st of which took place in 1987 and the 2nd of which took place in 1988. The 1987 killing was of a female insurance agent named Ko-hung Yu-lan and the 1988 killing was of a nine-year-old boy named Lu Zheng, though the 2nd killing is better known. Chiou’s name was raised in connection to the killings after an arrest was made regarding Lu Zheng’s murder. Lu was kidnapped with the intention of obtaining a random from his parents, while Ko-hung was robbed and then killed.

In particular, Chiou has maintained his innocence for decades, stating that police obtained their confession from him using torture. 288 confessions were obtained from Chiou, but the details of the confessions are inconsistent. Records show that Chiou was renting a car in Miaoli at the time that Lu Zheng was kidnapped in Hsinchu.

In the course of his torture, Chiou was shocked by electric batons, made to swallow pepper water, to sit on ice, blindfolded, and tied up. Two prosecutors and 10 police officers involved in the case were punished in 1994 for having tortured Chiou during the initial interrogation, and in 2015, police officers that were part of the case also testified to torturing Chiou. Moreover, an inmate sentenced to death in 2003 confessed to 1 of the 2 killings before his execution.

Nevertheless, Chiou is still on death row, remaining on death row after a 2011 ruling by the Supreme Court. In 2011, Chiou refused to plead guilty, though pleading guilty would have resulted in a reduced sentence that would have let him walk free immediately. Chiou’s case is the longest criminal case in the history of the ROC and Chiou has been on death row for over half of his life. The verdict for Chiou’s case has been upheld through eleven different trials.

A body discovered in 1989 that was quickly buried by police could have been Lu Zheng’s body, though the head and limbs of Ko-hung Yu-lan were never recovered. Likewise, key evidence in the case has gone missing, including Ko-hung Yu-lan’s clothing, the murder weapon that resulted in her death, and the ransom note from Lu Zheng’s kidnapping. Too little remains of the body thought to be Lu Zheng’s to be used for DNA testing, something that is believed to be due to a cover-up.

While Chiou was accused of being the leader of a gang of 12 arrested by police who killed both Lu Zheng and Ko-hung, most of whom were minors at the time, many believe that police pinned the blame on Chiou in order to act as if they had solved the crime. It was not uncommon for police to extract confessions by torture for suspects, or to cover up cases that they have mishandled, during the authoritarian period.

In this sense, the Chiou case is reflective of some of the unresolved issues of justice in Taiwan dating back to the authoritarian period. Taiwan’s justice system has also long been thought to have long-standing issues with “dinosaur judges”, who make rulings based on political favoritism or outdated, highly conservative social values.

Among those to call for Chiou’s release are anti-death penalty organizations such as the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, the Judicial Reform Foundation, NPP legislator Handy Chiu, and independent legislator Freddy Lim. The Control Yuan, an oversight body that is one of the five branches of government, has produced four reports on the case and has likewise called on Tsai to pardon Chiou. Simulation trials including former constitutional court judges, too, have recommended Chiou’s pardon.

It is thought that the death penalty continues to be highly popular in Taiwan, which may be why Tsai is reluctant to pardon Chiou. Tsai may wish to avoid being seen as weak on crime, as she would be accused of being if she pardoned Chiou. To this extent, it is believed that consecutive rulings have upheld Chiou’s death sentence to save face for Taiwan’s justice system. It remains to be seen if civil society activists will be successful in pressuring the Tsai administration to take action, when this has not succeeded in the past.

(source: newbloommag.net)

PAKISTAN:

Execution for a Facebook post?----Why blasphemy is a capital offence in some Muslim countries----The Prophet Muhammad never executed anyone for apostasy, nor encouraged his followers to do so. Nor is criminalising sacrilege based on Islam’s main sacred text, the Koran. In this essay, Ahmet Kuru exposes the political motivations for criminalising blasphemy and apostasy

Junaid Hafeez, a university lecturer in Pakistan, had been imprisoned for 6 years when he was sentenced to death in December 2019. The charge: blasphemy, specifically insulting Prophet Muhammad on Facebook.

According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Pakistan has the world’s second strictest blasphemy laws after Iran. Hafeez, whose death sentence is under appeal, is one of about 1,500 Pakistanis charged with blasphemy, or sacrilegious speech, over the last three decades. No executions have taken place.

Since 1990, however, 70 people have been murdered by mobs and vigilantes who accused them of insulting Islam. Several people who defended the accused have also been killed, including one of Hafeez’s lawyers and 2 high-level politicians who publicly opposed the death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted for verbally insulting Prophet Muhammad. Though Bibi was acquitted in 2019, she fled Pakistan.

Blasphemy and apostasy

Of 71 countries that criminalise blasphemy, 32 are majority Muslim. Punishment and enforcement of these laws varies. In Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania and Saudi Arabia, blasphemy is punishable by death. Among non-Muslim-majority cases, the harshest blasphemy laws are in Italy, where the maximum penalty is 3 years in prison.

Junaid Hafeez was a lecturer in English literature at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan, Pakistan. Appointed in 2011, he soon found himself targeted by an Islamist student group who objected to what they considered Hafeez's "liberal" teaching. On 13 March, 2013 Hafeez was arrested – accused of using a fake Facebook profile to insult the Prophet Muhammad in a closed group called "So-Called Liberals of Pakistan". Imprisoned without trial for six years, much of that time spent in solitary confinement, the academic was finally sentenced to death in December 2019

Half of the world’s 49 Muslim-majority countries have additional laws banning apostasy, meaning people may be punished for leaving Islam. All countries with apostasy laws are Muslim-majority except India. Apostasy is often charged alongside blasphemy.

This class of religious laws enjoys considerable popularity across the Islamic world. According to a 2013 Pew survey, about 75% of respondents in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia favour making Sharia, or Islamic law, the official law of the land.

Among those who support Sharia, around 25% in Southeast Asia, 50% in the Middle East and North Africa, and 75% in South Asia say they support "executing those who leave Islam" – that is, they support laws punishing apostasy with death.

(source: en.qantara.de)

IRAN----executions

Prisoner Arsalan Moradi Executed in Birjand, Iran

The sentence of a prisoner named Arsalan Moradi who was sentenced to death on drug-related charges, has been carried out in Birjand Central Prison.

According to Iran Human Rights, a man was executed in Birjand Central Prison on April 12. His identity has been established as Arsalan Moradi, who was sentenced to death on drug-related charges.

An informed source told IHR: “Arsalan Moradi was arrested on drug charges two years ago and sentenced to death.”

According to Hengaw which first reported the news, Birjand prison officials did not allow him to have a last visit with his family.

At the time of writing, his execution has not been announced by domestic media or officials in Iran.

It has been almost four years since an Article was added to the Anti-Narcotics Law in 2017 to limit death sentences specifically and provide a general degree of reprieve in some cases. However, while the numbers reduced that year, the death penalty is still being used in drug-related cases.

According to Iran Human Rights’ Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran, at least 25 people were executed on drug-related charges in 2020.

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

Prisoner Mohammad Ghorbani Karimi Executed in Isfahan, Iran

The sentence of a prisoner named Mohammad Ghorbani Karimi who was sentenced to death on drug-related charges, has been carried out in Isfahan Central Prison.

According to Iran Human Rights, a man was executed in Isfahan Central Prison on April 12. His identity has been established as 39 year-old Mohammad Ghorbani Karimi, who was sentenced to death on drug-related charges.

According to informed sources, Mohammad Ghorbani Karimi, who had a freelance job prior to his arrest, was arrested in early 2015 and sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Court.

2 other prisoners who are also on death for drug-related charges, are currently in solitary confinement awaiting their executions.

At the time of writing, Mohammad Ghorban Karimi’s execution has not been announced by domestic media or officials in Iran.

It has been almost four years since an Article was added to the Anti-Narcotics Law in 2017 to limit death sentences specifically and provide a general degree of reprieve in some cases. However, while the numbers reduced that year, the death penalty is still being used in drug-related cases.

According to Iran Human Rights’ Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran, at least 25 people were executed on drug-related charges in 2020.

(source for both: iranhr.net)

IRAQ:

ISIS LEADER HANDED DEATH SENTENCE FOR 2014 ANBAR MASSACRE

An Iraqi court sentenced an Islamic State(ISIS) leader to death on 12 April 2021 for committing a massacre against a Sunni tribe in Anbar province in 2014.

The Supreme Judicial Council said that al-Karkh criminal court had sentenced Ammar Mahdi al-Jubouri to death in accordance with the 2005 Counter-Terrorism Law.

According to Article Four of the law, anyone found guilty of committing a terror offense is given the death sentence, with life imprisonment given to those who assist or hide those convicted of terrorism.

According to the council, Jubouri was an ISIS leader in Fallujah, and participated in the ISIS massacre against the Albu Nimr tribe, which stood against ISIS as it swept across Anbar and other parts of Iraq.

More than 600 people died in the massacre, tribal leaders told the BBC.

Sheikhs accused the Iraqi government of abandoning them after fighting ISIS for 13 days, before they ran out of ammunition.

“The government abandoned us and gave us to ISIS on a platter,” Sheikh Naeem Al Gaoud told the BBC.

Since the rise of ISIS in 2014, thousands of people have been detained across Iraq for suspected links to terrorist groups, including ISIS, while hundreds have been executed.

At least 41,049 people are imprisoned in Iraq, including 22,380 convicted on terror-related charges, according to a document obtained by Rudaw on 17 January from the Ministry of Justice's Iraqi Reform Department.

(source: Rudaw.net)

APRIL 12, 2021:

USA:

Lethal Injection’s Dreadful Failures: How States Are Trying to Normalize Accidents

Editor’s Note: This column is the product of a research collaboration with five Amherst College students, Mattea Denney, Nicolas Graber-Mitchell, Greene Ko, Rose Mroczka, and Lauren Pelosi.

In a column last month, I argued that over the last decade the lethal injection paradigm decomposed as new drugs and drug cocktails were adopted in death penalty states. As this happened, the number of problems encountered during executions multiplied. Of all the techniques used to put people to death in the United States since the start of the twentieth century, by 2010 lethal injection already had shown itself to be the most problematic. Since then, things have only gotten worse

As lethal injection mishaps multiplied, death penalty states did not sit idly by. Over the last decade, they responded in 2 ways.

My research collaborators and I found that while some states modified their execution procedures to make mishaps less likely, others introduced greater ambiguity and discretion into their procedures. These changes made it harder to identify or label any irregularity in the execution chamber as a departure from their protocols. Executioners gained greater flexibility to act when something went wrong, but, at the same time, the public became less well informed about deviations from standards meant to prevent cruelty and harm.

Among changes designed to prevent mishaps, some death penalty states added steps to parts of the lethal injection process where preventable mishaps commonly occur, such as in the injection of the sedative or anesthetic. They specified waiting periods between the injection of each drug in the lethal cocktail.

One particularly instructive case is Virginia, which had no mention of waiting periods in its October 2010 protocol. However, its July 2012 protocol called for a 30-second waiting period after the first drug’s injection. By February 2014, Virginia’s procedure called for a two-minute pause at the same juncture.

After 2010, some state’s procedures required that officials conduct “consciousness checks” on the condemned inmate with auditory and physical stimuli between injecting the 1st and 2nd drugs. For example, in its December 2010 protocol, Pennsylvania instructed officials to close the curtain and call the inmate’s name in a loud voice before “assess[ing] consciousness of the inmate by tactical stimulation… touching the inmate’s shoulder and brushing the inmate’s eyelashes.” Nonetheless, some commentators insist that such procedures are inadequate.

A few states also added details about the placement of IVs. After the 2014 botched execution of Clayton Lockett, Oklahoma changed its protocol to require that officials record the number of IV insertion attempts, read the drug name out loud before its administration, leave the IV in the inmate after death for a medical examiner to see, and ensure the IV insertion remained visible.

Another example of procedural specificity occurs in protocols that identify decisional contingencies (if, then) in the lethal injection process.

From 2010 to 2020, some lethal injection protocols came to resemble decision trees with many branches, rather than a simple set of instructions. They specified what to do in case IV lines cannot be established, drugs do not cause unconsciousness or death, or an IV line fails. However, other states have adapted to mishaps by making their protocols less specific or have introduced greater ambiguity in the language governing crucial stages of executions. For example, even as states have added more checks to ensure that IVs are working, they have allowed executioners to attempt to set lines for longer periods of time and in more places on the inmates’ bodies. They have done so by requiring that the execution team act in a “reasonable” manner, but without defining what counts as reasonable.

Another area where states have added ambiguity is execution length. No state procedures now specify a maximum time that should pass between injection and death. As a result, lethal injection’s critics cannot point to a specific regulation in order to hold states accountable for long and painful executions.

States have made it hard to say when mishaps occur by explicitly or implicitly authorizing officials to exercise discretion throughout the lethal injection process. Some now set extremely broad expectations about how long the IV insertion should take.

In 2017, Kentucky provided a 1-hour window for the process before an execution must be stopped. The state revised its protocol in 2018, expanding that window to three hours. Ohio’s 2016 protocol said that the IV insertion team should take “as much time as necessary.”

Moreover, many states now allow for a wider choice of sites for IV placement. In 2006, Missouri was the only death penalty state to allow for IV insertions anywhere, including through the painful femoral vein which runs from the upper thigh to the pelvic area. After 2010, eight other states provided long lists of ordered preferences for insertion sites. Protocols in some other states leave the decision about IV placement entirely up to the execution team.

Great discretion as to drug dosage is also now more common. Nineteen states’ protocols have allowed officials to inject additional doses as they see fit. Thirteen of those states have left the interval between rounds of injection completely to prison officials’ discretion.

Among states that do specify a waiting period, the times are inconsistent. Occasionally, permission for a second injection is accompanied by permission for a range of other actions; Oklahoma’s 2015 protocol allows the execution team to close the curtain, remove all of the witnesses, inject additional doses, and “determine how to proceed,” a generous grant of discretion that gives officials room to change the procedure on the fly.

Some states leave even the choice of drugs for any particular execution to the warden overseeing it. Fourteen death penalty states no longer specify a particular drug protocol, as they did before 2009. Instead, they allow officials to choose from a menu of drugs and drug combinations if needed. Idaho’s 2012 protocol reads, “which option is used is dependent on the availability of chemicals,” making explicit that these menus serve to enable executions to proceed in the face of drug shortages.

At the same time as they dealt with mishaps by tinkering with their protocols, death penalty states also have obscured the perception of mishaps by hiding executions, and information related to executions, from public view. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, of the 17 states that carried out executions between 2011 and 2018, 14 prevented witnesses from seeing at least one part of the execution, 15 prevented them from hearing the sounds of the execution, and 16 concealed the source of the drugs used.

Ambiguity and discretion provide executioners with a kind of blank check that brings lingering, fraught deaths into the fold of acceptable executions. Ambiguous language allows officials to elide details, and it means that executioners have wide latitude to modify execution procedures. They can do what they deem is necessary to kill the condemned, while acting within the authority granted by state protocols.

The way states have responded and adapted to the dreadful failures of lethal injection might be taken to suggest that it can be improved by better procedures and that they are committed to such improvement.

But, in truth, these responses and adaptations acknowledge that mistakes are endemic to lethal injection. Such mistakes are what sociologist Charles Perrow calls “normal accidents.” They are evidence of what Jody Madeira labels a “‘learning-by-doing’ process” in the development of lethal injection.

This learning-by-doing process turns execution by lethal injection into a process of cruel experimentation in which the inmates become human guinea pigs for the killing state.

Lethal injection has long proven itself anything but the painless form of death it once promised to be, and the reasons to end its use, indeed to end capital punishment in the United States, have only intensified.

(source: Austin Sarat is Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College----verdict.justia.com)

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Death, Juries and Scalia (June 26, 2002)

Amid all the assaults on the Bill of Rights, the trashing of the Bill of Rights in the Patriot Act, the denial of habeas corpus to citizens, amid all this, in the span of one week, the US Supreme Court has issued rulings almost beyond the dreams of the most ardent civil libertarians.

Listen to the exultant cry of Stephen Hawkins, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty: “This year has been the most favorable Supreme court term for death penalty foes in 25 years.” And from Virginia Sloan, who runs the Constitution Project, “This is a great day for our criminal justice system. The court recognized the jury’s critical role under our constitution to decide all the facts necessary to impose the death penalty on someone.”

For those who have gazed aghast over the past generation as jury rights have been trampled by tough-on-crime fanatics and liberal elites, there are paragraphs in certain opinions in the Court’s rulings that are as momentous as any in the Warren Court. From whose pen did these sentiments issue?

“My observing over the past 12 years the accelerating propensity of both state and federal legislatures to adopt sentencing factors determined by judges that increase punishment beyond what is authorized by the jury’s verdict, and my witnessing the belief of a near majority of my colleagues that this novel practice is perfectly OK … cause me to believe that our people’s traditional belief in the right of trial by jury is in perilous decline. That decline is bound to be confirmed, and indeed accelerated, by the repeated spectacle of a man’s going to his death because a judge found that an aggravating factor existed. We cannot preserve our veneration for the protection of the jury in criminal cases if we render ourselves callous to the need for that protection by regularly imposing the death penalty without it.”

John Paul Stevens, you guess? No, Gerald Ford’s appointee is certainly the most liberal on the court but the man writing those splendid words about the crucial role of the jury is the justice whose image has replaced that of James Watt as the liberal fundraiser’s villain of choice: Antonin Scalia.

Scalia’s emphasis on the fundamental role of the jury as guardian of our rights under the constitution runs entirely counter to the trend of the past couple of decades, where judges have, with either the approval or indifference of legislatures and the press, been allowed not only to deprecate the jury’s fundamental right to nullify and set the law aside, but also to set jurors’ verdicts aside and impose their own, often with lower standards of proof.

By and large, liberals have been the architects of these erosions of fundamental popular rights, whether it was Tip O’Neill rushing through totalitarian drugs laws in the mid-1980s; or Clinton’s post-Waco Counter-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act which, among other horrors, junked the doctrine of habeas corpus; or the Hate Crimes statutes written into many states’ codes at the behest of gay, feminist and liberal civil rights groups in the wake of the James Byrd and Matthew Shepard killings.

Scalia exposes the contradictions tellingly in his concurring opinion in Ring v. Arizona, where the court struck down, 7-2, the Arizona statute which allowed judges rather than juries to impose the death penalty. He rightly chided Justice Stephen Breyer, a Clinton nominee from the Kennedy stable, for inconsistency in first of all endorsing the right of judges to overrule the jury in tacking on enhanced punishment under hate crime statutes, and then in Arizona v. Ring tacking the other way. Scalia gives this kind of pirouette the coarse put-down, “Death-is-different jurisprudence,” and he makes a telling point.

The momentous Supreme Court ruling known as Atkins v. Virginia concerns a case where a man with an IQ of 59 had committed a robbery and a murder and was sentenced to death. The Supreme Court, 5-4, has just taken the view that times have changed and that now it’s not okay to put the retarded to death. (Some might say that the only downside to this decision is that it is no longer possible even to imagine George W. Bush being put on Death Row.)

Scalia, in a dissenting opinion, made an argument in consonance with his view of the jury’s paramount role, as expressed in the Ring decision. Why, he asked, should the determining of a person’s mental competence be allotted to the social scientists, the IQ testers, the battery of so-called experts so memorably stigmatized in the works of the late great Stephen Jay Gould, not to mention Allen Chase. Liberals don’t want to execute the mentally retarded; they just want to abort or sterilize them. In the Atkins trial, Scalia noted, the jury had been given testimony on the murderer’s mental capacity but had regarded it as insufficient in detaining the defendant from the death cell.

Scalia asks, how can one exempt people from the capital penalty on the grounds of mental incapacity to recognize the concepts of punishment and retribution, while putting them away from their rest of their natural lives. He’s consistent, and offers more respectable arguments in this area than Bill Clinton who was asked his view of the Court’s ruling in the light of his own decision as governor of Arkansas to okay the execution of Rickey Ray Rector in primary season, 1992. Clinton claimed that Rector had been of sound mind when he committed his crimes and was only incapacitated by his attempt to shoot himself in the head between the murders and his trial.

Where Scalia is caught in an obvious contradiction is in his endorsement of the notion that only those prepared to vote for the death penalty should be allowed on a jury, and that appeals court judges opposed to the death penalty should recuse themselves in capital cases. “There is something to be said,” Scalia writes in his dissent in Atkins, “for popular abolition for the death penalty; there is nothing to be said for its incremental abolition by this court.” Again, it’s a good argument, but abolition of slavery began in part with juries refusing to abide by statutes endorsing slavery. Ditto with religious freedom, starting with William Penn, whose jury refused to convict him for flouting the Conventicle Act.

If he was consistent, Scalia would recognize that the only inhibition on jurors being impanelled would be whether they have a material interest in the outcome of the case.

Meanwhile we should honor the tremendous efforts of the defense teams who fought these cases to the Supreme Court and who have been rewarded by 2 decisions that in an instant overturn the death sentences of 800 people on death row, almost 1/4 of all the people facing execution in this country today. But the fact remains that it is the death penalty itself that needs to be abolished and this is a peerless moment of opportunity for death penalty activists to press forward.

The US Court majority said in the Atkins decision that the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment reflects social values which change from century to century and decade to decade (notwithstanding Scalia, who gazes back nostalgically 2000 years to St. Paul). What an excellent spring board for an invigorated campaign to end the barbarism of judicial killing.

(source: Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair; Anderson Valley Advertiser)

IRAN----executions

2 Prisoners Executed in Babol, Iran----As there are no legal distinctions made between murder and manslaughter, whether voluntary or involuntary in Iran

2 prisoners sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for murder were executed in Babol Central Prison.

According to Rokna, 2 men were executed in Babol Central Prison on April 8. Only identified as A.A and K.H, the men were sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for murder.

According to the report, on 3 November 2013, the 2 had “entered the house of one of their uncles and his wife, murdering them with a knife and stole 10 to 12 gold bracelets and rings.”

According to Iran Human Rights’ 2020 Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran, at least 211 of the 267 of those executed in 2020 were charged with "premeditated murder."

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

(source: iranhr.net)

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14 executions in a week marks escalation on the eve of Ramadan

The Iranian regime has resumed executions after a 20-day hiatus around Nowruz holidays, putting to death at least 13 people, 10 of whom were convicted of drug related charges.

On April 11, a prisoner identified as Morteza Kabiri was executed in Isfahan Prison after being convicted of drug charges.

3 more prisoners in Isfahan Prison are believed to be in imminent danger of execution, according to reports from the province.

