"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Bangladesh ex-MP sentenced to death over 1971 war crimes

A special tribunal dealing with war crimes committed during Bangladesh's independence war against Pakistan in 1971 sentenced a former lawmaker to death
August 10, 2016: A special tribunal dealing with war crimes committed during Bangladesh's independence war against Pakistan in 1971 sentenced a former lawmaker to death and seven others to life in prison for murder and other crimes.

The tribunal sentenced Sakhawat Hossain, a former parliament member belonging to the Jamaat-e-Islami party, to death on August 10. 

He and one of the other defendants were present in the court. 

The six others were tried in absentia.

Hossain was a central committee member of Islami Chhatra Sangha, the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami party at the time, and was accused of acting as a local commander of a group that aided Pakistani soldiers. 

He left Jamaat-e-Islami and joined the Bangladesh Nationalist Party headed by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. 

At the time of the court case he was involved with Jatiya Party headed by former military dictator H. M. Ershad.

His lawyers said they will appeal. 

Sources: AP, August 10, 2016

⚑ | Report an error, an omission; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; send a submission; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

UN rights expert expresses outrage over execution of 12 people in Iran

Public execution in Iran (file photo)
NCRI - 29 August 2016- Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran Ahmed Shaheed (1), who had earlier this year noted that 'the overall situation has worsened' with respect to human rights," today condemned Iran’s ‘illegal’ execution of 12 people on drug-related charges, following is the press release which was published today by The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

UN rights expert condemns Iran’s ‘illegal’ execution of 12 people on drug-related charges

GENEVA (29 August 2016) – The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, has expressed outrage at the execution on 27 August of 12 people, including Alireza Madadpour, on drug-related charges. 

Mr. Shaheed had appealed publicly on 26 August to the Iranian authorities not to go ahead with the planned executions at Karaj Central Prison.

“The execution of individuals for drug-related offences is simply illegal,” Mr. Shaheed said, noting that international law only allows the imposition of the death penalty for the “most serious crimes”, where there is intentional killing, and after a fair trial that respects the most stringent due process guarantees. None of these conditions were respected, at least in the case of Mr. Madadpour.

“Combating drug trafficking, a serious concern in Iran, does not justify the use of the death penalty in drug-related cases,” the Special Rapporteur stressed.

“The execution of Mr. Madadpour and 11 others shows the Iranian authorities’ complete disregard of its obligations under international human rights law and especially of international fair trial standards and due process guarantees,” Mr. Shaheed added.

The UN expert renewed his call on the Government of Iran to end all executions and to immediately institute a moratorium on the death penalty.

(1) Ahmed Shaheed (the Maldives) is a Visiting Professor at Essex University, UK; a former member of the Maldivian presidential Commission Investigating Corruption; and a foreign policy advisor to the President of the Maldives. Mr. Shaheed was Foreign Minister of the Maldives from 2005 to 2007 and from 2008 to 2010. He led the country’s efforts to sign and ratify all nine international human rights Conventions and to implement them in law and practice. He was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran in June 2011 by the UN Human Rights Council.

Source: NCRI, August 29, 2016

Documentation: Pictures of the 12 Prisoners Executed On August 27


IRAN HUMAN RIGHTS (AUG 30 2016): Iran Human Rights (IHR) reported on the execution of 12 prisoners for drug offences in Karaj Central Prison on Saturday August 27.

These executions haven't been announced by the authorities.

A local source in Iran has provided Iran Human Rights with photos of the bodies (Warning: Graphic Content) of these prisoners after they were hanged to death.

The photos were reportedly taken before the bodies of the prisoners were returned to their families.

Sign of the rope is evident on the neck of the prisoners.


Pictures of the bodies of the 12 Prisoners Executed On August 27, 2016
Pictures of the bodies of the 12 Prisoners
Executed On August 27, 2016

Between 50 to 60% of the executions reported by IHR have not been announced by the authorities and are confirmed by its own sources in Iran.

Source: Iran Human Rights, August 30, 2016

⚑ | Report an error, an omission; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; send a submission; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

Turkey: Erdogan Renews Call for the Death Penalty

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his support for the death penalty, saying its reinstatement would fulfill the wishes of the Turkish majority.

At a rally Sunday in the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep, Erdogan told hundreds of people his remarks were also directed at members of the Turkish parliament.

"I am now conveying your request once again," Erdogan said of the death penalty. "They should assess this issue and make a decision. I would approve that decision."

Erdogan, who traveled to Gaziantep to express condolences to the families of the 54 people who were killed last weekend at a Kurdish wedding, has pushed to reinstate the death penalty in the wake of last month's failed coup against him.

Erdogan's calls for its reinstatement have become more frequent since the July 15 coup attempt as he carries out a massive purge of those suspected of taking part it in it.

