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

JUNE 5, 2021:

PENNSYLVANIA:

High Court won’t hear Padilla appeal—-State Supreme Court rejects death row inmate’s attempt to gather more evidence

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will not hear the appeal of death row inmate Miguel A. Padilla in his pursuit of funds for a Spanish-speaking investigator to travel to Mexico to gather more evidence in his case.

Blair County Senior Judge Hiram A. Carpenter recently denied a request by Padilla and his defense attorneys for $10,000 so that an investigator could travel to Padilla’s hometown of Colima, Mexico.

Padilla came to the United States as a child with his mother and siblings, who, as testimony in his trial showed, were fleeing a violent home life in Mexico.

The family traveled to California, then to Chambersburg. They ended up living in nearby Gallitzin.

Padilla, however, was living in Altoona on Aug. 28, 2005, when he and friends were denied entry to the UVA Club, an after-hours club on Union Avenue.

He obtained a handgun and murdered the club’s owner, Al Mignogna, doorman Fred Rickabaugh and patron Stephen Heiss.

Padilla was convicted and sentenced to death in 2006, and since then has been appealing his case.

After his initial appeals were rejected by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and a further hearing was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court, the defense filed an appeal with the U.S. District Court in Johnstown.

That appeal, however, has been administratively closed by the Chief Judge of the Western District of Pennsylvania, Mark R. Hornak, pending disposition of further post-conviction appeals filed in Blair County.

The federal judge overseeing the case has ordered the defense and prosecution to file status reports on the Blair County case every 6 months.

On Tuesday, Assistant Public Defender for the Capital Habeas Unit of the Western District of Pennsylvania, Marshall L. Dayan, filed a status report in which it was noted that Judge Carpenter had denied a request for a Spanish-speaking mitigation specialist to travel to Mexico in an effort to gather information about Padilla’s violent childhood and an alleged sexual assault by an uncle.

Judge Carpenter denied the funding request by the defense because the childhood abuse and violence Padilla experienced was aired during the penalty phase of his Blair County trial.

His mother and brothers provided testimony to the jury about Padilla’s early years, but the jury, despite finding 3 mitigating circumstances, still sentenced him to death.

Attorney Laurence S. Shtasel of Philadelphia filed a petition for an investigator in an effort to bolster the defense argument that Padilla was under extreme stress at the time of the shooting stemming from the sexual abuse he experienced and the domestic violence he witnessed.

Carpenter concluded that the jury heard from family members who lived with Padilla and knew him best and that the prosecution did not challenge defense claims of a traumatic childhood.

The defense sought to appeal Carpenter’s ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Pennsylvania’s highest court allowed the defense to file an answer to objections by the prosecution, but last week denied the petition for appeal, according to the status report filed Tuesday.

Padilla, 40, presently is an inmate in the State Correctional Institution at Phoenix.

(source: Altoona Mirror)

SOUTH CAROLINA—-impending execution

South Carolina inmate trying to halt June 18 execution

The inmate scheduled to be the 1st put to death under South Carolina’s recently revamped capital punishment law has filed a last-minute request seeking to halt his execution in the electric chair, arguing that the state hasn’t exhausted all methods to procure lethal injection drugs.

On Thursday, attorneys for Brad Sigmon filed papers in federal court asking a judge to put a stop to his execution later this month.

Sigmon, on death row since his 2002 conviction in a double murder, has officially selected lethal injection as his execution method. But the state says it hasn’t been able to get the necessary drugs, and a new law signed last month by Gov. Henry McMaster would force inmates to choose either the electric chair or a firing squad, in the event lethal injection drugs aren’t available.

Citing other states that have been able to carry out lethal injection executions in recent years, Sigmon’s attorneys argue that South Carolina simply hasn’t tried hard enough to get the drugs or compound them itself, as some other states have done.

Executing Sigmon by electrocution, his attorneys wrote, subjects him “to a substantial risk of excruciating pain, terror, and certain bodily mutilation that contravenes evolving standards of decency, offends basic principles of human dignity, and violates and the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.”