On the morning of Saturday, April 10, the authorities executed a prisoner identified as Yousef Rasho Hashtian (also known as Bayazid Rashidi). The man who was convicted of drug related charges was transferred to solitary confinement on April 8, to await his death sentence.

Bayazid Rashidi was hanged today on drug related charges in Urmia Prison, NW #Iran #StopexecutionsinIran https://t.co/PmHFp3xGxt — IRAN HRM (@IranHrm) April 10, 2021

On Friday, April 9, four prisoners convicted of drug related charges were executed at Urmia Prison, northwest Iran. They were identified as Mahmoud Bayazid, Ali Mohammadzadeh, Arshad Heydari, and Hamid Najmi.

On Thursday, April 8, another man convicted of drug related charges identified as Safar Rahimi, 39, was hanged in Taybad Prison, in Razavi Khorasan Province. His family was granted a visit on April 7 for a final time before execution.

On Wednesday, April 7, an ethnic Baluch prisoner was executed also on drug charges in a prison in in the northeastern city of Sabzevar. The prisoner, Yaser Daryai Naroui was not given a final visit with his family before his death. He was reportedly denied access to a lawyer and was executed after almost a year and a half in detention.

An ethnic Baluch prisoner convicted of drug related charges was executed today in a prison in Sabzevar, NE #Iran

Authorities executed Yaser Daryai Naroui the without giving him a final visit with his family. #StopExecutionsinIran pic.twitter.com/d1cQB3fYZt — IRAN HRM (@IranHrm) April 7, 2021

On Sunday, April 4, 3 other inmates who were also convicted of drug charges were executed in Urmia Prison

They are Ahad Habibvand, Sadegh Mohi and Mohammad Karim Mahmoudi.

3 inmates convicted of drug related charges were executed today in Urmia Prison, northwest #Iran

The 3 men are: Ahad Habibvand, Sadegh Mohi and Mohammad Karim Mahmoudi. #StopExecutionsInIran pic.twitter.com/qJA5XMVDkU — IRAN HRM (@IranHrm) April 4, 2021

On the same day another man identified as 36-year-old Hojjat Ghaed, was executed on murder charges in Zanjan Prison.

On Aprisl 8, the state run Rokna news agency reported that the authorities had executed two men in a prison in Babol, northern Iran. The men, identified by the state media as A.A and K.H were found guilty of murder.

The Iranian regime open-handedly uses the death penalty as a form of punishment. In many cases and in a discriminatory manner this punishment is carried out against the religious and ethnic minorities, political dissidents, and women.

More than 4300 people have been executed in Iran during Rouhani’s tenure.

The actual number of executions and particularly the execution of women is much higher. The clerical regime carries out most executions in secret and out of the public eye. No witnesses are present at the time of execution but those who carry them out.

(source: iran-hrm.com)

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Iran Urged To Halt Execution Of Man Convicted Of Raping Child

Amnesty International has called on Iran to halt the execution of a man sentenced to death for the rape of a minor.

The London-based rights watchdog said Farhad Salehi Jabehdar, 30, is scheduled to be executed on April 13 in the northern province of Alborz.

His execution has been scheduled even though a request for a judicial review of his case is pending before the Supreme Court.

Iran's Supreme Court on April 11 informed Jabehdar's lawyer that the judicial review request will be examined in several weeks but rejected the lawyer's request to order a stay.

In a statement on April 11, Amnesty said that "in addition to the fact that the use of the death penalty for the crime of rape is prohibited under international law, the death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment and is never the answer."

Jabehdar was arrested in June 2018 in connection with the sexual assault of a 10-year-old child in 2017.

He was convicted of "forced male-male intercourse" and sentenced to death in 2019. The conviction and sentence were upheld by Supreme Court.

The parents of the child have formally requested that the authorities not impose the death penalty on Jabehdar.

Iran is the world's second-most-active executioner after China, according to Amnesty.

(source: rferl.org)

PAKISTAN:

2 Christian women face death penalty in Pakistan in case over Quran sticker

2 Christian women face allegations of blasphemy, a charge that carries a potential death penalty, after Muslim staff at a hospital accused them of removing a sticker carrying a verse from the Quran from a colleague’s locker.

Police in the eastern city of Faisalabad had to rescue the pair as a riot broke out at the hospital. Muslim medical staff staged a demonstration demanding legal action against the women.

A mob at the scene was stirred by Islamist activists calling for the pair to be hanged. It was reported that Maryam Lal, a nurse, was stabbed as she fled.

The women have been held in custody, accused of insulting Islam. The incident again exposes Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws.

(source: thetimes.co.uk)

NORWAY/MYANMAR:

Norway reacts to Myanmar’s 19 death sentences

Myanmar has been in turmoil since civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was ousted on February 1.

On Saturday, the junta of Myanmar sentenced 19 people to death by a military court for robbery and murder, with 17 of the people tried in absentia. Norway calls the death sentences “unacceptable and a deeply worrying development”, AFP reports.

The death sentence is the 1st known use of the death penalty in Myanmar since the military seized power on 1 February and the country has not carried out an execution in over 30 years.

Norway’s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen expressed her concerns via Twitter where she stated, “Norway strongly urges Myanmar not to carry out the executions, to stop the violence and allow the UN Special Envoy to visit.”

According to officials from the United Nations, the special envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, is currently in Thailand hoping to enter Myanmar for face-to-face meetings with the generals to negotiate a path out of the crisis. Myanmar’s junta has so far refused her entry.

The 19 people were all arrested in Yangon’s North Okkalapa township which is 1 of 6 areas in the commercial hub that is currently under martial law. That means that anybody arrested there is tried by a military tribunal.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division for Human Rights Watch said to APF that the death sentences “indicate the military is prepared to go back to a time when Myanmar was executing people”. He added that trying cases in a military court means there can be no appeals, and there are “no guarantees of a free and fair trial in any way, shape or form”.

(source: scandasia.com)

APRIL 11, 2021:

TEXAS----female may face death penalty

Judge sets 2022 trial date for woman accused of murdering pregnant friend, stealing unborn baby

Trial in the capital murder case of a woman accused of killing a pregnant New Boston, Texas, woman and removing her unborn daughter is scheduled to begin in September 2022.

Taylor Rene Parker, 28, aka Taylor Morton, is accused of attacking Reagan Hancock at her home in New Boston on the morning of Oct. 9. Parker allegedly removed Hancock’s unborn child, Braxlynn Sage Hancock, and allegedly planned to pass the child off as her own following a fake pregnancy.

Parker appeared before 202nd District Judge John Tidwell for a pretrial hearing Friday at the Bowie County courthouse in New Boston. Tidwell said he has set firm dates for jury selection and trial in the case.

Tidwell said jury selection will begin at the end of June with a date for juror qualification and for jurors to complete questionnaires. Because the state is seeking the death penalty for Parker, jurors will be questioned individually rather than as a group during the month of August 2022.

The trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 19, 2022. First Assistant District Attorney said previously that the state intends to try Parker on the charge of capital murder in Reagan Hancock’s death first. Parker also faces a capital murder charge in the baby’s death and a charge of kidnapping.

Parker is accused of killing Reagan Hancock, 21, at her home in New Boston on the morning of Oct. 9. Parker was stopped by a Texas state trooper near DeKalb, Texas, at 9:37 a.m., according to a probable cause affidavit.

Parker was allegedly attempting to perform CPR on the infant in her lap and allegedly claimed she gave birth to the baby on the side of the road. Parker and the infant were transported by ambulance to a hospital in Idabel, Oklahoma. The baby was pronounced dead and doctors there determined Parker had not given birth.

Parker was arrested in Oklahoma after Hancock’s mother discovered her body and paramedics determined the baby had been cut from the mother’s body.

Parker had allegedly been faking a pregnancy and was a friend of Hancock’s. Parker’s boyfriend told investigators he and Parker had a gender reveal party and that he believed she was pregnant with his child. The boyfriend said he expected to meet Parker at the Idabel hospital that day at “about lunch time” for an induced delivery.

Parker allegedly confessed to the phony pregnancy and admitted to using a small scalpel to remove the unborn infant from Hancock’s body. The scalpel was found lodged in Hancock’s neck during an autopsy performed at the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas.

If found guilty of capital murder Parker faces death or life without parole. If found guilty of kidnapping she faces 2 to 10 years in prison.

(source: txktoday.com)

PENNSYLVANIA----female faces death penalty

Berks judge holds off on decision in Lisa Snyder case

There's still no decision about exactly how the trial will proceed for a Berks County woman who's accused of killing her two young children.

A judge on Friday didn't issue a decision at a hearing for Lisa Snyder, who stands accused of killing her 2 children by hanging them from a dog lead in the basement of the family's home in Albany Township in September 2019.

Snyder's attorneys want an out-of-county jury to hear the trial because of extensive publicity the case has received in Berks. They also want to have some of the charges tried separately.

Snyder remains in the Berks County Jail without bail on charges of 1st- and 1rd-degree murder.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

(source: WFMZ news)

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Pa. should follow Virginia on capital punishment

Citing egregious racial disparities and exorbitant legal costs, Virginia has ended more than 400 years of executions, a brutal history that includes public hangings — by rope and even chains —electrocutions, the burning of a female slave, and, most recently, poisoning by lethal injection.

Virginia’s about-face, effective July 1, marks a dramatic turn in the fight to abolish capital punishment in the United States. With public support for capital punishment waning, 5 other states have abolished it in the last 10 years — Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Colorado — replacing the death penalty with mandatory life sentences.

But Virginia is the first Southern state to abolish capital punishment, and none of the other 22 states that have done so had used the death penalty with such frequency, and for so long.

Since 1608, Virginia has executed 1,361 people — the highest number, and longest period, of executions in the United States. After the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the commonwealth conducted 113 executions, the most per-capita in the nation.

If Virginia, with its historical ties to slavery and capital punishment, can abolish the death penalty, any state can. The same problems that motivated Virginia persist in the 27 remaining states with death penalty laws: Untenable legal costs, stark racial disparities, failure to deter violent crime, and the possibility of executing the innocent.

The high cost of death

Pennsylvania’s moratorium on executions will expire when term-limited Gov. Tom Wolf leaves office in January 2023. With the moratorium winding down, state legislators should move now to abolish capital punishment in Pennsylvania.

Calling the death penalty “ineffective, unjust, and expensive,” Wolf imposed the moratorium in 2015. Even so, Pennsylvania’s death penalty statute remains. Capital cases can continue to be tried and appealed, with taxpayer-funded public defenders and court-appointed attorneys representing the vast majority of defendants.

Pennsylvania conducted its last execution in 1999; only three took place since 1976. Even so, the death penalty statute incurred an estimated $800 million in legal expenses, concluded a 2016 study based on statistics from the nonprofit Urban Institute. That adds up to more than $250 million per execution in Pennsylvania. Those stunning cost estimates conform with dozens of studies nationwide on death penalty expenses.

Even the most ardent death penalty supporters should consider it a poor return-on-investment. The money could have been spent on real crime control and prevention measures, such as mental health and drug treatment, as well as victims’ services.

“Fiscal conservatives have become increasingly critical of the death penalty,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told the editorial page.

Death penalty cases — in Pennsylvania, always a murder — demand more expert witnesses, investigations, and evaluations; they contain automatic rights to appeal, and require an additional defense attorney for sentencing. All in all, they are “far more complicated and far more expensive,” Kathleen Lucas, executive director for Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, told the editorial page.

Since 1976, more than 400 Pennsylvania prisoners were sentenced to death, but most convictions were overturned and re-sentenced to life or less. Another 10 death row prisoners were exonerated, more than three times as many as were executed.

Governor MIA

A report released in 2018, by a bi-partisan death penalty task force, stated capital cases were about 12 times as expensive as non-capital cases. The report also noted stark racial disparities: Blacks make up 12 percent of Pennsylvania’s population but more than half of its 150 death row prisoners.

Wolf cited these problems in imposing the moratorium. Unlike Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, however, Wolf is not pushing for abolition. Northam, a physician and conservative Democrat who signed the bill March 24, courageously made abolishing the death penalty a priority.

Unhappily, Pennsylvania lacks that kind of bold leadership at the top. In an email exchange with The Sharon Herald, Wolf spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger declined to characterize the governor’s views on abolishing capital punishment.

With the governor missing-in-action, legislators need to step up. In truth, state representatives would have eliminated any other costly and ineffective government program long ago. It’s time to choose life, instead of continuing to waste hundreds of millions of dollars on death.

(source: Jeffrey Gerritt is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and the editor of The Sharon Herald----Sunbury Daily Item)

VIRGINIA:

The Long Shadow of Virginia’s Death Penalty

Virginia made history when it abolished capital punishment. But for those who were proximate to the state’s 113 executions, closure remains complicated.

On a rainy Wednesday afternoon in late March, a stream of cars pulled up to a checkpoint at the Greensville Correctional Center, just outside the rural town of Jarratt, Virginia. An employee with the Virginia Department of Corrections inspected driver’s licenses and took temperatures, then waved each vehicle up a narrow road toward the parking lot, where reporters waited for the governor to arrive.

The media had visited this parking lot many times before. Since 1991, the year Virginia’s death chamber was moved to Greensville from the old state penitentiary in Richmond, more than 100 people had been executed inside the prison. There was Roger Coleman, whose vociferous claims of innocence before his 1992 execution were debunked years later by DNA. There was John Allen Muhammad, known as one of the Beltway snipers, who terrorized the D.C. area before being executed in 2009. And there was Teresa Lewis, killed the following year for a double murder for hire — and the sole woman to die in Virginia’s death chamber in nearly a century.

Now reporters gathered in the same parking lot for a very different event. In a milestone that seemed to catch lawmakers themselves by surprise, Virginia had become the first Southern state to abolish the death penalty. The signing ceremony put racial justice front and center, casting the death penalty as a historical relic rooted in slavery and lynching. Introducing Gov. Ralph Northam, his chief legal counsel, Rita Davis, greeted the attendees with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. “The arc of the moral universe is long,” she said. “But today, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, it bends sharply towards justice.”

Among those gathered inside the tent was Dale Brumfield, a local author and field organizer for Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. His most recent book, “Railroaded,” profiles the first 100 people killed in Virginia’s electric chair, 87 of whom were Black. One was a teenage girl, executed in 1912 on her 17th birthday. In a story for Richmond’s alt-weekly, Brumfield linked these killings, little more than legal lynchings, to the first executions in the so-called modern death penalty era. On the night that Linwood Briley was executed in 1984, for example, a white mob reveled outside, “shouting racial epithets and waving homemade signs declaring such racist invectives as ‘kill the negro,’ ‘fry Briley fry,’ and far worse,” he wrote.

Brumfield echoed what others have said about the abolition law: “It happened way sooner than I ever thought it would,” he said. Although there were several contributing factors — the Democratic takeover of the legislature key among them — everyone agreed that one event had fueled the urgency around abolition: the killing of George Floyd in May 2020. The unprecedented wave of protests not only led to the toppling of 26 Confederate monuments in Virginia between May and September, but also “turbocharged criminal justice reform in Virginia across the board,” said VADP Executive Director Michael Stone.

Northam had called a special session to be held in August, which was intended to tackle budget challenges due to Covid-19. Instead, criminal justice reform dominated the session. Lawmakers brought a slew of bills aimed at police accountability, sentencing reform, and racial justice. Politicians who had theoretically supported but never acted on abolition legislation decided they were ready to pass a bill during the regular session. “The whole Black Lives Matter movement suddenly made it a priority,” Stone said.

It didn’t hurt that the governor himself had something to prove when it came to his commitment to racial justice. Northam faced calls to resign in 2019 after a photo emerged from an old yearbook that appeared to show him in blackface. Compounding his disastrous response to the controversy — first apologizing, then denying it was him in the photo — Northam then held a press conference in which he admitted to having worn shoe polish on his cheeks to imitate Michael Jackson and almost did the moonwalk on stage.

Now the governor was invoking the racist history of capital punishment. Of the 377 people executed for murder in Virginia between 1900 and 1999, 296 were Black. “The racism and discrimination of our past still echoes in our systems today,” Northam said. He cited the case of Earl Washington Jr., a Black man sentenced to death in 1984 for a crime he did not commit. After giving a coerced confession, Washington came within days of execution only to be exonerated in 2000. “Can we really, truly be sure that there aren’t others?” the governor asked.

“I’ll be damned. I think we did this.”

Northam introduced Scott Surovell, the bill’s lead sponsor in the state Senate. Surovell had toured Greensville in the early 1990s as a governor’s fellow straight out of college. He remembered seeing the electric chair “sitting right there in the middle of the room. And I can’t tell you the impact it has on you … to see that device, to have to think about how many people sat in it.” He recalled a sense of revulsion and shame. “I never thought I’d be back here today doing this, I can tell you that.”

As the bill’s sponsors spoke, Kenneth Plum sat a few feet away in the audience. The longest serving member of Virginia’s House of Delegates, Plum was first elected in 1977, the year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Gregg v. Georgia ushered in the “modern” death penalty era in the United States. Over the next 3 decades, Plum tried to push back against the death penalty but was stymied by politics. “So much of the discussion about it was whether or not you could get reelected if you voted to get rid of it,” Plum recalled in a phone call after the signing. “And when I look back on this, it’s disappointing to realize that that was the driving force for keeping it in place for a lot of people.”

Plum had driven four hours for the signing ceremony. “I haven’t been to another bill signing since the pandemic,” he said. Virginia was on a roll passing progressive legislation, but this one was especially meaningful. “It was kind of like, ‘I’ll be damned. I think we did this.’”

Careers Built on Capital Punishment

The end of the death penalty in Virginia is part of a larger and now familiar story nationwide. Like almost every other jurisdiction in the country, Virginia had already seen a sharp decline in new death sentences and executions. Thanks in large part to a network of regional capital defender offices that vastly improved the lawyering done in death penalty cases, there had not been a new death sentence since 2011.

Still, it is hard to overstate the significance of Virginia’s abolition law. Counting executions in the colonial era, the commonwealth carried out more executions than any state in the U.S. — and was second only to Texas in the number of people put to death in the modern era. This was largely due to an appellate process designed to swiftly send defendants to the execution chamber. Virginia had the dubious distinction of killing the condemned faster than any jurisdiction in the nation.

Virginia had the dubious distinction of killing the condemned faster than any jurisdiction in the nation.

Virginia was also a case study in the death penalty as a bipartisan project. Of the 113 killings carried out since the state resumed executions in 1982, 47 were overseen by Democratic governors. The last three executions were approved by former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who most recently denied clemency to William Morva, a man with severe mental illness. In the years since Morva’s execution, the daughter of one of his victims had become a vocal critic of capital punishment.

As in other states, Virginia’s modern death penalty law was once supposed to be reserved for a narrow class of murders. After lawmakers revised the statute in the wake of the landmark 1972 Supreme Court ruling in Furman v. Georgia, which declared the death penalty unfairly and thus unconstitutionally applied across the country, lawmakers immediately started adding crimes to the list of offenses that made a defendant eligible for death. Between the late 1970s and the end of the 1990s, lawmakers voted to expand the death penalty over a dozen times, to include offenses ranging from the murder of a police officer to the murder of a child under 14 years old by a person over the age of 21.

Few politicians were as aggressive in pushing these laws as the elected prosecutors who made up the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys. For years, the group “routinely opposed any kind of death penalty reform legislation,” recalled Stone. But over the past decade, Virginia voters began electing commonwealth attorneys who ran on promises of criminal justice reform. As Stone recalled, “we ended up getting the support of 12 commonwealth attorneys in support of abolition,” including those representing counties that once routinely sent defendants to death row. With their members divided on the matter, VACA stayed silent on the abolition bill.

Among the new crop of commonwealth attorneys was Amy Ashworth, who replaced famed Prince William County prosecutor Paul Ebert after he retired in 2018. During Ebert’s 5 decades in office, he won 13 death sentences, making the county one of the country’s top death penalty jurisdictions. In a sign of the times, Ebert failed to win a death sentence in his final murder trial, later musing to the Washington Post that the county had changed. “The demographics of Prince William were relatively conservative all those years and much more pro-death,” Ebert said. “And I always knew someone on the jury. Now, I seldom know someone on the jury.”

Like numerous prosecutors of his generation who built careers on capital punishment, Ebert reveled in his tough-on-crime reputation. He also exemplifies the lack of accountability for prosecutors who abused the power they wielded against defendants. Ebert presided over one of Virginia’s most egregious death penalty cases in recent memory: that of Justin Wolfe, who was just 19 years old when he was arrested for a murder he swore he did not commit. Wolfe spent more than a decade on death row insisting on his innocence before ultimately taking a plea deal. For Wolfe and countless others whose lives were shaped by Virginia’s death penalty system, abolition does not bring their ordeal to a close.

A Bittersweet Victory

Wolfe’s mother, Terri Steinberg, was at home in Fairfax the day the bill was signed. A dedicated activist who traveled the country with an abolitionist group called the Journey of Hope, she’d hoped to be at the signing ceremony but was unable to make the trip. Although Steinberg was overjoyed at the news that the legislation had passed, the victory was bittersweet. The same week Northam signed the bill into law, her son turned 40 years old behind bars.

Steinberg has told her story countless times. Her oldest son, Justin, started selling marijuana while in high school. In 2001, a former classmate named Owen Barber killed another drug dealer named Daniel Petrole, the son of a former Secret Service agent, then claimed he carried out the murder at Wolfe’s command. After a three-week trial that leaned heavily on Barber’s self-serving testimony, Wolfe was sentenced to die.

After years of denying that Wolfe had ordered Barber to kill anyone, Wolfe and his lawyers discovered a police report that Ebert had hidden from the defense at trial. It showed how a Prince William County detective had coerced Barber into blaming Wolfe for the murder by threatening him with the death penalty. In an evidentiary hearing in 2010, Barber testified that “they said they wanted the truth, but at the same time, they said that this is what you have got to say or you are getting the chair.”

“They said they wanted the truth, but at the same time, they said that this is what you have got to say or you are getting the chair.”

Such violations are not uncommon in death penalty cases — nor do they necessarily lead to new trials. But the police report was not the only evidence that Ebert had failed to disclose. In fact, at the same hearing, Ebert defended his misconduct by essentially explaining that his office did not have an “open file” policy for a reason: He did not want defense attorneys to have evidence that might exculpate their client. In his experience, he testified, “when you have information that is given to certain counsel and certain defendants, they are able to fabricate a defense around what is provided.”