The purge has mostly targeted members of the military, police and intelligence services, journalists, and academics belonging to the outlawed movement headed by cleric Fethullah Gulen, a U.S. resident. Tens of thousands have been arrested or suspended from their jobs.

Amnesty International has urged Erdogan to exercise restraint as he pushes to legalize executions in the country for the first time since 2004. The human rights group has said it is “alarmed” by his calls for capitol punishment, which the group sees as a clear suggestion that the death penalty would be used to punish those responsible for the coup attempt.

More than 200 people were killed in the failed coup, some of them by mutinying soldiers who fired at civilians taking to the streets to stop the coup.

Source: VOA, August 28, 2016

⚑ | Report an error, an omission; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; send a submission; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

North Korea publicly executes two officials: South Korean newspaper

A good laugh: North Korea leader Kim Jong Un
A good laugh: North Korea leader Kim Jong Un
North Korea publicly executed two officials in early August for disobeying leader Kim Jong Un, a South Korean newspaper reported on Tuesday, in what would be the latest in a series of high-level purges under the young leader's rule, if confirmed.

Kim took power in 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, and his consolidation of power has included purges and executions of top officials, South Korean officials have said.

Citing an unidentified source familiar with the North, the JoongAng Ilbo daily said former agriculture minister Hwang Min and Ri Yong Jin, a senior official at the education ministry, had been executed.

The report could not be independently verified, and South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles North Korea-related matters, did not have immediate comment.

Some previous media reports of executions and purges in the reclusive state later proved inaccurate.

The report of the executions comes soon after the South said North Korea's deputy ambassador in London had defected and arrived in the South with his family, dealing an embarrassing blow to Kim's regime.

North Korea rarely announces purges or executions, although state media confirmed execution of Kim's uncle and the man widely considered the second most powerful man in the country, Jang Song Thaek, in 2012 for factionalism and crimes damaging to the economy.

A former defense minister, Hyun Yong Chol, is also believed to have been executed last year for treason, according to the South's spy agency.

The JoongAng Ilbo said the two men were executed by anti-aircraft gun at a military academy in Pyongyang.

North Korean state media described Hwang, one of the officials named, as agriculture minister in 2012, and referred to him as a vice minister of agriculture in 2014.

Hwang was killed because his policy proposals were seen as a challenge to Kim Jong Un, JoongAng Ilbo said. Ri was caught nodding off during a meeting with Kim and later investigated for corruption and showing disrespect to the leader, it added.

Source: Reuters, August 29, 2016

⚑ | Report an error, an omission; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; send a submission; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Iran regime mass executes 30 prisoners in 3 days

The mullahs' regime has stepped up a spate of mass executions in recent days, hanging at least 18 people last Thursday alone.

On Thursday, August 25, 7 prisoners, including a woman, were executed en masse in the Central Prison of Yazd, central Iran.

The state-run Rokna news agency claimed that 5 of the victims were accused of drugs-related charges.

Separately on Thursday, the regime mass executed 11 prisoners in the Central Prison of Zahedan, south-east Iran. One of the victims was identified as Hamzeh Rigi.

On Saturday, August 27, despite international calls for a halt to the executions, 12 prisoners were hanged in the Central Prison of Karaj. 

These prisoners had been transferred to solitary cells on August 24 to prepare them for implementation of the death sentence.

Commenting on the recent spate of mass executions in Iran, on Monday Shahin Gobadi of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) said: "As the regime plunges further into domestic and regional isolation, it resorts to more executions en masse and suppression, but the reality is the regime is at a total strategic impasse, and these barbaric measures only indicate its utter desperation."

The Iranian Resistance has called on all international human rights organizations to take urgent action to stop the brutal death penalty in Iran under the mullahs' rule.

Source: NCR-Iran, August 29, 2016

⚑ | Report an error, an omission; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; send a submission; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Racial bias found in Texas death penalty cases, Harvard Law School study says

Texas death chamber
Texas death chamber
Harris County was named 1 of 16 'outlier' counties in the US, where 5 or more death sentences were assessed between 2010 and 2015

A Harvard Law School study has found that racial bias, overly aggressive prosecutions and inadequate representation for poor defendants affect death penalty cases in Harris County, Texas. Juries in the county, which includes Houston, have imposed the death penalty more than any other county in the US since its reinstatement in 1976.

The Fair Punishment Project also notes that the number of death sentences handed down in Harris County has fallen to 10 since 2010, from 53 between 1998 and 2003.

Harris County was named 1 of 16 "outlier" counties in the US, where 5 or more death sentences were assessed in between 2010 and 2015. In the 8 counties examined by the study, 41% of the death sentences were given to black defendants and 69% to minorities overall. In Harris County, all defendants condemned since 2004 were from racial minority groups.

"When you look at what the death penalty actually looks like on the ground in Harris County, you see things that should disturb you," Rob Smith, one of the researchers on the project, told the Houston Chronicle.