Electrocutions, they argued, “often go horribly wrong,” writing that “an electrocuted person can experience a slow, painful death by suffocation as his internal organs are slowly cooked,” or “his eyes may pop out, his body will likely blister, and the smell of his burnt flesh will permeate the room.”

Sigmon’s June 18 execution would be the state’s first in a decade, an involuntary halt officials have said came from an inability to procure the drugs needed for lethal injection. Inmates in South Carolina have for years had the option to choose electrocution — and some have — but injection has been listed as the default method if the condemned makes no other choice.

When McMaster signed the new capital punishment measure into law last month, Sigmon and another death row inmate, Freddie Owens — both of whom have exhausted their appeals — immediately sued, saying they can’t be electrocuted or shot since they were sentenced under a prior law making lethal injection the default method.

That litigation is ongoing. This week, Owens’ execution was scheduled for June 26.

South Carolina’s last execution took place in 2011, and its batch of lethal injection drugs expired two years later. There are 37 inmates awaiting death in South Carolina, all of them men.

The new law, Sigmon’s attorneys wrote, “is the first to break with more than 100 years of American jurisdictions implementing more humane methods of executions, which has culminated with lethal injection being the dominant method in every other death penalty jurisdiction in the United States.”

South Carolina is one of eight states that still electrocute inmates, and the state has said the electric chair is ready to use. Prison officials have been doing research into how firing squads carry out executions elsewhere, but have said they’re not sure how long it will take to have one in place in South Carolina.

The other 3 states that allow a firing squad are Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Three inmates, all in Utah, have been killed by firing squad since the U.S. reinstated the death penalty in 1977. Nineteen inmates have died in the electric chair this century, according to the center.

During South Carolina’s lengthy debate on the new capital punishment statute, Democratic state Sen. Dick Harpootlian — a prosecutor-turned-criminal defense lawyer — introduced the firing squad option, arguing it presented “the least painful” execution method available and characterized electrocution as “not much better” than hanging in terms of what could go wrong, according to Sigmon’s lawyers.

In that same debate, they wrote, state Sen. Greg Hembree said that it was “not the government’s place” to “torture anybody needlessly,” calling lethal injection “more humane than the electric chair.”

A hearing on Sigmon’s request is set for next week.

(source: Associated Press)

ALABAMA:

Mental evaluation ordered for suspect in deadly shooting of Kimberly police officer

The man accused in the shooting death of Kimberly police officer Nick O’Rear, has been ordered to undergo a mental evaluation, according to court documents.

Preston Chyenne Johnson, 38, of Addison, Ala., is charged with 3 counts of capital murder, 1 count of attempted murder and 1 count of discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle.

He was already sentenced to 200 months in prison in an unrelated case. He pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm in January. Johnson, who was prohibited from having a firearm because of prior felony convictions, unlawfully possessed an Anderson AM-15 5.56mm rifle on October 31, 2019, according to prosecutors.

Then on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, police said Warrior PD attempted to pull over a vehicle, which did not stop. Officer Nick O’Rear, from the Kimberly Police Department, joined the chase. O’Rear proceeded to pull in front of the vehicle and that’s when investigators said Johnson fired into the police cruiser.

O’Rear was struck and crashed his vehicle shortly thereafter. He was escorted to UAB Hospital by Warrior firefighters along with a large contingent of police officers. O’Rear was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

Kimberly Police Officer Nick O’Rear was shot and killed on Feb. 4, 2020.

Johnson will be arraigned on those charges on Monday, June 7, 2021. Prosecutors have already said they will seek the death penalty in the case.

(source: trussvilletribune.com)

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Sheriff reflects on Valhermoso Springs mass murder 1 year later—-“The years that I’ve been working as a law enforcement officer, I’ve never seen that many individuals killed at one time”

June 4 marks one year since 7 people were found murdered inside a Morgan County home. On that day in 2020, Morgan County deputies responded to a call in Valhermoso Springs of shots fired at a home on Talucah Rd.

When they arrived, the house was on fire and 7 people were found inside, shot to death.

“The years that I’ve been working as a law enforcement officer, I’ve never seen that many individuals killed at one time,” said Morgan County Sheriff Ron Puckett.

Multiple agencies worked to solve this case, including the FBI violent crime task force who assisted with locating the suspects.