In 2011, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson found Ebert’s conduct “not only unconstitutional in regards to due process, but abhorrent to the judicial process,” vacating Wolfe’s conviction. Although the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Jackson’s order in 2012 — lambasting Ebert’s “flabbergasting explanation” for withholding exculpatory evidence — the commonwealth refused to give up. A few days after the ruling, Ebert visited Barber in prison, accused him of violating his plea deal, and told him that a revocation of the agreement would leave him eligible for the death penalty himself. “In effect, they applied the same pressure that had been applied before Wolfe’s trial,” wrote Slate’s legal correspondent Dahlia Lithwick, who followed the case for years.

Things only got worse from there. After Jackson decried Ebert’s attempts to pressure Barber — and ordered Wolfe’s release in December 2012 — Ebert appealed again. This time, the 4th Circuit found that the judge was wrong. While Wolfe remained in jail, prosecutors revamped their case, casting him as a kingpin in a “continuing criminal enterprise” and bringing new charges against him — a number of which carried the death penalty. Steinberg went from shopping for new clothes in anticipation of her son’s homecoming to facing a brand-new death penalty trial.

“He watched so many of his friends on death row go through the mental break caused by solitary and was starting to feel some of that himself.”

By then, Steinberg was watching her son increasingly struggle. The trauma of death row and multiple execution dates had been hard enough. Now he was languishing in isolation at the Prince William County jail with no end in sight. “When the case was vacated, it went back to Virginia to be retried within 120 days,” Steinberg said. “And before you know it, it was four years. … He had gotten to the point where he had started to feel the effects of solitary confinement. He watched so many of his friends on death row go through the mental break caused by solitary and was starting to feel some of that himself.”

In March 2016, Steinberg sat down to write an email to friends and fellow activists. The subject was “Justin.” She thanked them for their support over the previous 15 years and told them she wanted them to hear what she was going to share from her rather than through the press or social media. Prosecutors in Wolfe’s case had offered him a plea, and he had decided to take it. Rather than face the threat of a new death sentence — or another decade of appeals — he agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder and was resentenced to 41 years in prison.

“I was devastated,” Steinberg recalls. She did not read her son’s handwritten, four-page statement until it was published by the Washington Post, which called it a “stunning reversal” that “essentially validated the prosecution’s consistent version of events.” In fact, Steinberg said, although the letter was supposed to be in her son’s words, he told her he’d been made to rewrite it numerous times to satisfy prosecutors.

“Justin took this plea under such duress,” Steinberg said. A new legal team has since challenged Wolfe’s plea deal, arguing that he was coerced by vindictive prosecutors. In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Virginia to grant a hearing on the matter, but it has yet to be resolved.

On the day the final vote came down to end capital punishment in Virginia, Steinberg was at work, unable to follow the vote. It was only when an activist friend called her and said “It’s done” that she started to cry. “There was just tears of relief, joy, sadness.” She sent a message to her son right away. “He called me within a half an hour,” she said. “And we celebrated on the phone.”

At the prison where he is currently incarcerated, Wolfe works in the area that receives new transfers. Steinberg says her son hopes he’ll have a chance to see the two remaining men on death row once they are reclassified and moved. One of them has an innocence claim that she hopes will lead to his conviction being overturned. “But,” Steinberg said, “the system doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to.”

You’re Saving All of Us

In all, 18 people were executed in Virginia while Wolfe was on death row. Among them were friends who had tried to help him adjust to his surroundings. When Wolfe first arrived at Sussex State Prison at age 21, Steinberg recalled, “someone had put together a brown paper bag full of candy bars, soap, magazines — things that he would need when he first got there, because he had nothing.” The welcome package had been arranged in part by Dennis Orbe, who would be executed in 2004. On the night he was killed, Steinberg drove Orbe’s spiritual adviser to Greensville and back.

Just as her son had forged unlikely friendships with his neighbors, Steinberg found community among the activists and loved ones who fought for the condemned. She spent hours on the road with the grandmother of Ricky Gray, who was 80 years old and had diabetes but was nonetheless determined to see her grandson before she died; Gray was executed in 2017. Before Virginia executed John Allen Muhammad in 2009, she got a letter thanking her for raising a son as compassionate as Wolfe, along with her work against the death penalty. “I know you got into this to save your son, but ultimately, you’re saving all of us,” Muhammad wrote.

One of the last people to be executed before Wolfe left death row was Teresa Lewis. As the only woman under a death sentence in Virginia, she was held inside one of the isolation wings at the Fluvanna Women’s Correctional Center, almost two hours away from Greensville. Shortly after Lewis was executed in September 2010, Steinberg was on a panel with Lewis’s defense attorney, James Rocap. “He was so broken by it all,” she recalled. “I really thought they would be able to save her.”

Rocap is a lawyer handling civil cases at a firm in Washington, D.C. In a phone call following the signing ceremony, he recalled the many problems with Lewis’s case. Lewis was convicted in 2002 for paying two men to kill her husband, Julian, and his 25-year-old son, Charles. Although she quickly confessed to having arranged the murders in order to collect insurance money — and was portrayed as the mastermind behind the crime — questions emerged about the commonwealth’s theory. Lewis was evaluated by an expert who said her intellectual functioning placed her among the “lowest 3% of our society.” In 2004, one of the gunmen, Matthew Shallenberger, who later died by suicide, admitted to an investigator that the plan had been “entirely my idea” and that he had manipulated Lewis, who was in love with him, “eager to please me,” and “not very smart.”

“She was basically duped,” Rocap said. “Was she a member of the conspiracy? Yes, she was a member of the conspiracy. … Was she responsible in the same way that someone who intentionally, and purposely, and so on, commits a horrific crime like this? No, she wasn’t.”

Lewis’s execution attracted attention well beyond Virginia. Novelist John Grisham wrote an op-ed calling for clemency. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad invoked the case in a speech in New York, accusing Americans of hypocrisy for raising cries against the death sentence of an Iranian woman found guilty of adultery while appearing to ignore the case of Lewis. Although they did not receive as much publicity, the most sincere and heartfelt appeals came from the women who had gotten to know Lewis behind bars.

In solitary confinement at Fluvanna, Lewis encountered other women who had been sent to the segregation unit. “They would be next door to her, and she would be able to talk to them through the walls,” Rocap said. In a clemency petition he sent to then Gov. Bob McDonnell in advance of Lewis’s scheduled execution, Rocap included numerous letters describing how Lewis had become a counselor and religious mentor to the women she met.

A library worker who brought books to the segregation building recalled giving Lewis a red hymnal that had been donated. “I heard stories from other inmates about how she would calm the cell block at night — one needs to understand the hysteria and craziness that goes on there at night — by talking to any inmate who was hysterical and then singing her hymns of comfort and joy,” she wrote. “It was the only way they survived their time in that horribly punishing environment.” Another woman recalled how she’d gotten through a particularly upsetting moment by singing “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan with her. For Lewis to be executed, she wrote, “a lot of women in the future will not have the blessed opportunity to be encouraged by her.”

The decision to kill a woman who was not only remorseful but also clearly doing more good than harm was emblematic of the death penalty’s cruelty and irrationality.

McDonnell rejected Lewis’s petition. To Rocap, the decision to kill a woman who was not only remorseful but also clearly doing more good than harm was emblematic of the death penalty’s cruelty and irrationality. In a testimonial he wrote after she was killed, Rocap recalled the last day of his client’s life, how she visited with her son and spoke on the phone with her daughter, later “consoling and encouraging those of us who had come to try to console and encourage her. She did not need it; we did.”

In her final moments, Lewis asked Rocap to pray with her and her spiritual adviser, prison chaplain Julie Perry. Separated by bars in a cell adjacent to the hallway that led to the execution chamber, “the three of us joined hands through the meal tray slot, awkwardly at first,” Rocap wrote. “Her left hand was cradled in both of mine.” At 8:45 p.m., prison guards came and tapped his shoulder, saying, “It’s time.”

A Washington Post reporter would later describe Rocap and Perry looking “crushed and exhausted” as they entered the witness area. Lewis was brought inside the execution chamber, “ushered by guards in blue uniforms who held her elbows.” The curtains closed while officials inserted the intravenous lines then reopened to show Lewis lying on the gurney, her arms outstretched. She asked if the daughter of her slain husband was present, then apologized. “I just want Kathy to know that I love you and I’m very sorry,” she said.

Rocap was struck by his client’s courage and faith before her death. But he describes the execution as an act of madness. “I just can’t imagine how anybody could be there and watch what happened, no matter who the person was, and come away thinking, ‘Yeah, that was good. … That is what we should be doing,’” he said. Afterward, he remembers telling people that more Americans should witness executions to see what was being done in their names.

Rocap was not directly involved in the abolition legislation. When it passed, he remembers saying to himself, “Why didn’t they do this 15 years ago, before Teresa’s case?” Although the case does not haunt him as frequently as it used to, memories of the execution return at unexpected times. He recalls some years back watching an episode of “The Good Wife” that began with a scene involving an execution chamber. “It wasn’t in Virginia, but it looked identical to the death chamber in Virginia,” he said. “I was watching it with my wife, and I literally had to get up and walk out of the room.”

The Executioner’s Trauma

Of all those impacted by the executions in Virginia, perhaps no one carried more complex trauma than the people who carried them out. Jerry Givens executed 62 of the 113 people killed in the death chamber only to become a vocal death penalty abolitionist. Givens had kept his work a secret from his own family, hoping to protect them from the horror of what he was tasked with doing. He later told his story to audiences across the country. Some of his final speeches were delivered in Terre Haute, Indiana, home of the federal execution chamber, where he warned of the impact Donald Trump’s planned execution spree would have on prison employees. “People think you can do something like that and then go home and forget about it,” he said in the fall of 2019. “No. It’s something that is stuck with you.”

Givens did not live to see his home state abolish the death penalty: He died in April 2020 of Covid-19. But his influence was clear during the debate among lawmakers. Speaking on the floor of the state Senate in early February, Sen. Jennifer McClellan recalled hearing him testify in opposition to expanding the death penalty over the years. “I have heard the words of Jerry Givens over and over and over again in my mind,” she said. She remembered how haunted he had been by the case of Earl Washington, the man who falsely confessed and was later exonerated. “He realized the toll it would have taken on him had he executed an innocent man.”

Givens’s family was elated at the news that Virginia had finally abolished the death penalty. “I can recall the moment we found out the law was passed,” Valerie Travers, Givens’s niece, said in a phone call after the signing ceremony. “I think he would have been very happy to see that his work has finally paid off.” It was especially meaningful for Givens’s widow, Sadie. “I was rejoicing for him because I know what he put into it,” she said. For years, she had seen him “thinking, meditating, praying” over the issue. “I know deep within my soul that he visualized this happening. … He would always say ‘Things are gonna happen. This is gonna happen.’ … If there’s such thing as looking down, he’s rejoicing because he said it would.”

(source: theintercept.com)

TENNESSEE:

Courtney High Murder Trial In Which State Is Seeking Death Penalty Is Set For July 27

The murder trial against Courtney High in which the state is seeking the death penalty has been set for July 27 in the courtroom of Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz.

High is charged along with Andre Grier and Charles Shelton in the May 2016 slaying of Bianca Horton.

Ms. Horton had been set to testify against Cortez Sims in his murder trial and in the incident in which he shot her daughter Zoe.

Bianca Horton was shot several times and her body was dumped on the side of the road.

(source: The Chattanoogan)

CALIFORNIA:

A MURDERER who killed his two babies and left their tiny bodies in a storage unit has had a tax-payer funded sex change.

Jason Michael Hann, who now goes by the name Jessica Hann, will be transferred to a female prison.

The 46-year-old was moved to Central California Women's Facility in February this year and is an inmate on death row

After killing his baby son and his toddler daughter, he travelled through the country with their bodies before they were stuffed into storage unitsCredit: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Hann was previously sentenced to death and admitted to Riverside County in February in 2014 for the separate murders of his infant son and toddler daughter 2 decades ago.

After killing his baby son and his toddler daughter, he travelled through the country with their bodies before they were stuffed into storage units.

In a 2014 story reporting on Hann’s death sentence, the Desert Sun reported: “Jason Michael Hann, 39, admitted to killing two of his children weeks after they were born, according to trial documents.

"The infants’ bodies were discovered 1,500 miles apart from each other in separate storage units and in advanced stages of decomposition.”

“Hann seemed emotionless as Riverside Superior Court Judge James Hawkins denied a motion from the defense to lower the death penalty to life without parole, upholding the jury’s original recommendation,” the Sun added.

The mother of Hann’s children, 41-year-old Krissy Lynn Werntz, was admitted to the facility in July 2014 where she is housed in the general population serving life with the possibility of parole for 2nd-degree murder.

It is not clear what date Hann underwent the transition, but CDCR communications chief Liz Gransee told KESQ that as of February 2019, “10 patients statewide have been approved for gender-affirming surgery,” and by February 2020, Hann was transferred to the Central California Women’s Facility under the name “Jessica.”

(source: thesun.co.uk)

USA:

Abolishing the death penalty must be part of reimagining safety

More than 10 years ago, a quiet movement largely populated by White activists was launched to abolish the death penalty by 2025. Like all abolitionist movements, it faced daunting odds. But it has been greatly aided by the efforts of Black intellectuals and litigators to place the death penalty squarely within our nation’s history of white supremacy, racial terror and social control.

Through Charles J. Ogletree Jr. and Austin Sarat’s book “From the Lynch Mob to the Killing State” and the leadership of Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative, the white sheets that hid lynching’s horrors have been torn away. Stevenson has called capital punishment lynching’s “stepchild” and noted that “the states with the highest lynching rates are the states with the highest execution rates.”

Or, as one exoneree noted: “They brought the tree from outside and put it inside.”

Until recently, the death penalty has enjoyed broad public support in the United States, which has allowed public officials to quietly spend millions every year to kill a very select number of people. But the logic, values and trade-offs implicit in decisions to prosecute capital cases and pursue executions are being increasingly questioned by a public grown wise to the reality behind “tough on crime” rhetoric.

With the death penalty in retreat, and a national conversation unfolding over how overpoliced communities can better provide for their own safety, long-term abolitionists have the opportunity to do more than end an egregious and racist policy that has no place in a civilized country. They can align with those pushing for “community justice” — a future in which cities’ budgets and politics are truly responsive to the community’s evolving health and safety priorities, not stuck in the punishment-first approach of the past. Arising from “different centers of energy,” the movement to abolish the death penalty and the movement for community justice have the potential to create, in the words of Robert F. Kennedy, “a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

It has become increasingly difficult to argue that capital punishment has anything to do with either public safety or even punishment for individual wrongdoing. A decade of research laid bare claims that the death penalty is reserved for “the worst of the worst.” Rather, most death sentences are meted out to the poorest of the poor, the sickest of the sick, the blackest of the Black, and to those with long histories of abuse, trauma and mental illness and who are represented by incompetent, overworked and under-resourced counsel. We now know that fewer than 16 counties — or roughly one half of 1 percent — return 5 or more death sentences per year. These “death penalty counties” share at least three systemic deficiencies: a history of overzealous prosecutions, inadequate defense lawyering, and a pattern of racial bias and exclusion throughout the justice system.

How do we best allocate resources to truly keep everyone as healthy and safe as possible? When viewed from this perspective, an alliance between activists of color advancing community justice and death penalty abolitionists — whose ranks are often whiter — becomes almost inevitable. Capital punishment is more than a visceral and tragic indication of which lives matter in our society. It vividly and powerfully illustrates how scarce public resources and attention are misdirected to support “the machinery of death” instead of policies that will actually promote well-being.

Similar currents flow through neighborhoods organizing for community justice. Families for Justice as Healing surveyed the highest incarceration communities in Boston. The resulting People’s Budget differed significantly from the official one unveiled by the mayor. It prioritized safe and affordable housing, healing and treatment centers, community-led violence and gun-prevention programs, public education, parks, community centers and city infrastructure. That same gap is prominent in the movement to transform the criminal legal system. A nationwide survey by the Alliance for Safety and Justice of more than 800 victims of crime found that 60 percent “would prefer a system that dealt shorter prison sentences and invested more resources in prevention and rehabilitation programs," as the Urban Institute said. “This is true even among survivors of serious violent crime.”

After laying the groundwork to dismantle segregated schools, Charles Hamilton Houston, known as the lawyer who killed Jim Crow, recognized that other challenges remained. He insisted that “all of our struggles must tie in together and support one another.”

Today, we are poised to heed Houston’s insight. Death penalty abolitionists can join proponents of community justice in mobilizing White allies to advance what Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, has called an “an economy of care,” in which investments in housing, education, jobs, violence prevention, health care and civic engagement take priority over policing, prisons and prosecutions. Such a potent alliance has the opportunity to propel policymakers to think beyond tinkering with an inhumane social order. By advancing a genuine redesign of public policy and resource allocation, they can ensure that “We the People” includes all of us.

(source: Opinion by Johanna Wald and David J. Harris----Johanna Wald was director of strategic planning at the Houston Institute from 2006 to 2018. She is now an independent consultant for several organizations, including the institute. David J. Harris is managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School.

Washington Post)

NIGERIA:

Death penalty on Hate Bill too extreme, says Don

Death penalty on Hate Bill too extreme, says Don

A Professor of English and Media/Digital Communication, Department of Languages and General Studies, Covenant Universe, Prof. Innocent Chiluwa, has expressed support for Hate Speech Bill but maintained that death penalty for the offence is too extreme.

Chiluwa said this at the 23rd inaugural lecture held at the Chapel Hall of Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State.

He said “I am aware that there is currently the prohibition of Hate Speech Bill that has passed its 2nd reading at the Nigeria Senate. The proposed law recommended life imprisonment and even death by hanging if the actions of hate speech, which include written or visuals acts or any publication that threatened or incite ethnic hatred, or is abusive, insulting or offensive, results in loss of life.

(source: thenationonline.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 four 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 four 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)

IRAN----execution

Prisoner Bayazid Rashidi-Hashtiani Executed in Urmia, Iran

At least 1 prisoner sentenced to death on drug-related charges was executed in Urmia Central Prison last night.

According to Iran Human rights, a man was executed in Urmia Central Prison on the evening of April 9. His identity has been established as Kolhar village native, Bayazid Rashidi-Hashtiani, who was around 40 years old and had been sentenced to death on drug-related charges.

On April 8, IHR reported that he had been transferred to solitary confinement in preparation for his execution.

According to an informed source: “Bayazid Rashidi was a father of one and his funeral is currently underway in the village of Kolhar.”

At the time of writing, his execution has not been announced by domestic media or officials in Iran.

3 other prisoners who were identified as Sadegh Mohi, Mohammad Mahmoudi and Ahad Nematvand were also executed on drug-related charges in Urmia Central Prison on April 4.

It has been almost 4 years since an Article was added to the Anti-Narcotics Law in 2017 to limit death sentences specifically and provide a general degree of reprieve in some cases. However, while the numbers reduced that year, the death penalty is still being used in drug-related cases.

According to Iran Human Rights’ Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran, at least 25 people were executed on drug-related charges in 2020.

(source: iranhr.net)

PAKISTAN:

Rethinking executions

The recent acquittal of a murder convict after 28 years in jail reflects the failure of our criminal justice system. The Supreme Court declared the convict was a juvenile at the time of the crime in 1993 and was thus entitled to special remission in the death sentence under the law. This belated relief to the prisoner on death row is a classic example of justice delayed.

He was a teenager when arrested and challaned for committing a murder in District Vehari. His trial took almost five years. He was sentenced to death by an additional sessions judge in 1998. His appeal was decided after three years when the high court dismissed it in 2001. He then filed a petition before the Supreme Court that dismissed it in 2007. Hope had come in the form of a presidential order granting special remissions in death sentences of prisoners who were juveniles as defined under the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000 at the time of the crime. Yet, he faced further bureaucratic and legal hurdles.

The young man filed a plea before the home secretary Punjab for commuting the sentence to life imprisonment since he was legally a juvenile in 1993. As the home secretary sat on his application, the prisoner moved another petition before the sessions judge in Vehari who rejected it in 2009. A writ petition was disposed of by the Lahore High Court in 2015 with directions to the home secretary to decide the representation. Back came the reply that the question of being a juvenile had been pending before the Supreme Court since 2003 in another case. A bureaucrat passed the buck telling the high court to wait for the apex court’s decision. The youth turned back to the sessions judge, Vehari, in 2015 but his plea was dismissed again on the ground that his case was not pending in the district-level court and since his sentence had been confirmed by the Supreme Court, the issue of juvenility could not be determined at a subordinate judicial forum.

He turned again to the Supreme Court that converted his petition into an appeal and set aside the session and high courts’ judgements by relying on documentary proof to confirm that he was entitled to benefit from the law. Thus ended a long struggle of nearly 3 decades by a young man who managed to escape capital punishment for a crime he may have committed as a child under circumstances beyond his control.

One convict’s fight to escape the gallows exposes the deep flaws in our criminal justice system.

Such episodes should make us review policies and laws dealing with crime and punishment. Is the death penalty fair? Does it meet the standards of evidence or proof of guilt? Was there due process? Does it deter violence or promote vendetta? No one disputes that crimes for which people are condemned are abhorrent and demand justice. But should society sink to the level of its worst offenders and get trapped in a vicious cycle of vengeance? Let us rethink executions.

First is the issue of fairness. Is the penalty applied equally to everyone? A survey of about 5,000 prisoners on death row in 2008 indicated that most belonged to the poor strata. Those with money, influence and means of coercion mostly managed to avoid capital punishment by paying blood money or effecting ‘compromises’. It was mostly those who could not wield influence or manipulate the system that went to the gallows. The PPP-led government in 2008-13 had imposed a moratorium on the death penalty which was sensible in view of the criminal justice system’s shortcomings. However, the PML-N government, after the APS tragedy, lifted the moratorium and, with 5,000 prisoners on death row, the executions resumed. Since 2015, about 750 have been hanged. The resumption of executions was initially targeted at those convicted of terrorist acts in the implementation of NAP. However, the temptation to display results through the number of people executed was hard to resist.

Then there’s the issue of credibility of witnesses and quality of evidence. Collusion and connivance play a major role from the start. Ocular testimony and extrajudicial confessions are given primacy in murder cases with less reliance on circumstantial and scientific evidence. The Supreme Court delivered a landmark verdict against perjury in 2019, observing that the rule falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus (false in one thing, false in everything) “had in the past been held by the superior courts … to be inapplicable to criminal cases … which had gradually encouraged and emboldened witnesses … [to] indulge in falsehood… .” In 1951, Lahore High Court’s justice Munir decided to adopt an approach of mixing truth with falsehood, in accordance with the ‘character’ and ‘mentality’ of witnesses. This practice has since posed a “grave danger of miscarriage of justice”. Chapter XI of Pakistan Penal Code contains sections of the law against false testimony and entails serious punishments. Awarding death penalties through a tainted process should be discouraged.