"There's a pattern of overzealous prosecution that dates back for decades but is still present in the time period for the study, and is matched by under-zealous [defense] representation in cases."

Harris County district attorney Devon Anderson said her office was judicious in its use of the death penalty.

"When we seek death, it's because we have a solid guilt/innocence case and a very strong punishment case," she said. "The death penalty is only appropriate for the worst of the worst."

Anderson said she did not know the race of a defendant or victim whenever she and 4 top staff members met to discuss whether to seek the death penalty.

"I think it's very important that it be 'blind' in that regard," she said.

Juries across the country are proving to be increasingly reluctant to sentence defendants to death, the Harvard report said, choosing instead the option of life imprisonment without parole.

The last Harris County trial in which prosecutors sought the death penalty ended in November: 28-year-old Jonathan Sanchez was given life without parole. The last Harris County jury to assess a death sentence did so in 2014, when Harlem Lewis was sent to death row for the killings of Bellaire police officer Jimmie Norman and "good samaritan" Terry Taylor.

The Harris County district attorney's office is currently seeking the death penalty in 2 cases. Ronald Haskell, who is white, is accused of killing 2 adults and 4 children from his ex-wife's family in spring 2014. David Ray Conley, who is black, is accused of killing his ex-girlfriend, her husband and 6 children, including his son, last year.

Source: The Guardian, August 28, 2016

Study: Harris County death penalty cases plagued by bias


A Harvard Law School study reports that racial bias, over-aggressive prosecutions and poor representation for indigent defendants plagues the handling of death-penalty cases in the Southeast Texas county where Houston is situated.

The report by the school's Fair Punishment Project names Harris County as one of 16 "outlier" U.S. counties where 5 or more death sentences were assessed in 2010-15.

Harris County juries have imposed death penalties on more defendants than in any other county since the 1976 reinstatement of the death penalty. The number of death sentences has fallen from 53 in 1998 through 2003 to 10 since 2010. However, all condemned since 2004 are from minorities.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson told the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/2brIHX6) her office is judicious in its use of the death penalty.

Source: Associated Press, August 28, 2016

⚑ | Report an error, an omission; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; send a submission; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

Pakistan's death row: Where even angels fear to tread

Gallows
Last week, the Supreme Court of Pakistan set a date for the final appeal hearing for Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death in 2010 on accusations of alleged blasphemy. The 51-year-old Christian convict and mother of 5 will have her final appeal heard before the court during the 2nd week in October.

Bibi initially appealed against her death sentence to the Lahore High Court, which in October 2014, upheld the verdict. The Supreme Court agreed last July to hear Bibi's case and stayed her death sentence.

One of the most controversial blasphemy cases to-date, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated for standing with Bibi; Minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was gunned down by terrorists and Taseer's assassin Mumtaz Qadri was given death in February 2016.

It all began over Bibi sharing a bowl of water with a Muslim woman in June 2009 in the town of Sheikhupura in the Punjab province. As the women were picking berries, a Muslim woman became furious when Bibi drank from the same bowl that the Muslim women drank out of, which lead to a heated debate.

Becoming prey to decades-old bias and prejudice against religious minorities, Bibi paid the price for standing her ground and asking for equality. She was accused of blasphemy, which she has repeatedly said she never committed.

Bibi, who has been in the jail for 6 years now, has a deteriorating health and the Christian rights groups in Pakistan have been reporting how she needs special medical care as she has had lung infection and has trouble walking too. The reports from these groups suggest that she is suffering from "Death Row Syndrome" and is under mental trauma.

A lot has changed even outside Bibi's jail cell. Pakistan, which had a moratorium on death penalty, has executed over 400 people since resuming hangings in December 2014 after the Army Public School attacks, according to an international human rights organisation, Reprieve.

What started out to execute terrorists is now a penalty on non-terrorists too. Pakistan has become one of the world's most prolific executioners since lifting a moratorium on hangings, which had been in place for several years. According to publicly available data analysed by Reprieve, June saw 4 hangings, bringing the total since December 2014 to 404 - though the figure could be higher as not all executions in the country are reported. 86 of those hangings have taken place in 2016, which means that Pakistan likely holds its position in the world's top 5 executioners for the year so far behind China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, but ahead of the US.

Pakistan has seen a number of controversial death penalty cases recently. Abdul Basit, a paralysed prisoner who needs to use a wheelchair, continues to be held under sentence of death despite concerns that there is no way to execute him that would not carry a high risk of prolonged suffering. He recently told his lawyers that, during a previous attempt to hang him, the prison authorities had built a slope or ramp up to the gallows to take him to be hanged in his wheelchair.

Also facing potential imminent execution is Muhammad Anwar, despite his having been arrested as a child. His case is currently before the Supreme Court, as both Pakistani and international law prohibit the execution of people arrested for alleged offences that took place when they were under-18.