“The subjects had fled and went to Oregon. So we were able to pick up the phone, call our Portland office and request that they go out to do follow-ups and chase leads for us involving that investigation,” said FBI agent Jeffrey Brown.

John Legg and Frederic Rogers were later arrested in Oregon, and are currently in the Morgan County jail with no bond. Sheriff Puckett calls it one of the biggest cases in Morgan County history.

1 year later, his thoughts turn to the families of the seven people who were violently killed.

“We have to move on, we have other things to do but for them, time stops and they remember this day a year ago like it was today,” said Puckett.

Puckett says this case left a lasting impact on his deputies.

“Through all the different agencies that we work with, especially with this case, we know that really nothing is impossible if we all work together,” said Puckett.

The District Attorney plans on seeking the death penalty for both defendants who are facing capital murder, robbery, arson and other charges.

“I hope the arrests close one part of the chapter of this long book that will be called the justice journey for them,” said Puckett.

Both Legg and Rogers are scheduled to appear in court later this month on the 29th.

(source: WAFF news)

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The state of Alabama took his gun away. When authorities gave it back, he shot and killed his wife. Alabama authorities took his gun away after a violent domestic incident. 9 months later they gave it back, and he used it to shoot and kill his wife.

Late one night in February 2019, a 31-year-old woman in a troubled marriage was rushed to an emergency room in a Birmingham, Alabama, suburb, with a gunshot wound in her upper right arm.

“He shot me,” Megan Montgomery told doctors, according to an investigative report obtained exclusively by NBC News. By “he,” she meant her husband, a local police officer named Jason McIntosh.

Police took her husband’s pistol away. Nine months later, the state’s top law enforcement agency gave it back, despite pending domestic violence charges and an active protective order. Just 16 days after that, he used the gun to shoot and kill her during another late-night dispute.

Megan’s loved ones were shattered by the loss of a devoted daughter and sister, a marketing professional with a passion for animal rescue. They were stunned to be told recently by NBC News that the state had given her abuser back the weapon he used to kill her.

“So the restraining order can prohibit him from ‘contacting, phoning, texting, harassing, stalking,’ but oh by the way, you can have a gun? That’s ridiculous,” said Megan’s mother, Susann Montgomery-Clark.

Even the shooter’s lawyer was shocked he got his weapon back. “In my opinion it was irrational, illogical and not prudent to do so,” said attorney Tommy Spina, who emphasized he was not excusing his client’s actions. Spina said that without the firearm, “I don’t think what happened that night would have happened that night.”

Women whose domestic abusers have access to a firearm are 5 times as likely to be shot and killed, according to research funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.

These murders are also on the rise. After a triple-decade decline in cases where women were killed by guns wielded by their intimate partners, the number of deaths has been increasing since 2013, according to an analysis of FBI data by criminologist James Alan Fox at Northeastern University.

In 2019, the most recent year the data is available, 964 women were shot and killed by their domestic partners compared to 211 men and women who died that year from mass shootings. That’s one woman killed by an intimate partner every nine hours.

But while federal law and many state statutes prohibit domestic abusers from possessing a firearm when a domestic violence protective order is in place, few states actually take the guns away or keep them away from abusers once a protective order is issued. Alabama has such a law, but domestic abusers often end up keeping their weapons.

Experts say the reason is a combination of deference to gun rights on the part of judges and other officials, the absence of a defined procedure to remove the guns, and a lack of awareness by law enforcement about just how lethal the risk can be.

Allison Dearing is the executive director of One Place Metro Alabama Family Justice Center in Birmingham, which provides services to domestic violence victims. Seven women, including Montgomery, were shot and killed by their intimate partners in Jefferson County in 2019.

“We know they are predictable and preventable,” she said, “but we still aren’t treating them that way.”

Megan Montgomery did nearly everything experts say you’re supposed to do to get away from a domestic abuser, and still she died.

The timeline

Jason McIntosh, a 43-year-old officer with the Hoover, Alabama, police department, married Megan Montgomery, 13 years his junior, in February 2018 at their local courthouse. One year later they held a second ceremony in New York. Montgomery posted dozens of happy pictures on Instagram.