The 3rd point is about the due process: investigations, prosecutions and trials in accordance with the law. For example, 14 military courts decided 650 cases in 4 years in 2015-18; 344 were awarded capital punishment and 56 have been executed. Investigation was based on a single confessional and identical statement. The accused were denied access to lawyers. Trials by senior military officers were cursory. The matter ended up in the higher judiciary.

Fourthly, based on about 4 decades of experience as a police officer, I can confidently say it is the certainty rather than severity of punishment that creates deterrence and promotes the rule of law. I saw this in Tokyo and London and its reverse in New York and Chicago. Harsh punishments never deter criminals.

Finally, the global trend is against capital punishment. The UK has an extradition treaty with India but is reluctant to have one with Pakistan. Both India and Pakistan have the death penalty. The difference is that in India, life imprisonment as maximum penalty, even for murder, is the norm. A judge must give detailed, cogent reasons if the verdict is death. In Pakistan, awarding the death penalty is the norm; the judge awarding life imprisonment as maximum penalty must give detailed reasons to justify the lesser punishment. This must change in Pakistan. The death penalty is cruel and ineffective.

(source: Tariq Khosa;The writer is former IG Police and author of The Faltering State and Inconvenient Truths----dawn.com)

BANGLADESH:

Bail of the convict-appellant sentenced to death

It is the general practice in our country that a person convicted under Section 302 of Penal Code, 1860 with death penalty is not considered for bail. The moot question is whether there is any legal bar upon granting bail to the death sentenced convict appellant.

In our country, Sections 496 – 502 provide general principles and jurisdiction relating to granting bail. Section 426 deals with suspension of sentence during pendency of appeal and release of the convicted appellant on bail. This Section is required to be examined particularly for the moot question raised in this article. Relevant portion of Section 426 reads out as follows –

"(1) Pending any appeal by a convicted person, the Appellate Court may, for reasons to be recorded by it in writing, order that the execution of the sentence or order appealed against be suspended and, also, if he is in confinement, that he be released on bail or on his own bond.

(2) The power conferred by this section on an Appellate Court may be exercised also by the High Court Division in the case of any appeal by a convicted person to a Court subordinate thereto."

The words "pending any appeal by a convicted person" do not create any distinction between the convicted-appellant with death sentence and other convicted-appellants with any other sentences of any other term; therefore, there is no scope to hold that Section 426 does not apply to death sentenced convict. Appeal against death penalty is directly made to the High Court Division who enjoys ample jurisdiction to grant or refuse bail. Nowhere in any law of Bangladesh does any specific bar exist upon granting bail to the death sentenced appellant by the High Court Division, but while we go to the Court praying for it to exercise the jurisdiction, the Court often shows its reluctance. However, if we look into instances of our neighboring countries including India and Pakistan, we find positive outcomes in this regard.

Once upon a time, the practice on this issue in India was same as Bangladesh. Now there are several case references from Indian jurisdiction of granting bail to the death sentenced convict appellants. In Usha v State of U.P., 994 AWC 174, one Usha, wife of one Shaaker Singh, appealed against the judgment and order of an Additional Sessions Judge. The learned Judge convicted and sentenced the Appellants under Section 302 IPC to death. A prayer had been made in the appeal that Smt. Usha be released on bail. In this case, the High Court of Allahabad was pleased to grant bail to the death sentenced convict-appellant. In Raja Shamshad Hussain v Gulraiz Akhtar and others, PLD 2007 the Supreme Court of Pakistan sustained the order of bail granted by the High Court to the convict-appellants sentenced under Section 302/34 of the Penal Code in exercise of jurisdiction under Section 426 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. In 2010, bail was granted to the death sentenced convict appellant in Hafiz Tanveer v The State and another, PLD 2010. Section 426 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 in Pakistan is almost similar to our Section 426.

In our country, in Mamun (Md.) v State, 70 DLR (2018), the High Court Division while interpreting Section 426 held that –

"From the wordings of the above provisions of section 426(1) of the CrPC, it is explicit that the appellate Court as well as the High Court Division is invested with the power to suspend the execution of the sentence or Order against which appeal has been preferred. It is, thus, crystal clear that the above quoted section 426(1) of the CrPC envisages 'suspension of execution of sentence;' it does not state about 'suspension of sentence' or 'suspension of Conviction'.

When a convicted person is sentenced to death and, thereafter, the said convict, upon preferring appeal, is enlarged on bail or because of pending the death reference the death of the convict is not taking place, it amounts to 'suspension of execution of the sentence'. Likewise, when a convicted person is sentenced to life imprisonment or to a fixed term imprisonment and, on appeal, instead of putting him in confinement, if he is released on bail, then the execution of the sentence remains suspended.

Similarly, on preferring appeal, if the convict-appellant does not wish to comply with the order of payment of fine or forfeiture of the property and prays to the appellate Court for its nonpayment or non-forfeiture and, accordingly, the appeal Court allows the prayer, then it is said that the execution of sentence as to payment of fine or forfeiture is suspended […]

Once a Court convicts an accused and sentences to death/imprisonment for more than one year, upon preferring the appeal, the convict cannot claim bail as of right unless the Court is satisfied that there are good grounds/reasons to enlarge the convict-appellant on bail and, thereby, suspend the sentence."

It is also apparent from the said interpretation that our Court also believes in creating no distinction between convict appellant with death penalty or other sentences of any term. As stated earlier, there is no bar provided by any statute of Bangladesh on granting bail to the death sentenced convict appellant. Indeed, no such judicial precedent has been found yet debarring or curtailing the power and jurisdiction of the High Court Division in granting bail to the death sentenced convict appellant during pendency of appeal. Appeal is a continuation of trial. If a person accused of culpable homicide under section 302 of Penal Code can be enlarged on bail on reasonable grounds and subject to the satisfaction of the Court, then the appellant during the pendency of appeal should also be considered for bail irrespective of the sentence in nature.

(source: Dr. Syeda Nasrin; The writer is Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh----The Daily Star)

NORTH KOREA:

North Korean authorities execute chairman of “Distance Education Act” commission

Daily NK learned recently that following an Organization and Guidance Department (OGD) investigation into the Ministry of Higher Education’s “non-standing commission for the implementation of the Distance Education Act,” North Korean authorities executed the chairman of the commission and are currently conducting ideological examinations of other commission members.

“The non-standing commission was established in June of last year,” a source in the country told Daily NK last Friday. “The OGD conducted an investigation because [the commission failed] to make any progress and because some have criticized the government’s policies.”

Because the Distance Education Act non-standing commission was directly affiliated with the higher education ministry, the authorities selected a department director in the ministry, a man in his 50s named Park, to serve as chairman. The authorities also selected approximately 20 professors to serve as members of the commission.

However, after establishing the commission last June, commission members allegedly conducted weekly meetings as perfunctory procedures only and failed to achieve any progress or results. The OGD investigated the members after receiving word that some of them, led by Park, gathered to complain about government policy.

Beginning in the early days of the commission, members reportedly complained at every meeting that the necessary facilities and equipment would have to be installed before the Distance Education Act could be implemented. Park repeatedly explained this to his superiors, who responded by saying that “There are no instructions from the Central Committee, so stay put [and keep silent].”

After hearing this, Park bluntly expressed his displeasure by saying “I don’t understand why [the authorities] would choose to implement the act, create this commission, and call busy professors away from their university jobs [if they were not going to give the commission any resources].”

Because he estimated that the implementation of the Distance Education Act would take a long time, Park suggested that it would be better to retrain teachers, increase the number of schools and instructors, and send them to work in relatively underdeveloped regions.

When this suggestion was met with silence by higher-ups, Park vented his frustration to commission members, saying that “Even if [we] make suggestions, [they] just tell [us] to keep [our] mouths shut, so let’s just go through the motions of gathering and then go home.”

A member of the commission who also serves as the dean of the Kim Il Sung University School of Law met with Ri Guk Chol, the president of Kim Il Sung University and the head of the Ministry of Higher Education, to discuss the matter. The dean said that “the ‘distance learning policy’ is progressing poorly and things are not getting done properly. If the Party finds out, it could become a big problem. Director [Park] was complaining, but if the Party knew the situation, they would solve some of the problems [making it impossible for the commission to get results], right?”

However, Ri Guk Chol dug up specific comments by Park and reported him to the Central Committee, saying that “Everyone knows that the nation is experiencing difficulties, but policies can’t be executed properly because of people like [Park], whose heads are not in the right place.”

After receiving Ri’s report, the OGD conducted an investigation into the commission. The Ministry of State Security executed Park in the second week of March for “anti-party and anti-revolutionary sectarian activities within the education sector.” The source reported that the OGD will conduct ideological examinations of the other approximately 20 professors throughout the month of April.

North Korean authorities have reorganized the non-standing commission, according to the source.

The new non-standing commission has three subcommittees that were not included in the previous iteration. These are 1) the Pyongyang Distance Education Act Enforcement and Internet Network Establishment Committee, 2) the Regional Distance Education Act Enforcement and Internet Network Establishment Committee, and 3) the Organization and Planning Committee. Membership in the new commission increased to 180 people, and now includes 50 Pyongyang residents.

“They plan to video conference calls on a regular basis and include provincial education department representatives, regional universities, regional education ministry officials, the registrars of regional schools, and others as members,” the source said.

Interestingly, Ri Guk Chol, the president of Kim Il Sung University, is the chairman of the reorganized commission. Ri’s appointment could indicate the government’s determination to enforce the Distance Education Act by raising the prominence of the commission.

After the authorities reorganized the commission, Kim Jong Un addressed the matter in a “handwritten remark,” reportedly writing that “Just as I became the commander in the battle for forest restoration, I will also become the commander of a farsighted grand policy for national education.”

According to the source, the “handwritten remark” – interpreted as a sign that Kim Jong Un will fully support and assist the implementation of the Distance Education Act – has reportedly been distributed to all members of the commission.

(source: source: dailynk.com)

APRIL 10, 2021:

NORTH CAROLINA:

Judge: Man charged in woman's death could face death penalty

A man who police say killed his 20-year-old roommate in Raleigh, North Carolina, could face the death penalty or life in prison if he's convicted.

That's what a judge told the man on Thursday during a brief court appearance, The Raleigh News & Observer reported.

Erick Gael Hernandez-Mendez has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Christina Matos. He has asked to be represented by the capital defender’s office.

Christina Matos was roommates with Hernandez-Mendez. She was found dead on Sunday night. Authorities have not said how Matos died or what a motive could have been.

Yolanda Matos, Christina’s mother, said she is surprised that someone who knew her daughter for so long is now facing charges in her death. Christina Matos and Hernandez-Mendez went to high school together.

“I can’t believe the kids, the persons, they kill her in her house, her apartment,” she said after the court appearance. “As a mother, you live your life for your kids.”

(source: Associated Press)

FLORIDA:

Former death row inmate thanks God and his lawyers for his release after 30-plus years in prison

A former death row inmate in Florida told reporters Thursday that he thanked God and his legal team for his release from prison.

Crosley Green won his freedom, at least for the time being, after U.S. District Judge Roy B. Dalton Jr. of the Middle District of Florida ordered his release because of health concerns, the COVID-19 pandemic and the prosecution’s failure to turn over exculpatory evidence in his trial for a 1989 murder, report Florida Today, Click Orlando and CBS News.

Dalton also described Green, who has always maintained his innocence, as a model prisoner.

Prosecutors have appealed Dalton’s 2018 ruling overturning Green’s conviction, and the case is pending before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Atlanta. Dalton ruled that prosecutors should have turned over evidence that officers responding to the crime scene in Titusville, Florida, at first suspected another person—the victim’s ex-girlfriend—committed the murder.

The ex-girlfriend reported the crime, telling police that she was at the scene and a “Black guy” hanging around in a park near their pickup truck robbed them and killed the victim. The ex-girlfriend picked Green out of a photo lineup that showed 6 pictures. CBS News reports, however, that the ex-girlfriend was never a suspect.

Since the conviction, four prosecution witnesses have recanted their testimony, and 10 alibi witnesses have come forward. The victim’s ex-girlfriend has not recanted. Green said he was at a party at the time of the murder, according to CBS News. No physical evidence tied him to the crime.

Green has been represented pro bono in post-conviction appeals by Crowell & Moring partners Keith Harrison and Jeane Thomas. The law firm was recruited to take on the case in 2008 by the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project.

Before gaining the 2018 reversal, the lawyers got Green’s death sentence reversed by the Florida Supreme Court and succeeded in getting the 11th Circuit to allow consideration of Green’s claims on the merits. The firm has devoted millions of dollars of resources and work hours to the case, according to Florida Today.

At the Thursday press conference in Cocoa, Florida, Green said he hopes that the appeals court rules in his favor, according to Florida Today.

“I thank God I’m here right now. And I look to Him to do what He’s gonna do. I made it through then, and I’ll make it through now. He’s got me covered,” Green said.

Harrison told Florida Today that the news of Dalton’s release order led to tears of joy in the law office.

“He has been fighting for his freedom for over 30 years,” Harrison said of Green. “The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

(source: ABA Journal)

OHIO:

DeWine pushes back executions for three Ohio death row inmates to 2024

Gov. Mike DeWine granted reprieves Friday to 3 Ohio death row inmates as problems in securing the drugs needed for lethal injections continue.

The 3 individuals were scheduled to be executed this year. They are:

•Timothy L. Hoffner: scheduled to be executed Aug. 11, rescheduled for June 18, 2024

•John David Stumpf: scheduled to be Sept. 15, rescheduled for Aug. 13, 2024

•Lawrence A. Landrum: scheduled to be executed Dec. 9, rescheduled for Oct. 15, 2024

A statement read, “Governor DeWine is issuing these reprieves due to ongoing problems involving the willingness of pharmaceutical suppliers to provide drugs to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC), pursuant to DRC protocol, without endangering other Ohioans.”

Hoffner was convicted in a 1993 Toledo murder along with Archie Dixon. In December, DeWine pushed back Dixon’s execution date from June to 2024. Stumpf was convicted in a 1984 murder in New Concord, and Landrum in a 1985 murder in Chillicothe.

Like DeWine, state Attorney General Dave Yost has complained recently of issues in Ohio’s death penalty system.

(source: NBC news)

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

Report: 83% of Death Sentences Have Not Resulted in Executions Under Ohio’s ‘Lethargic’ Death Penalty

Just 1 out of every 6 death sentences imposed in Ohio in the past forty years has resulted in an execution, according to the Ohio Attorney General’s 2020 Ohio Capital Crimes Annual Report. The report, released by Attorney General Dave Yost on April 1, 2021, criticized the state’s death-penalty system as “increasingly time-consuming, costly, and lethargic.”

According to the report, 336 people have been sentenced to death since the state’s current death-penalty law was instituted in 1981. Of the death-row cases that have reached a final outcome, nearly twice as many have resulted in prisoners being removed from death row by the courts or through executive clemency (111) than being executed (56). The vast majorities of the removals for cause are cases in which prisoners were resentenced to life or less or exonerated after their convictions or death sentences were overturned because of prejudicial constitutional violations (82). Ohio governors commuted 21 death sentences, and another 8 prisoners were removed from death row after courts determined they were not subject to the death penalty because of intellectual disability. The report said another 33 prisoners had died of natural causes or suicide while on death row.

A plurality of those sentenced to death under the 1981 statute, 140 (41.7%), remain on the state’s death row. Thirteen of those prisoners have spent at least 12,000 days, or nearly 33 years, on death row, far beyond the duration that international tribunals say violate U.S. human rights obligations. The annual death penalty report does not include the 97 Ohio death-row prisoners whose death sentences were overturned in 1978 when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the state’s 1974 statute unconstitutional or the 7 others whose convictions or death sentences imposed under the unconstitutional statute were overturned on other grounds and not reimposed.

DPIC Analysis of Ohio Death Sentences

A DPIC analysis of data from all 440 individuals sentenced to death in Ohio since the state reintroduced capital punishment in 1974 has found that the single most likely outcome of an Ohio death sentence is that the capital conviction or death sentence will be overturned and the defendant will resentenced to life or less or exonerated. The analysis found that:

•215 of Ohio’s death-row prisoners — nearly 1/2 (48.9%) of everyone sentenced to death — have been removed from death row and resentenced to life or less or exonerated.

•Courts have overturned the convictions or death sentences of 194 of those prisoners (44.1%) as a result of prejudicial constitutional or state law violations.

•31.8% of prisoners sentenced to death in Ohio since the 1970s are still on death row, while 12.7% have been executed.

During this period, 11 people who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in Ohio have been exonerated, constituting 1 exoneration for every 5.1 executions. All 11 of the exonerations have involved either official misconduct or perjury and 8 have involved both. 7 of the exonerations took more than 2 decades and 5 took more than a quarter century before the misconduct was revealed and addressed.

The data from Ohio reflects a death-penalty system even more error prone than the national average. A 2015 study of death sentences imposed nationwide from 1973 to 2013 found that 16% of people sentenced to death had been executed, 38% had their sentence or conviction overturned, and 35% remained on death row. The rest had died on death row of suicide or natural causes, had their sentence commuted, or were removed from death row for other reasons. DPIC’s February 2021 Special Report: The Innocence Epidemic found that 185 former death-sentenced prisoners have been exonerated nationwide since 1973, compared with 1532 executions — one exoneration for every 8.3 executions. It found that the six death-row exonerations in Cuyahoga County, all involving official misconduct, were the second most of any county in the nation.

Asserting that only one of the exonerees convicted under the 1981 Ohio death-penalty statute was actually innocent, the Attorney General’s report blamed the state’s death penalty problems on the unavailability of execution drugs, death-row prisoners seeking to enforce their constitutional rights, and federal judges. “Ohio imposes death sentences …, then spends years debating, reviewing, appealing and failing to act on those decisions,” the report said. Executions “have been delayed because Ohio currently lacks a means of lethal injection (the only method of execution permitted under state law), or because inmates are taking advantage of multiple avenues for appeal.” The report claims that “[t]hese delays are aggravated by judges who fail to move cases in a timely way.”

In 2014, a task force appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court found system-wide defects in the administration of the death penalty and recommended 56 reforms. Little action has been taken on those recommendations. However, one of the recommended reforms, prohibiting the death penalty for people with serious mental illness, was signed into law in January 2021 over the opposition of state prosecutors. Executions are currently on hold in the state as a result of problems with Ohio’s lethal-injection protocol and the refusal of pharmaceutical companies to sell their medicinnes for use in executions. Bipartisan bills that would abolish the death penalty were introduced in March and are currently pending in state House and Senate committees.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

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

Capital Crimes Report released

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has issued the 2020 Capital Crimes Report, an annual accounting and procedural history of each case that has resulted in a death sentence in Ohio since 1981, the year the state’s current death penalty law was enacted.

From 1981 through 2020, the report says, a total of 140 death sentences remained active, with many under review in state and federal courts. Last year, one individual received a death sentence and was added to death row.

Since the law’s creation 40 years ago, 336 people have been sentenced to death in Ohio. 5 of those people received 2 death sentences, resulting in a total of 341 death sentences. 56 of the death sentences – 1 of every 6 – have been carried out, the executive summary says, noting that nearly the same number of death row inmates have avoided execution, 21 by having their sentences commuted, 33 by dying of natural causes or suicide before the sentence could be imposed. Eight have been removed because they are intellectually disabled and, therefore, constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty.

Yost said delays in the judicial system have compounded the issue. At the end of 2020, there were 23 death penalty cases that had been pending for more than 10 years in federal district court. An additional 9 federal cases have seen no activity for 2 years. There were 7 cases pending in state courts that have seen no activity in the past 2 years. There were 11 death penalty cases for which state and federal reviews have been completed but the prosecution has yet to file a motion with the Ohio Supreme Court to set a date for the sentence to be carried out.

(source: fcnnews.org)

OKLAHOMA:

Death penalty jury trial set to begin Monday

Cleveland County District Court will begin a new set of jury trials April 12, including a death penalty case involving a Texas man.

Joseph Fidel Alliniece, 32, of Missouri City, Texas, will stand before a jury in District Judge Lori Walkley's courtroom following the 2018 death of Norman resident Brittani Young, 27.

According to a Norman police affidavit, officers found Young on April 24, 2018, dead inside her Emerald Greens Apartments residence. Police believe Alliniece stomped her to death.

Alliniece also faces 2 counts of kidnapping and 1 count of robbery by force or fear — all felonies — because one of Young's friends and the friend's 2-year-old daughter were inside the apartment and witnessed the alleged murder.

According to the affidavit, Alliniece fled the scene, but was arrested that night by Oklahoma City Police Department officers around South 89th Street and May Avenue in Oklahoma City. He was taken to the Norman Investigations Center for questioning, where he told police he couldn't remember anything that happened that day.

He is being held on $5 million bond at the Cleveland County Detention Center, state court records show. According to the Oklahoma State Courts Network, Alliniece's attorneys include Benjamin Charles Brown, Shae Sealy Raven, Shae Lynn Smith and Mitchell Solomon.

The Cleveland County District Attorney's Office filed for the death penalty in August 2018. The office last sought the death penalty in a 2014 beheading case involving Alton Nolen.

Nolen was convicted of 6 counts, including 1st-degree murder and 5 counts of assault and battery with a deadly weapon. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Nolen's conviction and death sentence in mid-March.

In unrelated charges, Alliniece was charged Wednesday in county court with a felony count of sexual battery for allegedly touching a woman's chest inside a bathroom April 2.

A Cleveland County Sheriff's deputy was told about 12:05 p.m. April 2 that a woman claimed Alliniece followed her into a bathroom and grabbed her chest without her consent. Alliniece was interviewed Tuesday and admitted to going into the bathroom, but told deputies "I didn't do anything, bro." He refused to say more and was returned to his cell.

Cleveland County District Judge Jeff Virgin, who is serving as chief judge this year, said 120 jurors are coming in for Alliniece's case. Those will be narrowed down over a week to a jury pool of 12, with at least four alternates.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Virgin said jurors' initial reporting times will be staggered between four times: 8:30 a.m., 10 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Walkley is bringing in her own jury pool due to the prosecution's death penalty request. Her jurors must fill out questionnaires, then meet in groups of 15 at a time over several days until the pool has been narrowed to 70. The prosecution and defense will then begin choosing jury members.

Virgin said jurors must wear masks, and social distancing will be implemented. Jurors also will be asked if they have COVID-19 symptoms or if they have been in close contact with someone who has it. Additionally, during the trial, hand sanitizer will be available and door handles and microphones will be wiped between witnesses.