The Justice Project Pakistan in its report explains how the country has one of the largest death row populations in the world. This is partly because there are over 20 offences for which a person may receive death penalty, including non-lethal crimes such as blasphemy, kidnapping, and drug offences. There are around 7,595 prisoners on death row, hanging being only legal means of execution in the country.

A blasphemy convict has never been hanged by the state. Will the Supreme Court of Pakistan uphold Bibi's sentence? Or will President Mamnoon Hussain hear her clemency appeal and pardon her?

Source: newindianexpress.com, August 28, 2016

⚑ | Report an error, an omission; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; send a submission; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

Illegal drugs are flowing into California's most guarded prisons — and killing death row inmates

San Quentin Death Row
San Quentin Death Row
Condemned murderer Michael Jones was acting strangely and profusely sweating when guards escorted him in chains to the San Quentin medical unit that doubles as the psych ward on death row.

“Doggone, I don’t think you’re ever going to see me again,” he told a fellow inmate, Clifton Perry.

Hours later, Jones was dead.

Toxicology tests later found that he had toxic levels of methamphetamines in his blood.

The condemned inmates on California's death row are among the most closely monitored in the state. Death row’s 747 inmates spend most of their time locked down, isolated from the rest of the prison system under heavy guard with regular strip searches and checks every half-hour for signs of life.

Still, six death row inmates died between 2010 and 2015 with detectable levels of methamphetamines, heroin metabolites or other drugs in their system, according to Marin County coroner records.

Three of them had toxic levels of drugs, including one in whose intestines were found five snipped fingers of a latex glove, each packed with methamphetamine or marijuana. He had overdosed when they burst. A 70-year-old man among the three died of acute methamphetamine toxicity. He left a stash of marijuana in his cell.

State psychological reports and court files document at least eight non-fatal drug overdoses that required death row inmates to be hospitalized during this period.

Jones' death was reported as a suicide. In the psych ward, he attempted to strangle himself with an electrical cord. He was cut free by officers but died 10 minutes later. The coroner's report showed that Jones bore signs of chronic drug abuse.

State corrections officials declined to discuss the case or provide data on drugs found on death row — at first citing that investigation and then citing a wrongful death claim filed by Jones’ family. The department provided a statement saying the prison has thwarted past attempts by visitors to bring drugs into San Quentin.

“Drugs have considerable value inside prison and so some inmates have a very strong incentive to procure them," the statement said. "Regardless of the security level of the inmate, the presence of any contraband items is concerning to us.”

The overdoses on death row mirror the larger problem with drugs in California’s prison system as a whole. From 2010 to 2015, 109 inmates died of overdoses, according to state figures.

California's prison drug trade is notoriously robust. The drug-related death rate in California prisons — 18 deaths per 100,000 inmates in 2013 — is seven times higher than prisons in the rest of the country, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and the state prison medical office.

Reports to the Legislature show that as many as 80% of inmates in some cell blocks tested positive for illegal substances in 2013.

By law, all condemned men are imprisoned at San Quentin, and by policy they are isolated from the rest of the population. The majority live on East Block, a long, granite structure that contains more than 500 cells stacked in tiers five high. The prisoners live in single cells and spend almost all of their time alone. Every half-hour, a guard walks by to check that the man inside is alive — a court-ordered protection against suicide. The doors are grated, so it is difficult to slip a sheet of paper through them.

Small groups of men are allowed to go out on tennis court-sized exercise yards under the watch of an armed guard standing overhead for a few hours, three days a week.

Except for chapel services twice a month, there are no other group activities. Condemned men are escorted individually, in chains, to prison hospital appointments or a special law library set aside for them.

Visits are tightly monitored. Visitors are allowed to bring in only handfuls of coins for the prisoners to use in vending machines. Before and after such contact, even with lawyers, the condemned are subject to strip searches.

Still, when discussing prison drug problems in the system overall, state officials primarily cite cases of visitors trying to smuggle in drugs. In one case, officials described how drugs were packed into soccer balls and thrown over the fence of minimum-security prisons.

Click here to read the full article (+ videos)

Source: L.A. Times, Paige St. John, August 24, 2016

⚑ | Report an error, an omission; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; send a submission; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

Jeff Wood's Stay of Execution Casts More Doubt on the Texas Death Machine

Texas Death Row, Livingston, Texas
Texas Death Row, Livingston, Texas
Terri Been was being interviewed by a reporter inside a Whataburger restaurant in East Texas on the afternoon of August 19 when the text came in: Her brother, Jeff Wood, on death row for his alleged involvement as an accomplice in the 1996 murder of his friend, and facing imminent execution, had been granted a stay. She read the text sent by Wood's attorney twice before dialing him up. "Are you serious?" she asked.

It had been a long and emotionally taxing day: Been and her husband, her parents, Wood's daughter, and another friend had traveled to Huntsville, Texas, the location of the state's execution chamber, for the first of several 8-hour visits with Wood in anticipation that he would be executed sometime after 6 p.m. on Wednesday, August 24. The news from the lawyer, Jared Tyler, was a serious relief. "I consider it a miracle," she told The Intercept. "He's stopped Texas from killing my brother."