But behind the scenes their relationship had quickly turned volatile, said the bride’s mother. She told NBC News she remembers a time Montgomery called asking to be picked up because she was stranded in a Walmart parking lot after an argument with McIntosh. “We talked to her about it,” said Montgomery-Clark, “but we didn’t know how bad it was.”

“She knew if she left [him], she would be killed.”

On the night of Feb. 23, 2019, Montgomery and McIntosh got into a physical altercation at their home. Fellow officers from McIntosh’s department responded to a 911 call from McIntosh, who reported that Montgomery had a gunshot wound.

According to the responding officers, Montgomery said she had grabbed McIntosh’s duty weapon with her right hand for her own protection. The two began to struggle for the weapon. Montgomery, 5’8″ and 135 pounds, was shot in her upper right arm.

McIntosh, 6’4″ and 225 pounds, told the responding officers that during the struggle he thought Montgomery had his cell phone in her hand. According to the report, McIntosh said it was only when the gun went off and the bullet hit his wife that he realized they’d been fighting over a gun.

Because McIntosh was a police officer, the head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) ordered Special Agent Vince Cunningham to investigate the incident. ALEA, a state level agency, is the standard investigating entity for police-involved shootings in Alabama.

Cunningham took McIntosh’s firearm as evidence. He interviewed Montgomery on Feb. 26, 2019. She told him that during the incident “she was afraid,” according to the investigative summary written by Cunningham and obtained exclusively by NBC News.

The ALEA summary says that when Montgomery was asked if the shooting was an accident, she said yes. The summary also says that the officer who took Montgomery to the emergency room told Cunningham that when doctors asked Montgomery what happened, she told them, “He shot me.”

The ALEA report does not include any reference to a chilling 13-minute recording of a conversation between McIntosh and Montgomery that Montgomery’s attorney says she gave the agency. On the tape, reviewed by NBC News, McIntosh talked about his fascination with serial killers and how planning mass shootings was a “soothing thought” that helped him sleep at night. He also told his wife he’d felt the urge to beat her to death with a tennis racket, and if he did do it he’d stand over her body and say, “Laugh now, bitch.”

The district attorney did not file charges, concluding in a letter there was “no evidence of the commission of any felony offenses by either Mr. Mcintosh or Ms. Montgomery.” The DA left open the possibility that the City of Hoover could file a misdemeanor offense against either one of them. That never happened.

McIntosh resigned from the Hoover department in March amid an internal affairs review of the shooting.

Montgomery did what is difficult for most domestic violence victims to do. She moved out. She moved in with her parents and filed a request for a protection from abuse order.

Montgomery’s filing asked the court to remove Mcintosh’s firearms. In response, the local judge issued a mutual restraining order telling the couple to stay away from each other. The order did not specify that firearms be removed.

The order also did not keep them apart. On the night of May 5, the couple got into another argument at the home they had shared and the police were called. Again, officers from the Hoover department responded to the call. The police report says Mcintosh had tackled Montgomery to the ground in the garage and documented a swollen area near her ribs where she said he hit her.

Again, Montgomery did what experts say she needed to do. She pursued the filing of domestic violence charges. Mcintosh was arrested and later released on bail.

Later that month, Montgomery also filed for divorce.

Her mother said she attended counseling and posted sticky notes in her room saying, “I am strong. I am strong. I am strong.”

By September she had taken another significant step in her separation from her husband. She got a new apartment and moved in.

Meanwhile, McIntosh was repeatedly texting ALEA Special Agent Cunningham asking to get his gun back, according to documentation reviewed by NBC News. McIntosh claimed he needed the gun to get a new private security job. Though he had used it as a duty weapon with the Hoover Police Department, the gun was his personal property.

In text messages, Cunningham arranged with McIntosh to meet him at the parking lot of the local ALEA office. On Nov. 15, 2019, he handed McIntosh his gun, according to ALEA.

13 days later on Thanksgiving, Montgomery was with her family, and posted family photos.

2 days later, on the night of Saturday, Nov. 30, Montgomery was out with friends at a nearby oyster bar after watching Auburn’s football team edge Alabama at an “Iron Bowl” party.