Virgin said temperature checks at the door could be possible, but that process was still undecided Thursday morning.

Additional trials

In addition to Alliniece's trial, other jury trials include a car wreck and burglary cases in front of Virgin, a felony burglary case in front of Special Judge Lori Puckett, a domestic violence misdemeanor case April 15 in front of Special Judge Scott Brockman, a bad faith insurance case April 19 in front of District Judge Michael Tupper, felony domestic violence cases in front of District Judge Thad Balkman, deprived cases in front of Associate District Judge Beth Stanley and a property dispute civil case in front of Special Judge Nathaniel Hales.

"We thank the citizens of Cleveland County for being willing to serve as jurors during the pandemic. Be assured that we are doing everything we can to keep them safe," Virgin said.

Kyle Ray Lloyd, 36, a Moore police officer charged with manslaughter, waived his right to a jury trial Monday in Virgin's courtroom and entered a blind plea. He will either plead guilty or no contest at 1:30 p.m. June 30 in Virgin's courtroom.

Lloyd was charged following a wreck that occurred Dec. 14, 2019 while he was off duty on South Sooner Road near the intersection of 134th Street in Oklahoma City. According to a court affidavit, he was driving 94 mph in a 50-mph zone when he collided with Moore High student Emily Alexis Gaines, 18, of Moore, who was driving northbound Southeast 134th and attempting to turn left. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

(source: The Norman Transcript)

ARIZONA:

DIGGING DEEPER: Death penalty cases in Arizona cost $3 to $4 million per inmate, expert says

Just this week, it was announced death row inmate Frank Jarvis Atwood had exhausted his appeals. The Arizona attorney general is now seeking an execution warrant.

And also just a few days ago, it was announced that Christopher Clements accused of killing 2 young Tucson girls will not be facing the death penalty.

2 cases, 30 years apart. And there are similarities.

Frank Jarvis Atwood was convicted of killing 8-year-old Vicki Lynne Hoskinson in 1984. Christopher Clements accused of killing 6-year-old Isabel Celis in 2012 and 13-year-old Maribel Gonzalez two years later.

Clements was indicted on both murders in 2018 and has yet to go to trial.

After sitting on death row for more than 30 years, 64-year-old Atwood will be executed according to Arizona state law.

"Death penalty cases are extremely expensive," said retired prosecutor Rick Unklesbay.

Unklesbay who has 40 years experience just recently retired from the Pima County Attorney's Office.

He tried 20 death penalty cases and witnessed some executions.

On average, death penalty cases in Arizona cost from $3 to 4 million per inmate, according to Unklesbay. He added that is why the smaller counties are not seeking death penalty cases.

"Their budget just won't allow for a case to be designated as a death penalty case because of the expense to the taxpayers of the county," he said.

Brick Storts has been practicing law for six decades and has handled at least 20 death penalty cases. One of them was John Cruz.

He was convicted of killing Tucson police officer Patrick Hardestyin 2003.

Cruz has been sitting on death row for 16 years.

Storts agrees death penalty cases are costly to the taxpayers, but they are a boom for defense attorneys.

"You have to pay court-appointed lawyers to do all of the work on the death penalty aspects of it after the trial is over with and you go through your appeals," he said.

He believes natural life is a better option so the person who committed the murder has to live with what he did every day.

"It seems to me that's more of a punishment than killing somebody," he said.

For the families, Unklesbay added, "It's really hard on victims' families to go through the years and years of appeals that are inherent in these cases."

There are currently 115 inmates on death row.

The Arizona Department of Corrections said it costs $21,000 per year to house an inmate.

(source: KVOA news)

NEVADA:

Nevada Legislature committee votes to abolish death penalty

The Assembly Judiciary Committee on Friday called for passage of a number of major changes to criminal law, including abolishing the death penalty in Nevada.

In addition to removing capital punishment going forward, AB395 lifts the death sentence from the more than 70 inmates currently on Nevada’s death row, converting their sentence to life without the possibility of parole.

For a variety of reasons including an inability to get the drugs for lethal injection, Nevada hasn’t executed anyone for more than a decade.

There was no discussion during the work session and all 6 Republicans on the 15-member panel voted against the bill.

In addition, the committee voted to amend and pass AB341, which would legalize cannabis consumption lounges in Nevada. The bill creates 2 kinds of lounges where patrons could consume cannabis products: those next door or within an existing licensed dispensary and those independent of a dispensary.

Again, the bill was opposed by all 6 GOP members of Judiciary.

The committee approved AB243, a measure designed to reduce or eliminate racial bias in charging criminal defendants. There was testimony during the hearing that people of color face disproportionately heavier charges for alleged crimes than whites. The so-called “race blind” charging statute was again opposed by the Republican members.

AB251 would require a peace officer to let a child defendant consult with a parent, guardian or lawyer before an in-custody interrogation. Opponents in law enforcement said that just isn’t practical in certain situations. AB132 would require an electronic recording of any interrogation of a suspect under the age of 16. Republicans P.K. O’Neill and Jim Wheeler voted against the measure. Those measures were also approved by the committee. Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen, R-Sparks was among those who questioned the fiscal impact that could have on local governments. Sponsor Rochelle Nguyen, D-Las Vegas, said there will have to be language to ensure that the fines and fees money stays with the courts so local courts don’t take that financial hit. AB268 would prohibit the use of deadly force against some one who is not a danger to anyone except himself. AB315 would require police agencies to provide police and fire personnel with counseling and other mental health/psychological help and AB304 would provide police with continuing education on subjects including mental health, de-escalation, profiling, human trafficking and firearms. All those bills go to the Assembly floor for a vote.

(source: The Nevada Appeal)

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

Nevada justices strikes down deadline in death penalty case

The Nevada Supreme Court struck down a deadline Friday that a district judge set later this month for a Salvadoran immigrant’s lawyers to file a motion claiming he’s intellectually disabled and therefore can’t be executed if convicted of murdering a Reno couple and 2 other woman.

Wilber Ernesto Martinez-Guzman, 22, is scheduled to go to trial in Washoe District Court in Reno Sept. 20 on charges he killed all 4 during an 11-day rampage in 2 counties in January 2019.

Judge Connie Steinheimer had set an April 20 deadline for his public defenders to file a motion that would trigger evidentiary hearings to determine whether he’s intellectually disabled and as a result ineligible for the death penalty under the U.S. Constitution and Nevada law.

His lawyers say state law requires such motions be filed no later than 10 days before the trial is scheduled to begin. The filed an emergency motion March 29 with the Supreme Court seeking to vacate the deadline and stay the proceedings indefinitely.

The justices granted their request Friday pending further order of the high court.

“We conclude that, on balance, the pertinent factors weigh in favour of a stay,” Chief Justice James Hardesty wrote in the 2-page opinion.

(source: Associated Press)

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Supreme Court vacates April 12 Guzman competency deadline

A deadline to file a motion seeking to declare a man accused of killing 2 Gardnerville Ranchos women intellectually disabled was overturned by the Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday.

Connie Koontz and Sophia Renkin were shot and killed within days of one another in January 2019, along with a Reno couple.

Salvadoran Wilber Guzman, 20, is accused of using a stolen gun to commit the crimes. He is facing the death penalty in a Washoe County courtroom on multiple homicide counts.

His defense attorneys appealed an April 12 deadline set by Judge Connie Steinheimer to file a motion to have him declared intellectually disabled. An evidentiary hearing would have been May 17, had the order stood.

While his attorneys claim Guzman is intellectually incapable of participating in his case, they’ve yet to file a motion seeking that designation pending their expert being able to fly to El Salvador to interview family members.

Defense attorneys pointed out that they aren’t required by law to file the motion until 10 days before trial, which is scheduled for September. They point out that the stay won’t affect the date of the trial.

The high court granted a stay of the deadline pending further order.

Justices heard oral arguments on Wednesday over whether the Washoe County grand jury indictment of Guzman on the Douglas County cases was valid.

Should the high court rule that it isn’t, the 2 murder cases would have to be heard in Douglas County. The case was submitted for decision, which has not yet been issued.

Douglas County District Attorney Mark Jackson has been working with Washoe County District Attorney Christopher Hicks on the multiple murder case.

(source: The Record-Courier)

USA:

Richard Branson is leading a campaign to end the death penalty, along with other key business figures. The Virgin Group founder said there is an urgent need to abolish the practice.

Sir Richard Branson spoke to Insider about his ongoing campaign to eradicate capital punishment.

The Virgin Group founder called the practice "barbaric" and "inhumane."

He has teamed up with several other business leaders to help spread the message.

Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson has joined forces with other business leaders to launch a campaign to abolish capital punishment in the US and other countries.

The 70-year-old billionaire announced the Business Leaders Against the Death Penalty Declaration in a virtual SXSW event in Austin, Texas, last month.

The declaration was coordinated by the UK-based organization, Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, and has gained 21 signatories. They include Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, co-founders of Ben & Jerry Ice cream, Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post, Helene Gayle, a director at the Coca-Cola Company, and telecom tycoon, Dr. Mo Ibrahim. <

The push to end the death penalty comes amid a global focus on racial and economic justice, exemplified by the Black Lives Matter protests last summer.

In an interview with Insider, Branson described the death penalty as "barbaric" and "inhumane." He explained his involvement in several cases throughout the years where innocent people were sent to death row, in the US and elsewhere. This led him to realize capital punishment is arbitrary and flawed, he said. Branson gave an example of a case he took up, which involved Anthony Ray Hinton, a man who spent 28 years on Alabama's death row before being exonerated in 2015. "He was framed for a double murder he didn't commit, only because the police and prosecutors needed a Black man to convict," Branson said. For every eight people executed in the US, one person is freed from death row — often after decades, as was the case with Hinton, Branson added. This case, among others, highlighted another problem for Branson — that the death penalty is also a symbol of oppression, as well as racial and social inequality.

"Look at people on death row. In most US cases, it's people of colour and the poor that are sent to death row," he said. "Some in the US have called it a 'direct descendant of lynching', and I'd say there is much evidence of that. In some countries, it's become a tool of political control and oppression," Branson said.

Branson believes it is even more crucial to end capital punishment, given it is a wasteful and ineffective misallocation of public funds. Now more than ever, governments must be responsible with public finances given the hard hit on countries' economies due to the pandemic, he said. "Public funding could be spent on schools, healthcare, infrastructure instead," he added.

The involvement of so many notable business leaders in the campaign demonstrates an increasing willingness to speak up on issues of inequality, the danger of executing innocent people, and the need for fiscal responsibility.

"We have to ask ourselves: does the death penalty serve a real purpose for us as caring human beings?" Gayle said in a statement. She noted how it felt even more urgent to focus attention on preventable deaths in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its terrible loss of life.

Cohen and Greenfield wanted to ensure they played their part, too. They told Insider: "We have some of the world's loudest voices — and we have a responsibility to use them to fight injustice wherever we see it."

Businesses need to do more than just say Black Lives Matter, they added: "We need to walk our talk and help tear down symbols of structural racism."

Jason Flom, chief executive of multimedia company Lava Media, is also involved with the campaign. When asked about the main objectives he hoped to achieve, he told Insider: "Goals include changing hearts and minds in the general public, as well as educating the next generation of prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, and prospective jurors."

There are 56 countries that still retain death-penalty laws as of 2019, according to Amnesty International. Since 2013, 33 countries have carried out at least 1 execution, the BBC reported. More than 170 UN member states, out of 194, have abolished capital punishment in law or declared a moratorium.

(source: businessinsider.com)

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I Befriended A Man On Death Row. Here’s What He Taught Me Before He Was Put To Death.----“Brandon Bernard was a different person from the teenager arrested over 20 years earlier. Up until the end, he did not think he would be executed because he knew he had reformed.”

Brandon Bernard called and emailed me daily in the 2 months before his execution. We spoke a few hours before he was executed and some of our last words were spent discussing his last words. For the first time, his optimism was gone. Even the day before, he sounded hopeful because he had heard that the Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney strongly recommended his sentence be commuted to life in prison.

Brandon read his speech to the Pardon Office to me before presenting it, and the profound level of remorse he expressed brought me to tears. He was a different person from the teenager arrested over 20 years earlier. Up until the end, he did not think he would be executed because he knew he had reformed.

I began writing to death row prisoners after reading Bryan Stevenson’s book “Just Mercy” about an innocent man condemned to death row. Books often change my course; I read a book on factory farming a few years ago and haven’t eaten meat since. After reading “Just Mercy,” I sent out postcards to about a dozen death row inmates across the U.S. When I started what my husband, family and friends universally consider an odd hobby, I had no idea how gratifying and life-altering writing death row prisoners would become. < P> When we first began exchanging letters a year ago, I warned Brandon that I had one other pen pal at Terre Haute federal penitentiary. In my experience, inmates do not want to write someone with multiple pen pals at the same facility out of legitimate concerns over privacy and safety. Brandon’s immediate response was, “Well, then that makes me 1 of the 2 luckiest men at Terre Haute.” To call himself lucky after over 2 decades of solitary confinement 23 hours a day in a 6-by-8-foot cell was the 1st of many lessons in gratitude Brandon taught me.

Brandon was 18 when he took part in a robbery gone wrong. He had no prior history of violence. Brandon’s friends carjacked a white couple, Todd and Stacey Bagley, youth ministers innocently offering a ride to kids purportedly in need. Later, Brandon rejoined the group only to see Christopher Vialva, the ringleader of the crime, fatally shoot Todd and Stacey in the head at close range. The man who had just shot 2 people in the head and still had a gun in his hand then ordered Brandon and 3 other teens to set the car on fire with the couple’s bodies inside. Brandon did as he was told.

At trial, Brandon’s court-appointed lawyer made no opening statement, meaning he offered the jury no alternative perspective on the charges. Brandon was the only accomplice not given an opportunity to plead guilty. The other accomplices pleaded out and received prison sentences; two are home with their families now.

“5 of the 9 surviving jurors later did a public about-face, stating that they would not have voted for the death penalty had prosecutors disclosed all facts at trial and had Brandon’s own lawyer competently defended him.

Brandon was falsely portrayed as a hardened high-level gang member. Prosecutors suppressed evidence by their own gang expert that the gang had a 13-tier hierarchy with Brandon at the very bottom. Brandon never got the chance to clarify his case in court — it remained the story poorly told at trial two decades earlier. Five of the nine surviving jurors later did a public about-face, stating that they would not have voted for the death penalty had prosecutors disclosed all facts at trial and had Brandon’s own lawyer competently defended him.

In her dissent written hours before Brandon’s execution, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the execution was taking place “despite troubling allegations that the Government secured his death sentence by withholding exculpatory evidence and knowingly eliciting false testimony against him. [He] has never had the opportunity to test the merits of those claims in court. Now he never will.” At 40, Brandon was the youngest person executed by the federal government in nearly 70 years.

Brandon loved his life, even in its limited capacity on death row. He did not have a single disciplinary infraction in his decades behind bars. This is no small feat given that death row is like a prison within a prison, with countless oppressive rules and ensuing frustrations.

Brandon mainly spent his time mentoring at-risk youth, reading, crocheting and playing the guitar. Brandon was calmer and more patient than most people I’ve come across; he spoke slowly and thoughtfully and was an avid listener. He never cursed and when I asked if that was for religious reasons, he said, “No, cursing just feels too aggressive to me.”

A few days before his execution, Brandon’s family visited him for the last time. After the visit, Brandon told me there was a hole in the pane of glass. I naively said, “Oh, so you were able to hold hands.” He explained it was an air hole to speak through, not large enough for hands, “But,” he said, “I could smell my mom.” In 20 years, including in his final days, Brandon was never allowed to physically touch a loved one. Never having physical contact is an inhumane daily assault on the soul.

Brandon’s case fits the death row profile: His crime and trial took place in Texas, a state that has executed 1/3 of the national total. Brandon’s jury consisted of 11 white jurors. Brandon was Black — despite being 13% of the U.S. population, Blacks constitute 42% of death row inmates. The victims are white in approximately 80% of homicide death penalty cases. A recent Death Penalty Information Center study found that in executions involving interracial murders since 1976, 295 Black defendants were executed for killing white victims, while only 21 white defendants were executed for killing Black victims. Death row is riddled with racial bias and is disproportionately home to Black men who have committed an alleged crime against a white person. Fairness cannot be achieved. Executions in our country, whether with rope or needle, have always been about race.

President Joe Biden has pledged to abolish the federal death penalty and to give incentives for states to do the same. There is a simple alternative to government executions: Keep people behind bars without resorting to killing them. Two-thirds of countries worldwide have abolished the death penalty. Italy abolished the death penalty in 1948; England in 1969. In the Netherlands, the last execution took place in 1952; Australia in 1967. Since ending the death penalty in 1976, Canada’s murder rate has steadily declined. The U.S. is the only Western democracy to conduct executions. Even Russia stopped executions in 1996. Our country keeps dubious company with China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt and Pakistan. We are very late in ending state-sponsored executions. It can be done; last month Virginia became the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty. Brandon, with his typical positivity, would say now is the time.

“Brandon’s final words were his deep regret to the victims’ families, his love for his own family and, true to his thoughtful nature, he told the prison guards not to let his execution upset them.

Friends sitting on death row for years have taught me many lessons: patience, keeping the conversation real and meaningful, and appreciating what I have. The hassle of driving my daughter to school is now about holding her hand at stoplights and rolling the windows down so I can feel the air. The freedom.

I’ve learned that pure good and evil rarely exist in reality and that I can do better than unequivocal righteousness. But, mainly I’ve discovered that love is such a fundamental need of all people that it can create a bond between a “suburban white girl,” as one San Quentin friend calls me, and a former LA gang member who has forsaken the drugs and crime of his youth. I’ve also come to understand that people can profoundly change with time.

During our daily talks, I never had anything to offer Brandon other than my love and support. He never asked me for a single thing besides friendship. Brandon was religious, but since I’m not, I couldn’t offer him prayers or talk about how heaven is a better place. I could only helplessly listen and tell him that I love him.

Brandon’s final words were his deep regret to the victims’ families, his love for his own family and, true to his thoughtful nature, he told the prison guards not to let his execution upset them. Our final words to each other were about what he would visualize on the gurney to stay calm. I told him to imagine my arms holding him down instead of straps and he promised he would. I was crying and told him I was sorry I couldn’t save him. He said I saved him with my love. And we said goodbye.

(source: Jennifer Wasserstein is an immigration lawyer and lives in Italy with her husband and daughter----Huffington Post)

SAUDI ARABIA----executions

Saudi Arabia executes 3 soldiers sentenced for 'high treason'

Saudi Arabia on Saturday executed 3 soldiers who were sentenced for “high treason” and “cooperating with the enemy”, a statement from the kingdom’s defence ministry said.

It said that the three had been sentenced to death by a specialist court after a fair trial.

The ministry did not name the alleged “enemy” but the executions were carried out in the southern province bordering Yemen where Saudi Arabia has been at war for more than 6 years against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

Saudi Arabia has come under increasing global scrutiny over its human rights record since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate and the detention of women’s rights activists.

Rights groups, including Amnesty International, have called on Riyadh to stop the use of the death penalty, citing allegations of torture and unfair trials.

Saudi Arabia denies the accusations.

It has executed 27 people in 2020, the lowest in years, down from a record high of 185 the year before, according to the Human Rights Commission, a government body.

(source: Reuters)

CHINA:

China’s Sentencing of High-Level Uyghur Officials to Death Stuns Critics, Who Demand Evidence----Observers say fair trials don’t exist in Xinjiang and that the punishments do not fit the ‘crimes.’

China’s recent sentencing of 2 high-level Uyghur officials to death has stunned critics who have questioned the legality of the decision given the lack of evidence against them and say the move shows that even Uyghurs loyal to the Communist Party cannot escape persecution in Xinjiang.

On April 6, authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) announced that Shirzat Bawudun, former director of the justice in the XUAR High Court and deputy secretary of the XUAR Political and Legal Committee, and Sattar Sawut, former director of education of the XUAR, had been given two-year suspended death sentences for “separatism” and “terrorism.” Additionally, they announced that the court sentenced both of them to permanent deprivation of political rights and confiscation of all personal property.

While several other prominent Uyghurs have been given death sentences since authorities in the region launched a campaign of extralegal incarceration that has seen up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities held in a vast network of internment camps beginning in early 2017, this marks the 1st occasion on which high-ranking government officials have been given the death penalty.

Though the High Court announced the verdicts on April 6, they released no additional information about when and where the trials took place, how they proceeded, and when the verdicts were actually decided.

The sentences, which come as the U.S. government and several Western parliaments have designated rights abuses in the XUAR as part of a state-backed policy of genocide, have led observers to further question the severity of the situation in the region, where the legal system has long been used as a tool of oppression by the state.

Sophie Richardson, China director at New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), told RFA’s Uyghur Service that there is no such thing as a fair trial in the XUAR and called on the government to release its evidence against the 2 officials.

“Let me be very clear: Human Rights Watch is utterly and totally opposed to the use of the death penalty in many circumstances, because it is fundamentally cruel and unusual,” she said.

“We also know very well that most people in Xinjiang do not get anything even remotely resembling a fair trial.”

In particular, she pointed out the absurdity of how harsh Sawut’s punishment was, given that he was accused of including “extremist” content in children’s primary school books that had previously been approved by censors. He had overseen publication of textbooks, all government approved.

“The idea that somebody should get a life sentence for a textbook that was published 13 years ago is crazy—there's no other word to describe it,” she said.

“And I think it's imperative that the Chinese government make all of the evidence available. I'd like to know whether these 2 men had lawyers of their own choice, whether they had any ability to see the evidence that was presented against them, or really contest the charges.”

‘Separatism’ and ‘terrorism’

According to the limited information shared by the High Court, Bawudun was accused of “long-term planning to split the country,” “participating in the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and betraying the interests of the people and the country,” and “providing illegal intelligence to people outside the borders [of China].”

ETIM, which was formerly on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations, was removed late last year because there was “no credible evidence” that the group continued to exist.

Sawut was also described as being “2-faced”—a term applied by the government to Uyghur cadres who pay lip service to Communist Party rule in the XUAR, but secretly chafe against state policies repressing members of their ethnic group—and having hidden in key a position for a long time.

In his previous post prior to his arrest, Sawut oversaw the Bureau of Education’s work in compiling and publishing Uyghur language and literature textbooks for primary and secondary students. He has been accused of insisting on the inclusion of content that promoted “ethnic separatism,” “violence,” “terrorism,” and “religious extremism” in these books, as well as of “attempting to break up the country through ‘de-Chineseification.’”