That afternoon the state's highest criminal court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, agreed with Tyler that a state district court should determine whether the punishment hearing portion of Wood's 1998 trial was infected by junk science and misleading testimony offered by the notorious Dr. James Grigson. If the district court agrees that it was tainted, Wood could get a new hearing, and a chance to get off of death row.

Grigson, who died in 2004, was known even among peers in the psychiatric community as "Dr. Death" for routinely offering scientifically unsupportable testimony that helped to send defendants to death row in a number of capital cases. He was expelled from the American Psychiatric Association and its Texas counterpart prior to testifying in Wood's case, where he opined that unless sentenced to die Wood would continue to be violent, a determination he made without ever examining Wood.

But the court majority sidestepped - at least for now - the biggest question in Wood's case: Is he legally eligible for the death penalty? That prompted a strongly worded opinion from one of the court's 9 jurists, Elsa Alcala, who for at least the 2nd time this year has called into question whether Texas' death system itself is constitutional - an unusual stance for a jurist on such a conservative and notoriously pro-death penalty court in the state with the nation's most active execution chamber. Indeed, Alcala has been airing concerns that have not been expressed in any meaningful way by any member of that court in nearly 2 decades. Wood, she wrote, "may be actually innocent of the death penalty because he may be categorically ineligible for that punishment."

An Unconstitutional Sentence

Wood is on death row even though he has never killed anyone. He was convicted and sentenced to die for the January 2, 1996, robbery of a convenience store that ended with the shooting death of his friend Kriss Keeran, who worked at the store. But it was another man, Danny Reneau, who entered the store armed, intending to rob the place, and who shot Keeran. Wood, Reneau, Keeran and another store employee had planned an inside-job robbery for the previous day, but the plan had been aborted. Wood said he had no idea that Reneau intended to rob the store that day, and certainly had no idea that Reneau would kill Keeran. After the murder, Wood admits that he did help Reneau steal money from the store, along with a surveillance videotape, but says he did so only after Reneau threatened to harm his daughter.

But a quirk of Texas law allows the state to seek the death penalty against a defendant who never killed or intended to kill anyone. Known as the law of parties, the law posits that if conspirators plan to commit 1 crime - in this case a robbery - but in the course of events someone ends up committing another crime (such as a murder) all parties are liable for the crime committed regardless of their individual intent, under the notion that everyone should have anticipated that the crime committed would occur.

Advocates and lawyers argue that Wood's impending execution would violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. It is an argument that would appear to be in line with U.S. Supreme Court precedent, which holds that a sentence must be proportional to the crime committed. In 2 cases involving parties to a planned crime that ended in murder, the court determined that the death penalty would be unconstitutional when a person lacked either the intent to kill or failed to exhibit a clear "reckless indifference" to human life.

No court has ever considered whether Wood's sentence was proportionate to his crime. Although Tyler finally raised the question directly in Wood's most recent appeal, in staying the execution last week the Court of Criminal Appeals declined to ask the lower court to address the issue - except for Alcala, who opined in favor of addressing the question head on. "Perhaps one might suggest that I should not concern myself with the fact that applicant's death sentence appears to be unconstitutional under [Supreme Court precedent] because [Wood] should have raised this claim at some earlier stage of his post-conviction challenges and he is now procedurally barred from raising this challenge," she wrote. "I, however, would disagree with that suggestion."

It was the latest in a string of opinions by the conservative jurist questioning the legality of the death penalty and the approach of her colleagues to affirming death sentences. Alcala, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, has questioned her colleagues' reluctance to allow inmates to present evidence challenging the Texas system as racist and out-of-step with a nation that is moving away from the death penalty. She has written strongly-worded dissents in two notable cases, involving the question of whether racially discriminatory testimony and poor lawyering condemned Duane Buck to die, and in another urging her colleagues to act to "uphold the federal Constitution" by setting up a modern and fair system for determining which defendants are barred from execution because of their intellectual disability. In the absence of a legislative standard, the court set up its own scheme for determining cognitive disability, a standard based on the mental abilities of the character Lennie from John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.

The level of skepticism Alcala has expressed regarding the state's death penalty scheme - and her colleagues' role in maintaining the status quo - hasn't really been seen in Texas since Republicans took over the court in its entirety nearly 2 decades ago. As conservative jurists came to power in the 1990s, a waning contingent of Democratic judges held on, including Judge Charlie Baird, now a defense attorney in private practice in Austin. Baird said he and his colleagues would regularly dissent from the majority's rubber-stamping of death convictions. In 1996 Baird authored a dissent suggesting that Texas was not fulfilling its promise to the U.S. Supreme Court in the wake of the 1976 opinion that reauthorized the death penalty. Texas had promised "we would interpret the statute fairly and apply the death penalty fairly," he recalled. "And I don't think we ever kept those promises."