According to an eyewitness account later posted on Facebook, McIntosh entered the bar and walked up to their table.

“He placed a hand on the back of her neck and one on her shoulder and told her to walk outside,” said the Facebook post.

“We all looked at him, asked who he was and he said, ‘That’s my wife, she’s going with me.”

The man who wrote the post said Montgomery agreed to go with McIntosh, “but the look in her eyes is one I will never forget.”

They left the bar together and drove around in McIntosh’s truck, ending up 7 miles away in the parking lot of the Mountain Brook Athletic Center, say Mountain Brook police. McIntosh kept his gun in the truck, according to his lawyer.

At 4:30 the next morning, an officer on routine patrol found her body face down in the parking lot. She had been shot 3 times.

“Our worst fears came true,” said Megan’s mother.

The arrest warrant issued for McIntosh reads, “Jason Bragg McIntosh caused said death during a time a court had issued a protective order for Megan Louise Montgomery against Jason Bragg Mcintosh.”

Because of the existence of the protective order, state prosecutors charged McIntosh with capital murder punishable with the death penalty.

The day after Montgomery was found dead, a letter addressed to her arrived at her home. Her mother opened it. The letter was from the county court, and said Megan was due at the courthouse on Dec. 4 to testify in McIntosh’s domestic violence case. The case had been pending since she pressed charges in May.

On March 31, 2021, McIntosh pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of murder. He was sentenced to 30 years in state prison.

Nothing on the books

A spokesperson for ALEA said, “If ALEA had not returned the weapon, Mr. McIntosh could have legally purchased a firearm.” But McIntosh’s attorney noted that even though his client could have bought another gun, he never did. “ALEA had the firearm in their possession since February of 2019 and at no time did Jason ever attempt to acquire another firearm,” said Spina.

The ALEA spokesperson also told NBC News, “The gun was Mr. McIntosh’s personal property, the investigation was closed, and ALEA had no legal justification for keeping his private property. Additionally, the restraining order did not restrict Mr. McIntosh’s access to firearms. If the gun had been a department issued service weapon, ALEA would have returned it to the department.”

But Alabama law specifies that no person “who is subject to a valid protection order for domestic abuse … shall own a firearm or have one in his or her possession or under his or her control.”

Lindsay Nichols, who is federal policy director at the Giffords Law Center, a national anti-gun violence group, said that “the laws say this person shouldn’t have a gun period.”

“What they should have been thinking was this person is not eligible to possess guns because this restraining order exists,” said Nichols. “And therefore, I can’t give him his gun back.”

According to Nichols, Alabama and 28 other states have statutes mirroring a federal law that says anyone convicted of a domestic violence crime or subject to a restraining order is prohibited from possessing a gun.

But she said few states have actual procedures to track abusers and compel them to surrender their firearms.

Said Nichols, “The federal law that says these people are prohibited from possessing guns, it doesn’t automatically make the guns disappear out of their hands.”

“There’s nothing at all on the books in Alabama that requires the court to tell the person that they have to surrender guns,” she said.

Courtney Cross, who directs the Domestic Violence Clinic at the University of Alabama School of Law, said she agrees with Nichols’ interpretation of the state statute, and that it does not need to be specified in a restraining order than guns are prohibited. “It is generally understood with a restraining order you cannot possess a firearm,” she said.

But Cross said few judges in Alabama, who are elected officials, push defendants to turn over weapons. Instead, she said they leave it up to the defendant to decide how to disarm, and it often doesn’t happen.

“I think it’s because of the general ethos of gun rights,” said Cross, “in part because there is perhaps an expectation that people who own or possess a firearm should be able to dispose of it however they want to, selling it or giving it to a family member.”

And while she said she thinks it would be a “great idea” to have a law like the one recently passed in Louisiana that actually enforces a process for surrendering firearms, she can’t see it happening in Alabama.

ALEA declined to comment about the 13-minute tape in which McIntosh talks about mass shootings and killing his wife, and the assessment of Cross and Nichols that returning the weapon to McIntosh was contrary to state law.