Teng Biao, a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer in the U.S., told RFA that the “crime” of “splittism” is a tool China has long used to crack down on opposition. In this case, however, the tool is being deployed against cadres within the very system of government itself.

“The Chinese government often uses the charges of “splitting the country” or “subverting state power” or “inciting division” or “inciting subversion of the country” to combat dissidents, and increasingly as a way of achieving its political goals,” he said.

Teng also noted that although Bawudun and Sawut were previously in favor as part of the state apparatus, they are now paying the price for being Uyghur in a period when China appears to be working toward eradicating that distinct identity through genocidal policies.

“On the one hand, they’re political and legal cadres within the Communist Party system, but on the other hand, they’re Uyghurs and they identify with the religious and cultural identity of their ethnic group,” he said.

“These two roles are in complete conflict with one another. It must be very painful for them. So, I think it’s in this context that the Communist Party used some of their practices, statements, and opinions as grounds for the crime of ‘splittism.’”

Attack on Uyghur language and culture

The Uyghur language and literature textbooks Sawut oversaw, which the Chinese government has claimed are “terrorist,” “separatist,” and “poisoning” to young students, were published in 2003 and used in literature classes until 2016.

U.S.-based Kamaltürk Yalqun, the son of editor-in-chief of the XUAR Education Press and renowned Uyghur literary critic Yalqun Rozi, told RFA that if there were actually any “problems” in these textbooks, they would have been discovered and dealt with in the authorities’ annual reviews of educational materials.

“Whereas other books might be published after going through the censors once or twice, [authorities] established special committees for the textbooks and censored them over and over again, at the Bureau of Education, at the XUAR [government] level,” he said.

“These textbooks were used for more than a decade and no major problem was discovered in them. That they were suddenly, in 2016, as soon as Chen Quanguo became Party Secretary [of the XUAR], made out to be problematic books doesn’t actually prove that anything was wrong with them. If there had been problems, they would have emerged in the multiple rounds of censors the books went through every year.”

Yalqun’s father Rozi was arrested in 2016, an early target of what would go on to become a mass incarceration campaign targeting allegedly “two-faced” members of the Uyghur intellectual and cultural elite, and later sentenced to 15 years in prison for his involvement in the publication of these textbooks.

He said he believes that the Chinese government’s real intention in arresting and sentencing textbook compilers, including his father, is to eliminate the Uyghur language and culture.

(source: rfa.org)

MYANMAR:

Myanmar tribunal sentences 19 to death for violence toward military----Defendants accused of killing one, injuring another tried under martial law

A military tribunal in Myanmar has sentenced 19 people to death for killing a member of the military and wounding another, state television reported Friday night, in what is believed to be the junta's first use of the death penalty since declaring martial law last month.

The defendants are accused of attacking the 2 personnel and others with knives and clubs in Yangon's North Okkalapa township during the Armed Forces Day holiday on March 27. They reportedly took a motorcycle and a gun from the assailed personnel.

The sentence was handed down Thursday, according to state media. Of the 19 people tried, 17 remain at large and are on a wanted list.

In areas of Yangon that are under martial law, including North Okkalapa, serious crimes are brought before military tribunals. Appealing to a higher court is not an option, but the commander-in-chief -- Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing -- can commute or reverse a death sentence, and the regional commander can do so for lesser sentences.

Before the coup, Myanmar had imposed the death penalty but had carried out no executions for 3 decades.

March 27 was one of the bloodiest days of the ongoing crackdown on protesters. A total of 618 people had been killed by security forces as of Friday since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

(source: asia.nikkei.com)

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

Rights group condemns Myanmar death sentences

An international human rights group condemned Myanmar's junta Saturday for sentencing 19 people to die, in the first known use of the death penalty since the military seized power.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was ousted on February 1, with security forces killing more than 600 people as protesters refuse to submit to military rule.

State media reported Friday that 19 people had been sentenced to death for robbery and murder by a military court, with 17 of them tried in absentia.

They were arrested in Yangon's North Okkalapa township -- 1 of 6 areas in the commercial hub currently under martial law, meaning anybody arrested there is tried by a military tribunal.

The 2 townships are home to about 2 million people -- more than 1/4 of Yangon's sprawling population.

While Myanmar has long had the death penalty in its penal code, the country has not carried out an execution in over 30 years, said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division for Human Rights Watch.

"It indicates the military are prepared to go back to a time when Myanmar was executing people," he said.

Trying cases in a military court means there can be no appeals, and there are "no guarantees of a free and fair trial in any way, shape or form", he added.

The sentences could be a tactic to force protesters off the streets and back to work, he said, as a nationwide boycott has brought much of Myanmar's economy to a halt.

"Their core mission is to use force and violence to get everybody off the streets and to break apart the (civil disobedience movement)," Robertson said.

Norway also reacted to the death sentences on Saturday, calling them "unacceptable and a deeply worrying development".

"Norway strongly urges Myanmar not to carry out the executions, to stop the violence and allow the UN Special Envoy to visit," said Norwegian foreign minister Ine Eriksen Soreide in a tweet.

United Nations officials say the special envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, is in neighbouring Thailand hoping to enter Myanmar for face-to-face meetings with the generals to negotiate a path out of the crisis.

The junta has so far refused her entry.

(source: france24.com)

APRIL 9, 2021:

TEXAS----impending execution re-scheduled

Ramiro Goonzalez is now set for execution on Nov. 17; the date should be considered serious.

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

Executions under Greg Abbott, Jan. 21, 2015-present----52

Executions in Texas: Dec. 7, 1982----present-----570

https://www.tdcj.texas.gov/death_row/dr_scheduled_executions.html

Abbott#--------scheduled execution date-----name------------Tx.

53----May 19------Quintin Jones----------------571

54----June 30-----John Hummel------------------572

55----Sept. 8-----John Ramirez-----------------573

56----Sept. 28----Rick Rhoades-----------------574

57----Nov. 17-----Ramiro Gonzalez--------------575

(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)

PENNSYLVANIA:

Execution date set for York mass murderer, though it's unlikely he will be be executed

An execution date has been set for one of York County's most notorious mass killers.

But, since Gov. Tom Wolf has set a moratorium on executions in the state, it is not likely that Paul Gamboa-Taylor will make his May 14 appointment in the state's death chamber.

On Thursday, Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel signed what's called a Notice of Execution, setting an execution date for the 60-year-old mass killer. It is mostly a procedural matter. The law requires the corrections secretary to sign a warrant of execution when the governor does not take action within a specified period of time.

On May 18, 1991, Gamboa-Taylor killed his 23-year-old wife, 2 of their children, ages 2 and 4, his 42-year-old mother-in-law and her 2-year-old son with a ball-peen hammer.

Gamboa-Taylor pleaded guilty to 5 counts of 1st-degree murder and, in January 1992, received 4 death sentences and sentence of life without parole for his mother-in-law's death.

Since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, only 3 inmates have been executed in Pennsylvania, the last in July 1999. There are about 150 inmates on death row in the state.

Who’s on death row for murders in York County?

Paul Gamboa-Taylor (1992)

Hubert Michael Jr. (1995)

Mark Spotz (1996)

John Small (1996)

Kevin Dowling (1998)

Milton Montalvo (2000)* (The York County District Attorney’s Office is again seeking the death penalty after a judge threw out his sentence.)

Noel Montalvo (2003)* (The case is on appeal before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after a judge awarded him a new trial.)

Harve Johnson (2009)

Kevin Mattison (2010)

Hector Morales (2011)

Aric Woodard (2013)

Timothy Jacoby (2014)

(source: York Daily Record)

VIRGINIA:

Faculty Spotlight: As He Rose in His Career, Bonnie Made Case Against Death Penalty

With the sweep of a pen late last month, Gov. Ralph Northam signed new legislation that abolished the death penalty in Virginia.

“There is no place for the death penalty in this state, in the South or in this country,” Northam proclaimed after touring the former execution chamber at the Greenville Correctional Center.

From his office at the University of Virginia School of Law, professor Richard Bonnie added a “good riddance.” Not long after he graduated from UVA Law in 1969, Bonnie was at the vanguard of a movement of young attorneys who spent decades building the case against the death penalty in the Old Dominion.

Bonnie represented, pro bono, 4 of the first 5 prisoners to sit on Virginia’s “new” death row after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

“I was practically just out of law school,” he said. “It was an opportunity to be helpful and put my ideas to work, but it was also kind of intimidating.”

Virginia historically led the nation in executions. But after Furman v. Georgia raised doubts about the constitutionality of the practice in 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court declared a moratorium throughout the country, inviting states to revise their laws to avoid a capricious or discriminatory outcome.

In response to the state revisions, including in Virginia, a new subspecialty of criminal law took shape focusing on death penalty litigation. Bonnie, currently the Harrison Foundation Professor of Medicine and Law and director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at UVA, suddenly became recognized as a leading expert, which is why he took on death row cases after the trial attorneys completed their direct appeals.

He hadn’t aspired to be a capital defense advocate. His only prior litigation experience was supervising an appellate litigation clinic at the Law School, from 1969 to 1970, before briefly serving in the military in Washington. His scholarship in capital post-conviction litigation developed after he returned to the Law School in 1973. It was then that he began a collaboration with professors Peter Low and John C. Jeffries Jr. on the casebook “Criminal Law,” which has been in publication for 45 years.

“There are two types of professors who teach criminal law,” Low told him. “Those who are really interested in the insanity defense and the death penalty, and others who aren’t so interested.”

Bonnie added, “He wasn’t that interested in it, but of course I was.”

Bonnie’s scholarship would provide casebook material on the developing death penalty jurisprudence. His research also helped establish a pathbreaking law and psychiatry program in the schools of Law and Medicine. This early effort included the Forensic Psychiatry Clinic, which conducted forensic evaluations of the early wave of capital defendants under Virginia’s new capital sentencing statute. The law took effect in July 1977, a year after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty. Professor and 1977 Law School alumna Elizabeth Scott directed the clinic.

The new capital sentencing statute embraced a form of guided judicial discretion. In its effort to reconcile the Supreme Court’s insistence that a constitutional statute had to narrow discretion while allowing individualized consideration of the “frailties of humankind,” the General Assembly “more or less invited psychiatric testimony,” Bonnie noted.

“There weren’t that many people who were paying attention, frankly, to the issues that were likely to arise under this new generation of statutes,” he said. “My attention suddenly became completely redirected toward the administration of the death penalty and psychiatric testimony in criminal cases. All these forces swallowed up my career in this amazingly short period of time.”

His first death row client was Michael Marnell Smith, who was convicted in 1977 in a rape-murder case from earlier that year. Bonnie filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Law School’s Post-Conviction Assistance Project challenging the constitutionality of the new Virginia statute and urging the court to narrowly interpret the vague language of the “aggravating circumstances” specified by the statute.

He also argued that psychiatric testimony introduced by the prosecution violated Smith’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The Supreme Court of Virginia took note of Bonnie’s vagueness arguments in interpreting the statute, but refused to consider the Fifth Amendment argument because Smith’s attorney, who had consulted with Bonnie during the initial trial, failed to raise the issue on appeal – which Bonnie had advised him to do.

After the state Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and death sentence, trial counsel referred the case to Bonnie, who partnered on this case, and future ones, with a young Charlottesville-based attorney, Lloyd Snook, who was an associate at the law firm of attorney and alumnus John Lowe. Their post-conviction appeals in both state and federal court were unsuccessful.

Smith’s death sentence was ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision. Although the dissent agreed with Bonnie’s argument that the psychiatric testimony violated Smith’s Fifth Amendment rights, the majority ruled that Smith’s trial lawyer had forfeited the claim by neglecting to raise the issue in the Virginia Supreme Court.

“This ‘freakishness’ of the legal process is one of the factors that ultimately doomed the death penalty,” Bonnie said. “Should whether or not a defendant is executed turn on an attorney’s unintended failure to raise a meritorious claim on appeal – even though he raised it at trial and even though an amicus party brought it to the attention of the state Supreme Court?”

Smith became the 5th person executed under the new statute. But his case and the others that Bonnie litigated called attention to the many ways in which capital cases must be subject to more stringent rules than ordinary criminal cases. Each of the 2 aggravating circumstances that provided a necessary predicate for a death sentence under state law are problematic, Bonnie noted.

“The state had to prove, essentially, that this person was too dangerous to be allowed to live anymore,” he said, or that the particular offense was so “unwantonly vile, horrible or inhuman” that it demands the “ultimate” punishment.

“So what does that mean? Our argument was that neither finding provides an adequate constitutional basis for the death penalty,” Bonnie said. “What is ‘dangerousness’ if you have proper prison security during a mandatory life sentence?”

Two other clients Bonnie represented, Alton Waye and Morris Mason, were also put to death. A fourth, Joseph Giarratano, would have a different fate.

Giarratano was convicted of killing a woman and her 15-year-old daughter, allegedly during a drug blackout in 1979. He wanted to die – so much so that he thwarted his trial counsel’s attempts to save him. After a perfunctory direct appeal to the state Supreme Court, Giarratano declined to allow his lawyer to challenge his death sentence.

“He wasn’t filing his appeals, and the state set a date for the execution,” Bonnie said. “We knew Joe because we had evaluated him at the clinic before sentencing and sent the trial judge a report. So people started calling me and saying, ‘What are you going to do about this?’ I went to see Joe on death row. Basically, I got him to give us some time, to think about it some more, and promised to assure that he was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment, because he was hearing voices telling him to kill himself.”

Giarratano told his lawyers they could file a habeas petition on his behalf.

“Even if he had declined to authorize us to do so, I was prepared to file a ‘next friend’ petition seeking judicial consideration of his competence to waive his right to seek post-conviction review of his death sentence,” Bonnie said.

The move kept Giarratano alive. Attorneys later presented evidence that he might not have committed the crime. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder ultimately commuted Giarratano’s death sentence three days before his execution date. He was granted parole in 2017.

After ending his “brief and frustrating career as a capital litigator,” Bonnie continued to consult with lawyers representing capital defendants, including the attorney for 9/11 conspiracist Zacharias Moussaoui, not only about legal issues but also about the unique ethical dilemmas faced by capital defense lawyers.

Bonnie reflected on the fact that so many lives during the 1970s and ’80s had been entrusted to junior attorneys.

“There were single early-career lawyers being appointed to be counsel in these capital trials where there should have been more senior people appointed,” he said. “We didn’t have death penalty specialists, and they needed to be trained. And then you also needed a specialized capital defense bar. When we were starting, there was no compensation at all for habeas litigation. The quality of trial representation did get better over a period of time, but it took a couple of decades.”

Giarratano himself aided the cause of post-conviction defense. He became something of a constitutional scholar while in prison, filing a class action in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, arguing that indigent prisoners on death row deserve state-sponsored help with post-conviction appeals.

He won his case in 1989. While the U.S. Supreme Court later held that there is no such right for indigents, Giarratano’s advocacy helped set other wheels in motion.

A joint Virginia General Assembly subcommittee looked into the problem, and in 1989 recommended that the Virginia Bar Association explore the possible creation of a capital resource center, which would help death row prisoners secure competent counsel and provide education to attorneys about capital litigation.

The Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center officially formed in 1992 with the help of federal funding. Bonnie dropped his litigation work by the mid-1990s, which is when another alumnus, the center’s long-serving director, Rob Lee, began to practice.

Bonnie, Lee and other observers have cited the rise in competency among advocates in the space, the decline in violent crime that began in the 1990s and a disinterest among the public for eye-for-an-eye justice as factors that resulted in the death penalty’s demise.

With the last individual, William Charles Morva, put to death in Virginia in 2017, the state executed 113 people in the modern era.

For Decades, Alumni Have Taken Up Death Row Cause

Alongside Bonnie, several UVA Law alumni have worked on issues related to capital punishment in Virginia. Thanks in part to their efforts, the death penalty was on the decline well before the commonwealth officially ended the practice.

1992 graduate Rob Lee has helped lead the efforts as director of the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center.

“Longstanding problems in the application of the death penalty identified by the Governor and legislators, and not seriously challenged in recent debates, make its abolition a necessary piece of meaningful criminal justice reform,” Lee wrote in a media statement.

Lee was among several contemporaneous students who went on to do capital defense work. His wife, professor Deirdre Enright, also a 1992 graduate, formerly served as an attorney at the center. She now directs the Innocence Project at UVA Law with professor Jennifer Givens, another former attorney at the center.

Marie Donnelly (Class of 1993), of Illinois, and Kathryn V. Stanley (Class of 1992), of Georgia, went on to represent capital clients elsewhere in the U.S. And subsequent graduates such as Terrica Redfield Ganzy (Class of 2002), deputy director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, have also taken up the cause.

Elaine Jones (Class of 1970), the Law School’s first Black female graduate, was there for the case that started it all, Furman v. Georgia. As a young attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, she helped convince the clerk of court in Georgia to certify the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. She shared the story of that persuasive moment for a 2018 article in UVA Lawyer.

In Furman’s 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty as applied was cruel and unusual punishment, and in violation of equal protection. The ruling acknowledged the likelihood of historical racial bias in capital sentencing.

The ruling forced the 37 states that permitted execution to reexamine their approaches. All pending executions were downgraded to life in prison.

“I went back to New York with an excellent result,” Jones said.

(source: virginia.edu)

NORTH CAROLINA:

Roommate charged with killing woman in Raleigh could face death penalty if convicted

The man charged with killing 20-year-old Christina Matos in their Raleigh apartment could face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole if he is convicted, a judge told him Thursday.

Erick Gael Hernandez-Mendez is charged with 1st-degree murder. He made a brief first appearance in court and asked to be represented by the capital defender’s office.

Matos and Hernandez-Mendez were roommates at the Signature 1505 apartments on Hillsborough Street, where Matos was found dead on Sunday night.

Police have not said how Matos died or provided a possible motive.

On Thursday, Matos’ parents, brother, aunt and 9 college-age people, some of them friends since middle school, attended the court appearance.

Yolanda Matos, Christina’s mother, said she is surprised that someone who knew her daughter for so long — someone she should have felt safe with — is now accused of killing her. Christina Matos and Hernandez-Mendez also were in the same graduating class at Clayton High School last year, according to the Johnston County Report.

“I can’t believe the kids, the persons, they kill her in her house, her apartment,” she said after the court appearance. “As a mother, you live your life for your kids.”

Matos turned 20 on Friday, but when she stopped responding to text messages, the family drove from Clayton to her second-floor apartment near the N.C. State University campus to check on her.

Her mother had a key to get inside the apartment, according to ABC 11, The News & Observer’s newsgathering partner, but couldn’t open Matos’ locked bedroom door. Police were called.

Matos took classes at Wake Tech in the fall, but was not enrolled in the spring semester, a school spokesperson told The News & Observer.

Matos was a former server at Jonathan’s Sports Lounge & Grill, according to the bar’s Facebook page. Matos’ father Gerardo Mato said his daughter worked as a waitress at Mango’s Nightclub.

A close friend to many

Najiah Williams, a friend of Christina Matos’ since middle school, said she also knows Hernandez-Mendez.

Williams spoke after Thursday’s court appearance and said Matos told her she wasn’t getting along with her roommates.

Williams said she would fondly remember a trip she took with Matos to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“People had the best memories (of her),” she said.

Tyrone Thompson said Matos was one of his best friends, and he recently traveled to New York City with her to introduce her to family.

Matos was also lived in New York before she moved to North Carolina. She got a tattoo that said “718,” the area code for Brooklyn in New York City, after consulting Tyrone.

“She just always got me like no one else did, man,” Thompson said. “She was my best friend.”

Hernandez-Mendez is next due in court at 9 a.m. April 29.

heraldsun.com)

GEORGIA:

Charges against man who killed Bibb County deputy could result in death penalty

The man accused of killing Bibb County Deputy Christopher Knight has been charged with 11 felonies including felony murder -- charges that could lead to the death penalty if he's convicted.

Arrest warrants were served to the Jones County Jail one day after 22-year-old Albert Booze stabbed the deputy.

The last case WGXA could find of the Macon Judicial Circuit prosecuting someone for the felony murder of a law enforcement officer was in 2016. 2 peach county deputies; Sgt. Patrick Sondron, 41, and Dep. Daryl Smallwood, 39, were killed while responding to a call after a man opened fire.

The accused, Ralph Stanley Elrod Jr., plead guilty and accepted a deal for 2 life sentences plus 100 years. Judge Edgar Ennis said he was confident the defendant would receive a death sentence if the case went to trial.

Now Bibb County finds itself an a similar situation with a slain deputy, charges mounting, but with a new district attorney.

Having prosecuted a case before where an officer was killed, Katie Powers is familiar with what the days ahead will look like for the Macon Judicial Circuit.

Powers is currently an assistant professor at Mercer Law School, she previously worked as a prosecutor for the Clayton County Circuit and was a state and superior court judge.

She explained that there are a number of factors the D.A. must consider before seeking the death penalty.

"What evidence you have, what the case file looks like, what statutory aggravated factors you have, what the law looks like, and what is the practice in your jurisdiction. So there's a variety of things that go into a district attorney's decision as to whether or not to seek the death penalty," Powers said.

There are 12 Statutory Aggravating Factors in Georgia that allow for the death penalty to be put on the table when a murder is committed:

The offender has a prior capital conviction.

The offender was in the process of committing another capital crime, aggravated battery, burglary, or arson.

The offender used or possessed a weapon or device capable of causing significant harm to more than one person simultaneously.

The offender committed offense for monetary gain.

The victim was or had been a judicial officer, district attorney, or solicitor general, and was murdered for reasons relating to their employment as such.

The offender hired another to commit the murder or committed it for hire.

The victim was tortured.

The victim was a law enforcement officer or firefighter and was performing his/her official duties.

The offender was in the custody of, or had escaped from, law enforcement or a correctional facility.

The offender was resisting arrest.

The offender had a prior conviction for rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation, or aggravated sexual battery.

The murder was committed during an act of domestic terrorism.

Included in that list-- whether the victim was a law enforcement officer who was killed while was performing his or her official duties and if the offender was in the custody of a correctional facility at the time the murder was committed, were both met during the stabbing at the Bibb County Jail.

Powers adds that deciding whether to file a notice for the death penalty is a lengthy process that's not taken lightly.

What the family would like to see is included in those considerations that the District Attorney has to review.

Powers says what the family wants is important, but the D.A. gets the final say.

What she says won't be taken in to consideration is any public pressure.

"The public opinion, they're welcome to express that at the ballot box, but that doesn't drive elected district attorney's decisions... or should not drive those. They take an oath just like everyone else to uphold the law and follow the law, and so, that's what drives those decisions," Powers explains.