To be fair, other Republican judges have joined or written dissenting opinions in the intervening years, but none so clearly skeptical of the system as Alcala's - save for a literal swan song opinion by Judge Tom Price, who opined in 2014, just before retiring his seat, that the death penalty "should be abolished."

Although Alcala hasn't uttered the same words, she nonetheless stands out even more than Price in 1 key way - her current term is up in 2018, meaning that speaking out could derail her chances to remain on the court in the future. In a profile published by Fusion, Alcala said it was "unlikely" that she'd run again, but also acknowledged that she has not made any definitive decision.

Attorneys with considerable experience litigating capital cases before the Texas court say that they are encouraged by Alcala's opinions, but are nonetheless skeptical that her more moderate and thoughtful approach to considering death penalty cases would necessarily have any outwardly obvious effect on her colleagues. "I've been waiting and I haven't seen it. I just haven't seen it," said Keith Hampton, a veteran defense attorney who was behind the only successful bid to have a death sentence commuted by Perry during his 3-term tenure as the state's governor, during which time he presided over more executions than any other modern governor. Hampton said he could see Alcala's approach evolving in recent years, and believes now that she's "genuinely dedicated" to reform. "Clearly she's not playing to the crowd - because we're in Texas and there is no crowd for this here." In fact, Hampton worries that Alcala's writings and public posture may have given ammunition to any number of aggressive prosecutors who could try to force her recusal from considering appeals of their death cases.

Bryce Benjet, a former lawyer with the nonprofit Texas Defender Service who now works for the Innocence Project, said it might be more significant that the concerns Alcala has expressed haven't "happened with more frequency" on the court. But what is especially noteworthy, he said, is that these concerns are coming from a former prosecutor for Harris County (which includes the city of Houston), a jurisdiction responsible for sending hundreds of defendants to death row, and the U.S. county responsible for the most executions since 1976.

To Tyler, Wood's attorney, Alcala's views are more in line with those of the U.S. Supreme Court than with her colleagues. He notes that the Supreme Court has accepted for review 2 recent cases where she authored stern dissents - in the Buck case and in the case challenging the state's process for determining cognitive disabilities. And he said he believes the Supreme Court should take up Wood's case as well, to finally decide whether Wood's sentence is proportionate to his crime.

In the meantime, Wood's family and supporters have attracted another contingent of unlikely supporters in the form of conservative state House members who have been airing their own concerns about whether Wood's sentence is proper. Ultra-conservative members have each spoken out about their concerns and have been trying to persuade the Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Greg Abbot to consider commuting Wood's sentence. "I believe the death penalty, and in some cases the law of parties, has a place. Human life, being made in the image of God, is very precious," East Texas state Representative David Simpson, wrote in a column published in the Dallas Morning News. "In the case of Wood, I have seen enough questions to warrant advocating that his life be spared. Ultimately, God will judge our actions, and as humans we make mistakes and our justice system is not perfect."

Source: theintercept.com, August 26, 2016

⚑ | Report an error, an omission; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; send a submission; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The pursuit of capital punishment for Dylann Roof is a step backward

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
On Nov. 7 in Charleston, S.C., a federal court will begin selecting a jury in the death penalty prosecution of Dylann Roof, the accused killer of 9 African American worshipers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. At first glance, the notion of a white man facing the death penalty for murdering black people in the South - in a killing inspired by the murderer's racist views - may seem like a marker of racial progress.

It isn't - and those who champion civil rights should not celebrate this moment. Roof's crime was surely heinous, and his racism was repugnant. But supporters of racial equality and equal treatment under the law should support Roof's offer to plead guilty and serve a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

How can it be that a lifelong civil rights lawyer such as myself would take this position? Because the death penalty cannot be separated from the issue of racial discrimination, especially in the South. The history of slavery and lynching left deep scars in the black community, and the current death penalty does not fare much better. More than 8 in 10 of the executions carried out since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 have occurred in the South. Blacks make up more than 1/3 of the 1,170 defendants executed in the region, with most convicted of murdering a white victim.

Given the racial disproportion inherent in the modern application of the death penalty, it is no surprise that most African Americans (including me) oppose the death penalty, a position that would also disqualify most of them (and me) from serving on the jury in Roof's case.

As a result, if the Roof trial continues on its present course, a jury will be chosen that represents only part of the community. Those who oppose the death penalty on principle will be struck from the pool of jurors by the presiding judge. Those who express doubts about the death penalty will likely be struck by the prosecution. The resulting jury will have fewer blacks, fewer women and fewer people of faiths that oppose the death penalty than a jury selected at random from the residents of Charleston. That cannot be a desirable outcome in such an emotional and racially charged case.