Meanwhile, there is no federal data that tracks how many women have been shot and killed by their domestic partners despite a restraining order. But, said Megan’s mother, “Megan’s story has been repeated across this country thousands of times.”

She and her family have started a fund committed to preventing domestic violence by educating women in high school and college about the signs of abusive relationships.

(source: NBC News)

TENNESSEE:

Expert to study mental disabilty claim of death row inmate

An expert hired by a state prosecutors’ office can conduct a mental evaluation of a Tennessee death row inmate who claims he is intellectually disabled and should not be executed for the slayings of a mother and daughter more than 30 years ago, a judge ruled Friday.

Lawyers for Pervis Payne filed a petition May 12 asking a judge to declare that he cannot be executed for the 1987 killings because he is intellectually disabled. The move came 1 day after Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill making retroactive Tennessee’s law that prohibits the execution of the intellectually disabled.

Payne’s case has drawn national attention from anti-death penalty activists and includes the involvement of the Innocence Project, which argues for the use of DNA testing in cases claiming wrongful conviction. A group of Payne’s supporters, including his father and sister, held a prayer vigil before Friday’s hearing in Memphis.

Shelby County judge Paula Skahan ruled Payne attorney Kelley Henry had made a legitimate claim for relief under the new law. The judge and Henry agreed with the Shelby County district attorney’s office’s request to hire an expert to evaluate him. Prosecutor Steve Jones said the expert is in the process of being hired.

Payne’s petition includes reports from 2 experts who concluded he is intellectually disabled, courts documents showed. Skahan set a tentative date of Dec. 13 to hear lawyers’ arguments and information from experts.

The judge wrote in her ruling that she is “mindful of the parties’ due process rights and the seriousness of this issue.”

Executions of the mentally disabled were ruled unconstitutional in 2002, when the U.S. Supreme Court found they violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. But until the new law was passed, Tennessee had no mechanism for an inmate to reopen his case in order to press a claim of intellectual disability.

Payne had been scheduled to die last December, but the execution was delayed after Lee granted him a rare, temporary reprieve because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The reprieve expired in April, but the state Supreme Court has not set a new execution date yet. Friday’s ruling does not stop the state from setting a new execution date.

Payne was sentenced to death in a Memphis court for the 1987 stabbing deaths of Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter, Lacie Jo. Christopher’s son, Nicholas, who was 3 at the time, also was stabbed but survived.

Payne, who is Black, has always claimed innocence. He told police he was at Christopher’s apartment building to meet his girlfriend when he heard the victims, who were white, and tried to help them. He said he panicked when he saw a white policeman and ran away.

Payne’s case was still under appeal when the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to execute the intellectually disabled, but he didn’t claim a disability until after his appeals were exhausted. That involved reopening his case and required a change in state law.

No intellectual disability hearing in Payne’s case has ever been held.

Last year, Skahan allowed DNA testing in Payne’s case for the 1st time. His DNA was found on the hilt of the knife used in the killings, which matches his trial testimony that he cut himself while handling the knife as he tried to help the victims, Henry told the court at a January hearing.

Payne’s DNA was not found on the handle, although partial DNA evidence from an unknown man was. However, there was not enough DNA material to enter it into a national FBI database and attempt to match it to someone else, Henry said. Scrapings from Christopher’s fingernails, collected from the crime scene, could not be located for testing.

Shelby County district attorney Amy Weirich fought the DNA tests. She has said that the evidence overwhelmingly points to Payne as the killer and her office is contesting the intellectual disablity claims.

(source: Associated Press)

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Pervis Payne to be assessed for intellectual disability

Pervis Payne, a Tennessee inmate on death row, has maintained his innocence for more than 30 years after being convicted of killing Charisse Christopher and her son Nicholas in 1987.

Friday, Payne’s defense team and supporters say they got one step closer to getting Payne off death row.

Dozens of supporters got up early Friday to gather outside 201 Poplar to support Payne. Payne’s lawyer was happy with the court decision, but says there is no time to waste.

Payne’s case has gathered strong support in the Memphis community and nationwide. It was evident early Friday morning when dozens of people came alongside Payne’s family to pray before a scheduled court hearing.