As the trial draws near, the charges Booze is facing could change. Initial charging decisions are made by the investigating agency however, it's up to the D.A. whether to add or modify charges presented to the grand jury.

(source: WGXA TV news)

FLORIDA:

Former Florida Death-Row Prisoner with Innocence Claim Released Pending Outcome of Federal Appeal

More than 30 years after a Florida judge sentenced him to death following an 8-4 sentencing recommendation by an all-white jury, Crosley Green has been freed.

Citing Green’s age and health risks related to continued incarceration during the pandemic, Judge Roy B. Dalton of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida on April 7, 2021, ordered Green’s immediate release while a federal appeals court considers prosecutors’ appeal of the district court’s July 2018 decision overturning his conviction.

“The Court determines that, because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the length of time to resolve Petitioner’s appeal, … Petitioner would be substantially injured since the Court has already reversed his conviction and ordered a new trial,” Dalton wrote. “Additionally, the public has a strong interest in the release of a prisoner whom the Court has found to be incarcerated in violation of the Constitution. The Court finds that the public interest weighs in favor of granting release pending appeal.”

Green was sentenced to death in 1990 for the 1989 murder of Charles “Chip” Flynn. An all-white jury convicted Green, who is Black. No physical evidence linked him to the crime, and the 1 witness to the crime was the victim’s ex-girlfriend, who first responders initially identified as the likely perpetrator. The two police officers who responded to the crime scene told prosecutors they believed the ex-girlfriend had killed Flynn, but prosecutors withheld their notes from Green’s defense team, denying him access to potentially exculpatory evidence. All 3 witnesses who testified that Green had confessed to the murder later recanted their statements, saying they had been coerced by prosecutors.

In 2007, the trial court overturned Green’s death sentence, finding that trial counsel had failed to investigate court records that would have disproven the prosecution’s claim that Green had a previous conviction in New York for a crime of violence. The Florida Supreme Court upheld that ruling in 2008 and Green was resentenced to life in 2009.

His pro bono counsel from the Washington, D.C. law firm Crowell & Moring continued their efforts to overturn Green’s conviction. On July 20, 2018, Judge Dalton overturned Green’s conviction, ruling that the prosecutors’ suppression of exculpatory evidence violated due process. Florida prosecutors appealed that ruling. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit heard argument on the case in March 2020 but has not yet issued a decision.

“After fighting to prove his innocence for more than three decades, Crosley Green is finally free and will be with his family once again,” said Keith J. Harrison, a partner at Crowell & Moring. “We are extremely grateful to Judge Roy Dalton, Jr. for granting Mr. Green’s immediate release as he awaits his ruling in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. There was never a shred of credible evidence that Crosley Green committed this crime. We have fought relentlessly since 2008 to prove his innocence, and we have faith that justice will prevail.”

Green’s case fits a pattern in modern Florida death-row innocence cases. From the 1970s until 2016, Florida permitted trial judges to impose death sentences despite the votes of one or more jurors in favor of a life sentence. DPIC’s February 2021 Special Report: The Innocence Epidemic reviewed the 25 Florida death-row exonerations under that statute for which the jury votes are known. In 23 of those exonerations (92%), 1 or more jurors had voted for life. Nearly 70 % (16 of 23) of those wrongful capital convictions involved defendants of color.

Before his Eleventh Circuit hearing in 2020, Green said he had given up on anger. “I was an angry man when I first got to death row,” he said. “I was, I was angry. But in ’93, it hit me and from that year until now I just stay with the Lord, you know? So, I’m not angry anymore. Anytime that I can wake up and pray to the good Lord above, you know, I can’t be angry. And my days go by easily.”

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

OHIO----impending execution stayed

Court delays execution of inmate who slipped through cracks

The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday delayed the execution of a convicted killer whose case federal public defenders said slipped through the cracks of the legal system.

Death row inmate David Martin, 36, had been scheduled to die May 26. The Associated Press reported last year that he went without a lawyer for more than a year after the court upheld his sentence in 2018 and missed a chance to make a customary appeal to the federal courts.

Justices have now stayed Martin’s execution until all his legal options are exhausted.

Martin was sentenced to die in 2014 for fatally shooting 21-year-old Jeremy Cole during a robbery in northeastern Ohio two years earlier. Martin also shot Cole’s girlfriend in the head, severely wounding her.

When the state Supreme Court upholds a death sentence, it automatically sets an execution date. Attorneys representing inmates in their appeals normally ask the court to delay those dates while cases enter the federal system, a request the court automatically grants. Appeals often last years afterward.

In Martin’s case, though, no attorney initially took over his case, the request wasn’t made and his chance to appeal his death sentence appeared to be lost. Questions prompted by Martin’s outreach to the AP put his case on public defenders’ radar.

The high court’s temporary reprieve for Martin comes amid an unofficial death penalty moratorium in the state prompted by legal setbacks and challenges obtaining lethal injection drugs.

Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said last year that lethal injection is no longer an option, and he has asked state lawmakers to identify a different method. In the meantime, he has delayed a host of upcoming executions.

The state’s last execution was in July 2018.

(source: Associated Press)

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

Son Of Murder Victim Urges Legislature To End Death Penalty Quickly----Thomas Knuff, the man who murdered my father, was sentenced to death in 2019.

Thomas Knuff, the man who murdered my father, was sentenced to death in 2019. Knuff brutally murdered my father and I live with the pain and grief of that violent loss every single day. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley sought the death penalty for Thomas Knuff and got the conviction. But when Knuff was sentenced to death, I too was sentenced to decades of pain, excruciating uncertainty, and reliving the worst day of my life over and over again The Capital Crimes Report recently released by Attorney General Dave Yost said that of the people who have been executed in Ohio since 1981, the average amount of time they spent on death row is 17 years. Yost affirmed that these delays were unacceptable and offered 2 options: Speed up the death penalty process or get rid of it — quickly.

Unfortunately, speeding up the process isn't an option in Ohio. Ohio has sentenced 11 innocent people to die. Since the reinstatement of Ohio's death penalty, the state has executed 56 people. That means for every 5 executions, 1 person has been exonerated. If we speed up the process, we seriously risk executing an innocent person. In fact, Cuyahoga County is 2nd in the country for most wrongful death sentences.

Cuyahoga County is the county that sentenced my dad's murderer to death. During Knuff's trial, it was clear that my voice as a victim didn't matter. Michael O'Malley became laser-focused on getting a conviction despite my family's objections. The death penalty is meant to display how "tough on crime" prosecutors are while the families of victims languish in the nightmare a capital sentence creates. We know the death penalty is not "tough on crime," does not deter violent crime, nor is it an appropriate response to violence. Essentially, Cuyahoga County used our family's darkest moment to gain political prestige and that is one of the many ugly truths about the death penalty.

It's only been two years since Thomas Knuff was sentenced to death. How many years will my family have to endure a process we desperately didn't want in the first place? How many times will I have to see Knuff's mugshot on the news as yet another costly (yet very necessary) appeal happens? How much money will Ohioans have to spend on a racist and arbitrary system that doesn't work while families of victims endure for decades without access to grief counseling and other resources? The death penalty only offers the false promise of closure for the families like mine. My family and I can never be allowed to heal and seek peace as long as Knuff's sentence is hanging over our heads. How can this be justice for the families of victims?

The good news is that Ohio can stop hurting the families of victims this year. Currently there are 2 bipartisan-supported bills in the Ohio legislature, SB 103 and HB 183, that would abolish Ohio's death penalty and finally stop reopening the wounds of victim family members once and for all. Attorney General Yost offers 2 options, but I'll narrow it down even further: End the death penalty — quickly.

(source: Jonathan Mann, Ohio Capital Journal)

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

Parma father accused of killing 5-year-old son pleads not guilty at arraignment

Matthew Ponomarenko was arraigned on charges of aggravated murder and endangering children in the death of his 5-year-old son Friday morning.

Jax Ponomarenko was killed on March 25 inside their home on Russell Avenue near West 45th Street in Parma.

Jax Ponomarenko, 5-year-old boy killed in Parma on March 25, 2021

Prosecutors say the child was hit multiple times on his head and face.

Matthew Ponomarenko, 31, called 911 on March 25 and told a dispatcher he killed his son because he was “hearing voices.”

A not guilty plea was entered on his behalf. He did not speak during the hearing.

Ponomarenko would have to pay 10% of that to be released.

The grand jury said there was evidence of “prior calculation” in the child’s death and said there was also evidence of “torture.”

A judge has previously said the death penalty is possible in the case, as is life without parole.

Ponomarenko’s pretrial is scheduled for April 20.

(source: Fox News)

OKLAHOMA:

Death penalty jury trial set to begin Monday

Cleveland County District Court will begin a new set of jury trials April 12, including a death penalty case involving a Texas man.

Joseph Fidel Alliniece, 32, of Missouri City, Texas, will stand before a jury in District Judge Lori Walkley’s courtroom following the 2018 death of Norman resident Brittani Young, 27.

According to a Norman police affidavit, officers found Young on April 24, 2018, dead inside her Emerald Greens Apartments residence. Police believe Alliniece stomped her to death.

Alliniece also faces 2 counts of kidnapping and 1 count of robbery by force or fear — all felonies — because one of Young’s friends and the friend’s 2-year-old daughter were inside the apartment and witnessed the alleged murder.

According to the affidavit, Alliniece fled the scene, but was arrested that night by Oklahoma City Police Department officers around South 89th Street and May Avenue in Oklahoma City. He was taken to the Norman Investigations Center for questioning, where he told police he couldn’t remember anything that happened that day.

He is being held on $5 million bond at the Cleveland County Detention Center, state court records show. According to the Oklahoma State Courts Network, Alliniece’s attorneys include Benjamin Charles Brown, Shae Sealy Raven, Shae Lynn Smith and Mitchell Solomon.

The Cleveland County District Attorney’s Office filed for the death penalty in August 2018. The office last sought the death penalty in a 2014 beheading case involving Alton Nolen.

Nolen was convicted of 6 counts, including 1st-degree murder and 5 counts of assault and battery with a deadly weapon. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Nolen’s conviction and death sentence in mid-March.

In unrelated charges, Alliniece was charged Wednesday in county court with a felony count of sexual battery for allegedly touching a woman’s chest inside a bathroom April 2.

A Cleveland County Sheriff’s deputy was told about 12:05 p.m. April 2 that a woman claimed Alliniece followed her into a bathroom and grabbed her chest without her consent. Alliniece was interviewed Tuesday and admitted to going into the bathroom, but told deputies “I didn’t do anything, bro.” He refused to say more and was returned to his cell.

Cleveland County District Judge Jeff Virgin, who is serving as chief judge this year, said 120 jurors are coming in for Alliniece’s case. Those will be narrowed down over a week to a jury pool of 12, with at least 4 alternates.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Virgin said jurors’ initial reporting times will be staggered between 4 times: 8:30 a.m., 10 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Walkley is bringing in her own jury pool due to the prosecution’s death penalty request. Her jurors must fill out questionnaires, then meet in groups of 15 at a time over several days until the pool has been narrowed to 70. The prosecution and defense will then begin choosing jury members.

Virgin said jurors must wear masks, and social distancing will be implemented. Jurors also will be asked if they have COVID-19 symptoms or if they have been in close contact with someone who has it. Additionally, during the trial, hand sanitizer will be available and door handles and microphones will be wiped between witnesses.

Virgin said temperature checks at the door could be possible, but that process was still undecided Thursday morning.

(source: Norman Transcript)

ARIZONA:

Attorney General Brnovich Files Motions to Move Forward with Executions for 2 Death Row Inmates

Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced that he has notified the Arizona Supreme Court of the State’s intent to seek warrants of execution for Arizona death row inmates Frank Atwood and Clarence Dixon, and asked the Court to set a briefing schedule to govern the process. Both men have exhausted all of their appeals.

“Capital punishment is the law in Arizona and the appropriate response to those who commit the most shocking and vile murders,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich. “This is about the administration of justice and ensuring the last word still belongs to the innocent victims who can no longer speak for themselves.”

Atwood and Dixon may select either lethal injection or gas under ARS 13-757 because they murdered their victims before November 23, 1992.

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) is asking the Arizona Supreme Court to establish a firm briefing schedule before filing the execution warrants to ensure the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCRR ) can comply with its testing and disclosure obligations regarding the drug to be used in the executions. This will guarantee strict compliance with the current lethal-injection protocol and a related settlement.

Currently, there are 115 inmates on Arizona’s death row and approximately 20 have exhausted all appeals. Many of their crimes go back to the 1970s and early 80s. Arizona has not carried out an execution since 2014.

Next Steps

If the Arizona Supreme Court agrees to the AGO’s proposed schedule, the AGO will file execution warrants for Atwood and Dixon 16 days before the Court’s conference date. Atwood and Dixon will get 1 day to respond and the AGO will have the opportunity to respond, if necessary, within 6 days. If the Arizona Supreme Court grants the motions, the State has 35 days to carry out the executions.

Frank Atwood

Frank Atwood murdered 8-year-old Vicki Lynne Hoskinson in September 1984. Atwood had been convicted in California of lewd and lascivious acts and kidnapping, committed at separate times against two different children. In May 1984, he was paroled from the kidnapping sentence. Atwood came to Tucson in September 1984 in violation of his California parole. On September 17, 1984, Vicki Lynne was riding her bicycle home after mailing a birthday card to her aunt when Atwood kidnapped and killed her. Atwood left her body in the desert and fled to Texas, where he was later arrested. A hiker found Vicki’s body in the Tucson desert in April 1985.

Clarence Dixon

On January 7, 1978, 21-year-old Deana Bowdoin, an ASU student, was raped, strangled, and stabbed to death in her Tempe apartment. Police couldn’t find her killer and her case became cold. About 20 years later, a Tempe Police Detective re-opened the case and, with the technological advancement of DNA profiling, was able to identify a suspect. Clarence Dixon was already serving a life sentence in an Arizona prison for a 1986 sexual assault conviction. Dixon was indicted for Bowdoin’s murder in 2002. A jury found Dixon guilty and sentenced him to death.

Additional Background

In July 2019, General Brnovich urged Governor Ducey to resume executions.

In June 2020, the AGO reached a settlement regarding ADCRR’s lethal injection procedures. As part of the settlement, ADCRR modified its execution protocol and will leave microphones turned on in the execution chamber during executions. Additionally, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the identity of lethal injection drug suppliers will remain confidential and protected from harassment or retaliation from anti-death penalty activists.

In August 2020, General Brnovich sent a letter to the Governor to inform him the AGO found a lawful supplier of pentobarbital.

In October 2020, General Brnovich informed the Governor his office had also located a compounding pharmacist needed to prepare the pentobarbital for injection.

(source: prescottenews.com)

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

Is it not crazy to execute a mentally ill killer? Even if you believe in the death penalty, you shouldn't believe in this.

Executions have been on hold in Arizona since July 2014, when the state miscalculated whether a new combination of drugs for lethal injection would kill efficiently.

In 1992, Donald Harding, a triple murderer, became the 1st person executed in Arizona in 29 years. He convulsed his way to the next life during an 11-minute nightmare in the state’s gas chamber.

He was mentally ill.

I interviewed Harding shortly before his gruesome death and he told me, “Is murder the solution to murder? No. It’s not. But, me personally, I’m very tired. To be honest with you, dying here under those circumstances, languishing here and sort of rotting away in a cage is a fate worse than death.”

He sounds rational, doesn’t he?

But his well-documented pathology went all the way back to his childhood. Abuse. Suicide attempts. Etc.

When he was 11, Harding was sent to the Arkansas State Hospital, where a doctor wrote of him, “There seems little hope that we can give this boy what he needs, and without doubt, he is headed for serious trouble, which we can’t stop. It is amazing the degree of psychopathy contained in a boy of this young age.”

Let’s not, for now, discuss the pros and cons of having a death penalty. Let’s say, for now, it is the law, and the law should be enforced.

That was the argument made recently by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich in The Arizona Republic.

He wrote in part, “The victims and their loved ones have waited far too long for justice and some extended family members have passed away without the closure or resolution that they had sought and deserved.

“This is unacceptable.

“It is society’s responsibility to enforce our laws and respect court-ordered sentences. Jurors have done their civic duty and we must all do ours.”

There are other responsibilities, of course.

The most recent execution in Arizona took place in 2014, when Joseph Wood was injected 15 times with an experimental lethal drug cocktail and spent nearly 2 hours heaving and gasping before he died.

In enforcing the law we can’t sink to the level of the killers who broke it.

We must be better than that.

Clarence Dixon is case in point

There is a least one clearly mentally ill convict on Brnovich’s list of death row inmates he wants executed.

His name is Clarence Dixon.

His history of mental illness is long and unchallenged.

His lawyer, Dale Baich, said in a statement, “In light of Clarence Dixon’s severe mental illness and debilitating physical disabilities, including blindness, it would be unconscionable for the State of Arizona to execute him.”

The American Psychiatric Association and the American Bar Association, among others, have called for a ban on the death penalty for those with severe mental illness.

Not too long ago, the state of Ohio banned the death penalty for defendants who were severely mentally ill at the time of the offense. They’re locked up, just not killed.

Would such a thing apply to Dixon?

He has a long and ugly criminal past, and was sentenced to death for killing Arizona State University student Deana Bowdoin, only 21.

Just two days before Bowdoin was murdered Dixon was in court facing charges that he’d attacked another woman. The Superior Court judge hearing the case was eventual Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

She ruled Dixon “not guilty by reason of insanity.”

There was a failure to follow-up by the state and he simply was released from a state hospital.

We know Dixon’s mental state.

But is there not also something unhinged about a system that would execute him?

(source: Opinion; EJ Montini, Arizona Republic)

USA:

Revealed: Republican-led states secretly spending huge sums on execution drugs----Documents obtained by the Guardian show three states paying astronomical amounts to skirt – almost certainly illegally – a ban on pharmaceuticals for lethal injections

Republican-controlled states are spending astronomical sums of their taxpayers’ money to buy pharmaceutical drugs from illicit dealers in a desperate and almost certainly unlawful attempt to carry out lethal injection executions.

Documents obtained by the Guardian reveal the full extent of the spending blitz that American death penalty states have embarked upon as they try to restart executions delayed by the pandemic. The findings show that Republican leaders are not only willing to run roughshod over their own state and federal laws, but are also prepared to spend lavishly in the process.

The most jaw-dropping outlay has been made by Arizona, a state in which Republicans hold both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s mansion. A single-page heavily redacted document obtained by the Guardian records that last October the department of corrections ordered 1,000 vials of pentobarbital sodium salt, each containing 1g, to be shipped in “unmarked jars and boxes”.

At the bottom of the document, the record states: “Amount paid: $1,500,000.”

Arizona’s extraordinary $1.5m payment starkly illustrates the lengths to which the state is prepared to go to kill death row prisoners. Pentobarbital is a sedative that is used in Arizona executions, with 5 grams being injected into the inmate to induce a fatal overdose.

Arizona’s splurge on illicit execution drugs is all the more striking given that it was made in the middle of a pandemic when so many of its citizens were hurting. At the time the payment was made there were estimated to be almost 1 million Arizonans struggling with hunger, including more than 300,000 children.

It is a felony under Arizona and federal law to dispense pentobarbital without a valid prescription. Medical practitioners are not allowed to issue prescriptions for the drug for use in executions as taking the life of a prisoner serves no therapeutic or medical purpose.

The Guardian asked Arizona’s department of corrections to explain its costly and apparently unlawful purchase of pentobarbital. The department said that it does not discuss how it obtains execution drugs.

It also stressed that the information the Guardian was requesting was “statutorily confidential” – meaning that it is secret under court order. A spokesperson added: “Pentobarbital has been administered lawfully and successfully for many years”.

Other documents obtained by the Guardian relate to Tennessee and Missouri. In Tennessee, the department of corrections splashed out $190,000 from 2017 to 2020 to acquire midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride – the 3 drugs in its lethal injection protocol.

During that period, the state executed two prisoners – Billy Irick and Donnie Johnson – using those chemicals. That suggests a cost per execution of almost $100,000.

In Missouri, the prison service invested over $160,000 on lethal injection executions, the documents reveal. That expenditure was incurred between 2015 and 2020, when Missouri put to death 10 inmates, producing an average cost to taxpayers of $16,000 per execution.

These hefty sums are a far cry from how lethal injections were initially envisaged. The use of medical drugs to kill prisoners was pioneered in 1977 in Oklahoma where officials were convinced it would be both humane and cheap – they predicted it would cost only $10 per execution.

Neither aspiration has proven to be true. The supposed humanity of lethal injections has been belied by a series of botched procedures that have shocked the nation.

The last time that Arizona put to death an inmate was in 2014, when executioners took almost two hours to inject a gasping and groaning Joseph Wood 15 times while he was strapped to the gurney.

Behind the states’ extravagant spending is the blanket refusal of pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors to allow their products to be used in US executions. Medical drugs are made to save lives, they argue, not to end them.

As a result, death penalty states have been forced to enter into increasingly dubious – and often unlawful – deals with suppliers at home and abroad. In 2010, five American states illegally purchased execution drugs without federal Food and Drug Administration approval from Dream Pharma, a wholesaler operating out of a driving school in London.

> Since then, states have been pushing at legal boundaries in their scramble to evade the boycott of pharmaceutical supplies. “States have switched from one drug to another, crossed state lines to get drugs, paid cash and failed to record the payments to keep the purchases secret,” said Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham law school.

Denno added: “All of those actions are violations of state or federal laws, and all of them have ended up jacking up the price of the drugs.”

In recent years, 19 states as well as the federal government have moved to shroud their execution practices in secrecy – working especially hard to obscure the source of their lethal injection drugs. That too allows unscrupulous producers and dealers to hike up their prices.

“Any time a government retreats into secrecy you know there’s a problem. If you don’t have accountability then it opens the door to favoritism, to graft and to dealing with a lot of shady characters who don’t have the public’s interest in mind,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Prashant Yadav, a lecturer at Harvard medical school, said that prices were often marked up by 1,000% or more over the rate charged in regular pharmaceutical markets. “These drugs are being traded in a zone of unclear regulatory apparatus, and so they typically charge a higher price,” he said.

Another cause of inflated drug prices is the cost of legal disputes. Between 2018 and 2020, Nevada spent over $100,000 defending itself in a lawsuit brought by a pharmaceutical manufacturer who objected to its drugs being obtained fraudulently for use in executions.

Tennessee is hoping to put Pervis Payne to death shortly.