Neither would the adversarial proceeding necessitated by a refusal to accept Roof's offer to plead guilty and accept a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Once the trial begins, there will be a detailed recounting of the worst day this community has ever experienced. It will be the prosecution's duty to portray this multiple murder as gruesomely as possible in order to secure a death sentence. Family members may be called to the stand to describe precisely what they went through that day and how it affected them.

Likewise, the defense will be obligated to do everything in its power to lessen Roof's culpability. This is how our adversarial process works, but it is not necessary here. Without the agony of trying to decide between life and death, a sentencing proceeding that followed a guilty plea could pay tribute to the victims, focusing on the value of their lives and the consequences of their loss. All family members could voice their pain, regardless of their view on the death penalty. It would not be an easy day, but far better than months of focusing only on Roof, followed by years of appeals and uncertainty.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch has allowed this case to proceed as a capital prosecution until now, but a new decision point is coming soon. Most criminal cases settle before trial because it is in the best interests of the entire community. That could happen here; the offer is already on the table. The attorney general need only agree.

After the racially inspired attack on the parishioners of Mother Emanuel, as the church is known, South Carolina took the bold and important step of permanently lowering the Confederate battle flag from the state capitol grounds. This powerful symbol - perceived by many as the embodiment of racism and discrimination - had to go.

With the death penalty, the Justice Department now has the power to lower another flag that has torn communities apart along racial lines. Capital punishment in this case may appear to be just retribution for Roof's unfathomable crime. Yet the real-life operation of the death penalty suggests that its application to Roof would only pave the way for future cases in which the death penalty is invoked to harm the very community on which he inflicted so much pain.

Source: Washington Post, Opinion, Wade Henderson, August 27, 2016. Mr. Henderson is president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

⚑ | Report an error, an omission; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; send a submission; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halts upcoming execution of Ronaldo Ruiz

'The Walls' Unit, Huntsville, Texas
'The Walls' Unit, Huntsville, Texas
Ronaldo Ruiz was set to be executed on Aug. 31, but - as with the prior 6 scheduled executions in Texas that have been stayed or delayed - a Texas court ordered a stay of execution for him on Friday.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Friday halted the upcoming execution of Ronaldo Ruiz, who was set to be put to death on Aug. 31.

Texas was set to execute Ruiz, a hit man in the 1992 murder of a 29-year-old woman. Ruiz, 43, was set to die by lethal injection on Aug. 31 after he was convicted in the murder-for-hire of Theresa Rodriguez.

Ruiz would have become the 6th inmate to be executed in Texas in 2016.

In his latest habeas corpus application, Ruiz raised questions about deficiency of his trial counsel and his initial habeas counsel, as well as questions about the constitutionality of executing him "over 2 decades after his conviction" - a matter the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly declined to consider.

In the Court of Criminal Appeals' brief, unsigned order, the court restates Ruiz's claims and then concludes, "After reviewing applicant's writ application, we have determined that his execution should be stayed pending further order by this Court."

The country's busiest death chamber has not carried out an execution in nearly 4 months. The past 6 scheduled executions in Texas - including Ruiz's previously scheduled July execution date - were stayed, delayed, or withdrawn for various reasons.

This marks the longest period Texas has gone without killing inmates since 2014, when no executions took place for nearly 5 months amid furor over Oklahoma's botched execution of Clayton Lockett and legal challenges related to Texas' drug secrecy.

Jason Clark, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), told BuzzFeed News prior to Friday's ruling in Ruiz's case that the agency was "not involved in setting or withdrawing execution dates." He added that the TDCJ "stands ready to carry out" executions.

In a year already marked by fewer executions, Texas is the only state with executions scheduled for the remainder of 2016. Other active death penalty states are grappling with a variety of obstacles ranging from the effect of Supreme Court rulings earlier this year to drug shortages and the fallout from botched executions.

Even in Texas, in August alone now, 3 scheduled executions have been stayed - while the date for another was changed.

Ruiz was hired by 2 brothers, Mark Rodriguez and Michael Rodriguez, to kill Michael's wife Theresa for a life insurance scheme. Ruiz shot and killed Theresa in the couple's garage after following them home from a movie theater. The brothers paid Ruiz $2,000 for the murder.

Ruiz was first scheduled to die in 2007, but a federal appeals court gave him a reprieve. His execution was then set for July 27 of this year after the US Supreme Court refused to review his case in May 2015. However, his execution was pushed to Aug. 31 because of the state's failure to sufficiently notify his counsel of his pending execution, Jennifer Moreno, an attorney at the Berkeley Law Death Penalty Clinic told BuzzFeed News.

On Aug. 19, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit from 5 death row inmates, including Ruiz, who demanded that the state retest its drugs before executing them. That case is now on appeal before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Source: BuzzFeed News, August 27, 2016

⚑ | Report an error, an omission; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; send a submission; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

Singapore: Nathan granted zero presidential pardon during his 2 terms

S R Nathan
S R Nathan
S R Nathan, the longest serving president from 1999 to 2011 did not grant clemency to any death row inmates during his 2 terms as President.

This is according to the Singapore Working Group on the Death Penalty (SWGDP) in its statement issued on the 13th World Day Against the Death Penalty last October.

SWGDP stated, "Since Singapore's independence, only 7 clemencies have been granted (as at Oct 2015), with the last being exercised by the late President Ong Teng Cheong."

It went on to reveal that of the 7 clemencies, 2 were granted in the term of President Benjamin Sheares, 1 under President Devan Nair, 3 under President Wee Kim Wee, and 1 under President Ong Teng Cheong.

Presidential clemencies granted by past Presidents:

-- Benjamin Sheares (1971-1981): 2 in 10 years

-- Devan Nair (1981-1985): 1 in 4 years

-- Wee Kim Wee (1985 -1993): 3 in 8 years

-- Ong Teng Cheong (1993-1999): 1 in 6 years

-- S R Nathan (1999 - 2011): 0 in 12 years

The SWGDP is an advocacy group in Singapore which believes in giving convicted people a 2nd chance to live. It advocates for the abolishment of the death penalty in Singapore as well as commits to raising awareness on issues surrounding the death penalty.

On its website, it said:

Although we believe that everyone needs to take the responsibility for his or her mistakes and that no crime should go unpunished, we also believe that unjust and problematic laws and procedures need to be debated and revised.

The death penalty is an irreversible punishment at the end of a process that is prone to human error, which means that it is all too possible that innocent lives will be taken away. And that is something that should not be allowed to happen.

As at Oct 2015, the last clemency was granted by the late president Ong Teng Cheong in May 1998. He commuted Mr Mathavakannan Kalimuthu's death sentence to life imprisonment. He was 19 when he and 2 other men killed a gangster in 1996.

After Nathan stepped down as President in 2011, he gave an interview to the media. During the interview, he was asked about granting presidential pardons during his 12-year term in office. He was asked if he found it difficult.

"The constitution clearly lays it down that I have to act on the advice of the cabinet, and the cabinet acts on the advice of the Attorney-General," he said.

"You have a right to question it... through the process, you determine whether all the facts have been taken into account, whether there's anything that needs special consideration." Upon further probing by a reporter from Yahoo, Nathan finally said, "Of course it's a difficult thing when it comes to the death penalty. It's a matter of conscience. That's the law... and you do your best to see that there is justice done."

"You are in no position to contradict the submission when you have not heard the case," he continued. "You can't purely go on human emotions."

"I have to ask the man up there to forgive me for what is done for the good of society."

Source: The Independent, August 27, 2016

⚑ | Report an error, an omission; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; send a submission; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

Death penalty failing to deter drug trafficking in Iran - official

The death penalty has failed to reduce drug trafficking in Iran, a senior Iranian judiciary official said on Saturday shortly before the scheduled execution of 12 people for narcotics-related offences.

His criticism was unusual in a judiciary that has long been a bastion of the hardline security establishment in the Islamic Republic, which carries out more executions per capita than any other country. Nearly 1,000 prisoner were put to death in 2015, most of them for drug trafficking.

Most narcotics are smuggled into Iran along its long, often lawless border with Afghanistan, which supplies about 90 percent of the world's opium from which heroin is made.

"The truth is, the execution of drug smugglers has had no deterrent effect," Mohammad Baqer Olfat, deputy head of judiciary for social affairs, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

"We have fought full-force against smugglers according to the law, but unfortunately we are experiencing an increase in the volume of drugs trafficked to Iran, the transit of drugs through the country, the variety of drugs, and the number of people who are involved in it," Olfat said.

He said he had suggested to the judiciary chief that rather than the death penalty, traffickers should serve long prison terms with hard labour.

Mohammad-Javad Larijani, the secretary of Iran's Human Rights Council and a brother of the powerful judiciary chief, said in 2015 that more than 90 % of executions in the country were for drug-related crimes.

He said the death penalty has not led to a significant fall in drug-related crimes and that the policy must be re-evaluated.

The Islamic Republic seized 388 tonnes of opium in 2012, around 72 % of all such seizures globally, but says it has lost many security personnel in skirmishes with drug traffickers in volatile regions bordering Afghanistan and also Pakistan.

The United Nations has repeatedly praised Iran's battle against narcotics trafficking but opposed its death penalty.

The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Iran urged Tehran on Friday to halt the execution of 12 people on drug-related offences scheduled for Saturday.

"It is regrettable that the (Iranian) government continues to proceed with executions for crimes that do not meet the threshold of the 'most serious crimes' as required by international law," Ahmed Shaheed said in a statement.

Given Iran's large number of executions, some countries including Britain and Denmark have stopped providing funding for the United Nations drug control programme in Iran.

Source: Reuters, August 27, 2016

⚑ | Report an error, an omission; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; send a submission; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!