Such mishandling of public money is likely to feature in the current debate in the Nevada state assembly where lawmakers are considering abolishing the death penalty entirely. Even as the legislature debates its abolition bill, state authorities are pushing aggressively for the execution of death row inmate Zane Floyd.

The Guardian documents, which were obtained through public records requests, do not disclose where Arizona, Tennessee and Missouri were acquiring the lethal injection drugs at such extreme cost. We do know, however, how they intend to use the chemicals.

Arizona is pushing to restart executions after the seven-year hiatus that followed the botched execution of Wood. The state’s attorney general has filed notice that he intends to seek death warrants imminently for two inmates – Frank Atwood, who was sentenced to death for the 1984 murder of a girl despite inconsistencies in the evidence against him; and Clarence Dixon, who has a long history of mental illness including schizophrenia.

Tennessee is hoping to kill Pervis Payne. The inmate’s execution was postponed from December because of Covid until after 9 April when a new warrant can be introduced. Questions too have been raised about Payne’s possible innocence.

One of the paradoxes of the current scramble to acquire lethal injection drugs illicitly and at such high prices is that the efforts are exclusively being made by Republicans who frequently claim to be the party of fiscal conservatism and small government. Hannah Cox, national manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, said that the spending revealed by the Guardian was shocking.

“You can’t run around and say you are a fiscal conservative Republican, or that you are pro-limited government and for the free market, and then behave like this. It’s completely contradictory to every conservative value,” she said.

(source: The Guardian)

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Abolishing the death penalty must be part of reimagining safety

More than 10 years ago, a quiet movement largely populated by White activists was launched to abolish the death penalty by 2025. Like all abolitionist movements, it faced daunting odds. But it has been greatly aided by the efforts of Black intellectuals and litigators to place the death penalty squarely within our nation’s history of white supremacy, racial terror and social control.

Through Charles J. Ogletree Jr. and Austin Sarat’s book “From the Lynch Mob to the Killing State” and the leadership of Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative, the white sheets that hid lynching’s horrors have been torn away. Stevenson has called capital punishment lynching’s “stepchild” and noted that “the states with the highest lynching rates are the states with the highest execution rates.”

Or, as one exoneree noted: “They brought the tree from outside and put it inside.”

Until recently, the death penalty has enjoyed broad public support in the United States, which has allowed public officials to quietly spend millions every year to kill a very select number of people. But the logic, values and trade-offs implicit in decisions to prosecute capital cases and pursue executions are being increasingly questioned by a public grown wise to the reality behind “tough on crime” rhetoric.

With the death penalty in retreat, and a national conversation unfolding over how overpoliced communities can better provide for their own safety, long-term abolitionists have the opportunity to do more than end an egregious and racist policy that has no place in a civilized country. They can align with those pushing for “community justice” — a future in which cities’ budgets and politics are truly responsive to the community’s evolving health and safety priorities, not stuck in the punishment-first approach of the past. Arising from “different centers of energy,” the movement to abolish the death penalty and the movement for community justice have the potential to create, in the words of Robert F. Kennedy, “a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

It has become increasingly difficult to argue that capital punishment has anything to do with either public safety or even punishment for individual wrongdoing. A decade of research laid bare claims that the death penalty is reserved for “the worst of the worst.” Rather, most death sentences are meted out to the poorest of the poor, the sickest of the sick, the blackest of the Black, and to those with long histories of abuse, trauma and mental illness and who are represented by incompetent, overworked and under-resourced counsel. We now know that fewer than 16 counties — or roughly one half of 1 percent — return five or more death sentences per year. These “death penalty counties” share at least three systemic deficiencies: a history of overzealous prosecutions, inadequate defense lawyering, and a pattern of racial bias and exclusion throughout the justice system.

How do we best allocate resources to truly keep everyone as healthy and safe as possible? When viewed from this perspective, an alliance between activists of color advancing community justice and death penalty abolitionists — whose ranks are often whiter — becomes almost inevitable. Capital punishment is more than a visceral and tragic indication of which lives matter in our society. It vividly and powerfully illustrates how scarce public resources and attention are misdirected to support “the machinery of death” instead of policies that will actually promote well-being.

Similar currents flow through neighborhoods organizing for community justice. Families for Justice as Healing surveyed the highest incarceration communities in Boston. The resulting People’s Budget differed significantly from the official one unveiled by the mayor. It prioritized safe and affordable housing, healing and treatment centers, community-led violence and gun-prevention programs, public education, parks, community centers and city infrastructure. That same gap is prominent in the movement to transform the criminal legal system. A nationwide survey by the Alliance for Safety and Justice of more than 800 victims of crime found that 60 percent “would prefer a system that dealt shorter prison sentences and invested more resources in prevention and rehabilitation programs," as the Urban Institute said. “This is true even among survivors of serious violent crime.”

After laying the groundwork to dismantle segregated schools, Charles Hamilton Houston, known as the lawyer who killed Jim Crow, recognized that other challenges remained. He insisted that “all of our struggles must tie in together and support one another.”

Today, we are poised to heed Houston’s insight. Death penalty abolitionists can join proponents of community justice in mobilizing White allies to advance what Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, has called an “an economy of care,” in which investments in housing, education, jobs, violence prevention, health care and civic engagement take priority over policing, prisons and prosecutions. Such a potent alliance has the opportunity to propel policymakers to think beyond tinkering with an inhumane social order. By advancing a genuine redesign of public policy and resource allocation, they can ensure that “We the People” includes all of us.

(source: Opinion by Johanna Wald and David J. Harris; David J. Harris is managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. Johanna Wald was director of strategic planning at the Houston Institute from 2006 to 2018. She is now an independent consultant for several organizations, including the institute----Washington Post)

CHINA:

China hands death sentences to Uyghur former officials----2 who led Xinjiang education department get suspended penalty for publishing school textbooks

A Chinese court has issued a suspended death sentence to the former directors of the Xinjiang education department for charges including writing and publishing school textbooks it said were designed to “split the country”.

Sattar Sawut and his deputy, Shirzat Bawudun, were given death sentences with a two-year reprieve, while five other Uyghur men, including editors, were given lengthy jail terms, according to state media.

The date of the convictions and sentences are unknown but were revealed in a state media film released in the last week, amid a PR offensive by the Chinese government pushing back on international criticism of its abuses in the Xinjiang region.

In the Chinese judicial system, a death sentence with reprieve can be commuted to 25 years, or life in prison, pending good behaviour.

Sattar was accused of building a team and planning with his deputy to incorporate “bloody, violent, terrorist and separatist ideas” in primary and secondary school textbooks dating back 13 years, the state news agency Xinhua said.

The books in question date back as far as 2003, but in 2016 the content was deemed by Xinjiang authorities to be “separatist” in nature and inciting ethnic hatred.

The son of Yalqun Rozi, one of the editors sentenced, and who was first arrested in 2016, said the charges were “absurd”.

“These textbooks were sanctioned by the state,” Kamaltürk Yalqun told the Associated Press. “China is trying to erase history and write a new narrative.”

The court has not published its ruling or other documents, and state media did not detail what problems it saw in the texts. A People’s Daily article on Wednesday said a total of 84 texts in a 2003 and a 2009 edition in ethnic languages had been found to have influenced several named individuals to take part in the 2009 Urumqi riots, and a 2014 bombing at the Urumqi railway station.

The People’s Daily report said: “By changing and distorting history, [Sattar and his co-accused] tried to instil separatist ideas into students, increase national hatred and achieve the purpose of splitting the motherland.”

South China Morning Post cited the CGTN film to describe some sections and images in the textbook that referred to a 1940s chapter of Xinjiang history and the short-lived East Turkestan Republic government, or that depicted clashes between Uyghur fighters and Han-looking soldiers during the same period.

Yalqun told the AP the passages were about historical tales that had nothing to do with terrorism, and the prosecutions were aimed at cultural destruction and assimilation.

“Because these textbooks are rich in Uyghur culture, China targeted them,” Yalqun said. “They’re moving toward the direction of eliminating Uyghur language education and culture altogether.”

Sattar, who was also convicted of offences related to bribery allegations, was deprived of political rights for life, and had his property confiscated.

The prosecution comes amid a deepening crackdown on Uyghur and other ethnic minority Muslims in the Xinjiang region. More than 1 million people are believed to have been interned in reeducation camps, and there is evidence of authorities running enforce labour transfer programmes, as well as systemic rape and torture, forced sterilisation of women, child separation and mass surveillance and intimidation. Leading Uyghur academics and other public figures have been arrested.

The US government and some law groups have declared the actions of the Chinese government against the group to be a genocide.

As international outrage mounts and becomes increasingly coordinated in the implementation of sanctions and other measures against the perpetrators, Beijing has ratcheted up its denials of mistreatment and abuses, launching multi-platform PR campaigns ranging from choreographed press conferences in foreign countries to a domestically released musical depicting a wonderful life in Xinjiang.

Chinese diplomats have engaged in hostile communications online and with foreign counterparts, and individually targeted and smeared Uyghur women who have spoken publicly about their ordeals.

(source: The Guardian)

INDIA:

Man gets death penalty for killing pregnant wife

Mahila Sessions Court Judge G. Prathibha Devi awarded the death penalty to Bathula Nambiar alias Sujith, who killed his wife, Sailaja (29) by setting her ablaze.

The incident occurred in Krishnalanka in June, 2019. Sailaja, a school teacher, was 6 months pregnant.

According to the police, Sujith, native of Jonnapadu in Gudivada mandal in Krishna district, married Sailaja of Koduru mandal in December 2018. The couple was staying at Fakirugudem. Sujith was working as lecturer in a college in Gudivada.

The accused started harassing his wife for additional dowry. On June 15, 2019, Sujith doused her with petrol and set her ablaze when she was asleep.

Neighbours who rushed to the spot, shifted the pregnant woman to hospital, where she said that her husband was harassing for dowry and set her ablaze. She died after some time.

Following a complaint lodged by Sailaja’s father, the Krishnalanka police arrested the accused. The judge after examining 18 witnesses in the case awarded capital punishment to the accused.

(source: The Hindu)

TAIWAN:

Taiwan's 'transitional justice' president pressed to acknowledge death row inmate tortured into confession----President Tsai's silence is deafening, say allies of Taiwan's longest-serving death row inmate 1 year after petitioning for pardon

Human rights advocates on Wednesday (April 7) demanded an explanation from President Tsai Ing-wen for her refusal to comment on a petition to pardon Taiwan's longest-serving death row inmate, Chiou Ho-shun, who was tortured into confessing to murder 33 years ago.

A brief march terminating outside the Presidential Office Building at 2 p.m. marked the anniversary of the petition, which was signed by 327 people from a variety of backgrounds, including members of 60 NGOs active in the country. To date, over 100,000 signatures worldwide have been collected.

Those present Wednesday included representatives of Amnesty International, the Judicial Reform Foundation, the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, and the Taiwan Innocence Project. Demonstrators also held signs publicizing an exhibition presenting the story of Chiou's case: Haiwang Tianguang - Chiou Ho-Shun's 32 Forgotten Years, which will open in Taichung Friday (April 9) and run through May 8.

In 1988, a suspect arrested in connection with the disappearance of a 9-year-old boy gave police the names of Chiou and 10 others, all of whom initially proclaimed their innocence. Within days, however, all had admitted to not only the boy's murder but also to the unsolved killing and dismemberment of a woman.

The police continued their interrogation of the suspects until they had secured no less than 288 confessions, which the court accepted as evidence, ultimately forming the basis for Chiou's death sentence the following year.

Chiou later recanted his confessions, which he said had been extracted after numerous, prolonged periods of torture. The sessions, some of which were recorded, included drownings, beatings, solitary confinement, and electrocution of the genitals.

This was acknowledged in court in the 1994 conviction of 2 officers involved in the abuse. To this day, no physical evidence has been submitted to connect the accused with the murders.

President Tsai's continued silence is deafening, Chiou's supporters said Wednesday. Independent Legislator Freddy Lim remarked, "These past several years, Taiwanese are all very proud of the progress made on human rights, but I believe Chiou Ho-shun's case is Taiwan's greatest stain."

TAEDP Executive Director Lin Hsin-yi told Taiwan News: "It's a political issue. It's very difficult for the president to make a decision — we know that. But at least, she needs to give us a response because this is her duty." She said while Tsai often talks about listening to others, she has not once mentioned Chiou's case to his allies since they filed the petition.

"So this is what we want: to at least tell us why she cannot make a decision. Tell us why. What cannot convince her... We have a lot of evidence, but we don't know she's read the case, understands the case, or thinks about the case," she said, adding that they had tried numerous approaches to no avail — international, judicial, and social.

Asked if he is aware of pressure within Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party to pardon Chiou, Chiou's attorney Yu Po-hsiang said that because of Tsai's clout in the party, such a push will not come from within. "I believe for her to make such a decision, the important thing is whether she can receive applause for doing so," he stated.

Whether or not Tsai responds, she is Chiou's last hope, as he exhausted the last of his appeals in 2011. In addition, the 61-year-old is now being treated for heart trouble, and supporters fear this could spell the end for him even before he is put to death, which in Taiwan could happen at any time.

The Asian Human Rights Court Simulation (AHRCS) in 2019 organized a mock trial for Chiou, with judges, lawyers, and other legal experts from around the continent coming to participate. At the conclusion of the proceedings, the AHRCS ruled that Chiou "has been and remains a victim of the violation of his [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] rights" and determined that Taiwan had violated Articles 7 and 14 of this treaty.

Taiwan ratified the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) in 2009.

Thomas Wang, the U.S.-trained criminal defense attorney who represented Chiou in the simulation, told Taiwan News last year that he does believe any judge involved in Chiou's initial trial and subsequent appeals views the forced confessions the sentence hinges on as valid.

The country's judicial system has simply chosen to save face over saving an innocent life, Wang believes. "We all have our own internal biases, and in this case, to me, the biases got the better of good judgment: inconsistencies, torture, and just fundamentally flawed police investigation."

(source: Taiwan News)

INDONESIA:

Pakistani among 13 sentenced to death in Indonesia in drug case

Indonesia has handed death sentences to a gang of more than a dozen drug traffickers, including a Pakistan-national man, the prosecutor’s office said.

A total of 13 suspects — 3 Iranians, a Pakistani, and 9 Indonesians — were ordered to be executed by firing squad for the gang’s role in smuggling about 400 kilograms of methamphetamine, according to authorities.

The ruling was delivered by video link in West Java’s Sukabumi city, where members of the ring were caught last June, due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Iranian Hossein Salari Rashid led the smuggling plot, said Bambang Yunianto, head of the Sukabumi prosecutor’s office.

“There are four foreigners in the group with (Rashid) the mastermind of the crime. He was sentenced together with his wife,” Yunianto said.

Tuesday’s ruling was a record for the number of drug traffickers sentenced to death at one time in Indonesia, Amnesty International said.

It brought to 30 the number of people given the death penalty in the Southeast Asian nation this year, including several foreigners, the rights group said. Most were drug trafficking cases, it added.

Indonesia has some of the world’s toughest anti-drug laws, but it has held off conducting executions for several years.

In 2019, a French drug trafficker briefly on death row saw his sentence reduced to a long prison term on appeal.

A year earlier, 8 Taiwanese smugglers were sentenced to death by an Indonesian court after being caught with around a ton of crystal methamphetamine.

Several foreign traffickers have been executed by firing squad, including Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in 2015, a case that sparked diplomatic outrage and a call to abolish the death penalty.

(source: Pakistan Today)

IRAN----executions

Prisoner Hojat Ghaed Executed in Zanjan, Iran

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

According to Iran Human Rights, a man was executed in Zanjan Central Prison in the early hours of April 15. Sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for murder, his identity has been established as 36 year-old Zanjan native, Hojat Ghaed.

An informed source told IHR: “Hojat had been in prison for about 4 years. He was arrested for the murder of a relative following a verbal altercation over financial disputes.”

The source also spoke about conditions at the prison: “In Zanjan Prison, 11 prisoners contracted COVID-19 and were sent to the prison infirmary, but the infirmary has no facilities. So, some prisoners asked their families to request furloughs so they may be treated outside of prison. But the authorities refused and said that they would take care of them in prison.”

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

According to Iran Human Rights’ Annual Report on the Death Penalty, at least 211 of the 267 people executed in 2020 were sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for "premeditated murder."

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

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Prisoner Safar Rahimi Executed in Taybad Prison, Iran

A prisoner sentenced to death on drug-related charges has been executed in Taybad Prison.

According to Iran Human Rights, a man was executed in Taybad Prison in the early hours of this morning, April 8. His identity has been established as 39 year-old Safar Rahimi and he was sentenced to death on drug-related charges.

An informed source told IHR: “Safar Rahimi’s charges were 109 kilograms of methamphetamine and he had his last visit with his family yesterday.”

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

It has been almost 4 years since an Article was added to the Anti-Narcotics Law in 2017 to limit death sentences specifically and provide a general degree of reprieve in some cases. However, while the numbers reduced that year, the death penalty is still being used in drug-related cases.

According to Iran Human Rights’ Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran, at least 25 people were executed on drug-related charges in 2020.

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Baluch Prisoner Yasser Daryayi-Narouyi Executed in Khorasan

Baluch prisoner Yasser Daryayi-Narouyi, on death row on drug-related charges, has been executed in Sabzevar Prison.

According to the Baluch Activists Campaign, Zahedan native, Yasser Daryayi-Narouyi was executed in Sabzevar Prison in the early hours of April 7. The Baluch prisoner had been sentenced to death on drug-related charges.

According to the report, Yasser was arrested on charges of carrying drugs a year and a half ago in Bardaskan province and sentenced to death.

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

It has been almost 4 years since an Article was added to the Anti-Narcotics Law in 2017 to limit death sentences specifically and provide a general degree of reprieve in some cases. However, while the numbers reduced that year, the death penalty is still being used in drug-related cases.

According to Iran Human Rights’ Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran, at least 25 people were executed on drug-related charges in 2020.

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Prisoner Bayazid Rashidi Transferred for Execution in Urmia

At least 1 prisoner on death row for drug-related charges, has been transferred to solitary confinement in preparation for their execution in Urmia Central Prison.

According to Iran Human Rights, at least 1 man was transferred to solitary confinement in preparation for his execution at Urmia Central Prison. His identity has been established as Kolhar village native, Bayazid Rashidi, who was sentenced to death on drug-related charges.

The number of prisoners transferred for execution is likely to increase. On Sunday, April 4, Sadegh Mohi, Mohammad Mahmoudi and Ahad Nematvand were executed in Urmia Central Prison on drug-related charges.

It has been almost 4 years since an Article was added to the Anti-Narcotics Law in 2017 to limit death sentences specifically and provide a general degree of reprieve in some cases. However, while the numbers reduced that year, the death penalty is still being used in drug-related cases.

According to Iran Human Rights’ Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran, at least 25 people were executed on drug-related charges in 2020.

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Concerns for Imprisoned Whistleblower Farhad Salmanpour

Farhad Salmanpour Zoheir, a civil activist and whistleblower currently held at the 2nd Brigade of the Greater Tehran Penitentiary (Fashafuyeh), has been denied medical care despite several injuries and is kept with prisoners convicted of violent crimes without regard for the principle of the separation of crimes.

His lawyer, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi told Iran Human Rights that the prison prosecutor had not responded to any of his or Farhad’s family’s requests for a medical furlough.

Farhad Salmanpour Zoheir is a whistleblower and former Office of the President employee who was arrested by security forces on 21 August 2019. According to reports, he has been under duress to confess to his connection with Ruhollah Zam, the late director of AmadNews Telegram channel, who was executed on 12 December 2020.

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Speaking to IHR, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi said: "According to my client’s radiology images, one of his spinal vertebra is cracked and another vertebra is bruised and he must be admitted to a specialist hospital ward for treatment.”

According to Mr Aghasi, despite multiple outside doctors booking appointments for Farhad to be treated, he has thus far been denied access to medical treatment.

Farhad Salmanpour Zoheir was sent to Loghman Hakim Hospital in Tehran in late November 2020 due to another fracture to his spine and while he was in excruciating pain, but was returned to prison without receiving treatment.

Other than his spinal cord injury, he also suffers from a lung and neck injury which were caused when he was subjected to numerous forms of torture.

Farhad has been attacked by non-political prisoners on at least 1 occasion which damaged his spinal cord. He had previously stated that several prisoners had been commissioned by prison authorities to harass him.

His lawyer explains, “As far as I know, Farhad was thrown from the top of a triple bunk bed by another prisoner and according to my client, the prisoner had been commissioned to do so.”

According to Mr Aghasi, his client had filed a complaint against the assailant but no action was taken and the case was ultimately closed.

The principle of the separation of crimes according to legal standards dictates that prisoners be separated according to their crimes. However, judiciary officials routinely breach the principle as a means of putting pressure on political prisoners.

“Fashafuyeh Prison was established to house ordinary prisoners, but in some cases political prisoners have been transferred to Fashafuyeh as punishment or where other prions have been full,” the lawyer explains.

Farhad Salmanpour Zoheir worked at the Office of President under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and was arrested on the street without an arrest warrant by Ministry of Intelligence forces on 21 August 2019. He was taken to the Ministry’s Ward 209 in Evin Prison, where he was kept in solitary confinement for 45 days.

Around 2 months later, IHR sources reported that Farhad was subjected to the most severe torture in order to obtain a forced confession about his connection to Ruhollah Zam, the dissident director of AmadNews Telegram channel. It was even reported that at one point, Farhad was brought face to face with Ruhollah Zam.

Farhad was arrested and imprisoned by security forces several times over the years. In early November 2019, his trial was held at Branch 28 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, presided over by Judge Iman Afshari. His charges included: “assembly and collusion against national security, propaganda activities against the system through cyberspace activities, publishing classified information and documents, collaborating with counter-revolutionary elements and foreign dissident websites, and networks and insulting the leadership and insulting Ruhollah Khomeini.” He is still awaiting a judgement in his case.

Having helped political prisoner Saeed Malekpour escape the country, leaked information about Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi’s $150 million fraud during Ahmadinejad’s presidency and published documents about the smuggling of drugs by elements of the Islamic Republic, will also be held against him by judiciary officials.

Farhad is one of the recent wave of political prisoners to have been “prison exiled” as a means of exerting more pressure on them.

Located 32 km south of Tehran and originally built in 2012 to house prisoners convicted of drug-related charges, in rencent years other prisoners have been sent to the Greater Tehran Penitentiary to deal with overcrowding in other prisons and as a method of additional punishment. According to published reports, the prison lacks basic medical facilities and services.

(source for all: iranhr.net)

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