“The fact that you are showing up, representing this community shows that the community of Shelby County still supports Pervis Payne,” said Payne’s attorney, Kelly Henry.

Payne, who his defense attorneys say is intellectually disabled, claims he was wrongfully convicted and given the death penalty in the double murder case of a woman and her child in 1987, which supporters believe had racial biases.

In May, the Tennessee legislature overwhelming passed a bill retroactively prohibiting the execution of intellectually disabled people without an application deadline.

Friday, a Shelby County Judge ruled Payne will be assessed by a mental health expert hired by the state to determine if he is mentally disabled.

“We are confident that they are going to conclude that we are correct and that Mr. Payne is a person who subjected to intellectual disability, and therefore should not be on death row,” said Henry.

“I’ve been praying for this almost 34 years,” said Payne’s father, Carl Payne.

A new court date is scheduled for December 13 and time is critical, according to Payne’s attorney since he is eligible for a new execution date at any time. Only the Tennessee Supreme Court can issue a stay of execution.

District Attorney Amy Weirich issued this statement following the decision:

“While the law has barred the death penalty for the intellectually disabled since the early nineties, Payne’s lawyers chose not to raise the issue during the time period originally set by the legislature. The new law removes that deadline and allows the defense to file the claim which now will be decided in a court hearing. While the focus now will be on the defendant, I hope no one ever forgets the innocent victims in this case – Charisse Christopher and her two small children.”

Payne’s family, attorneys, and supporters maintain that Payne is innocent and should not only be off death row, but out of jail entirely.

They say they will continue fighting until Payne’s conviction is overturned.

(source: WMC news)

ARIZONA:

Lawyers: State botched purchase of gas chamber chemical in effort to resume executions

Nearly 30 years after Arizona voters abolished the gas chamber, the Department of Corrections is buying supplies to make poison gas and preparing to execute death row inmates.

It doesn’t mean they will be put to death in a hydrogen cyanide cloud, only that they can be.

Arizona law lets inmates convicted of death penalty offenses before November 1992 choose how they want to die: gas or lethal injection.

But lawyers for two men at the top of the state’s execution list said the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation & Reentry can’t be trusted to carry out either method correctly. The agency already has botched the purchase of gas chamber chemicals and is misleading the public about pharmaceuticals needed to properly administer the death penalty, the lawyers said.

The lawyers point to documents showing state officials purchased a different type of cyanide than the one called for in the state’s newly published protocols for administering a gas chamber execution. They bought potassium cyanide instead of sodium cyanide.

“They got the wrong form of cyanide. What they have procured is a different chemical than what is called for,” lawyer Joe Perkovich said. “It’s terrifying. Especially when you look at the two forms of taking my client’s life.”

State officials also have refused to disclose the source of the materials they are using to make pentobarbital, one of the chemicals used in the lethal injection process, Perkovich said. Officials maintain that the pentobarbital has a 90-day shelf life, double the 45 days after which medical journals say it begins losing its potency, said Perkovich, whose nonprofit law firm represents defendants in death penalty cases.

“We’re supposed to accept that on faith,” Perkovich said.

Neither Gov. Doug Ducey nor Attorney General Mark Brnovich would answer questions on Thursday.

Plans to refurbish the gas chamber generated national attention after The Guardian newspaper reported the state was planning to kill inmates using “the same lethal gas that was deployed at Auschwitz.”

Zyklon B, as the Nazis called it, is hydrogen cyanide. According to The Guardian, the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry bought potassium cyanide, sodium hydroxide pellets and sulfuric acid to generate the deadly gas.

Brnovich’s office referred questions about executions to the Department of Corrections.

The Department of Corrections responded with references to state statutes, department policy and a one-sentence statement:

“ADCRR, along with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, are prepared to fulfill its constitutional obligations, carry out court orders and deliver justice to the victims’ families,” it said in an email.

2 inmates slated for execution

All of this comes after the Arizona Attorney General’s Office in April filed notices of intent to seek the first warrants of execution in 7 years. Convicted killers Frank Atwood and Clarence Dixon are the first slated for execution.

The state suspended executions in 2014 after an inmate was given a lethal injection and died horrifically in front of shocked witnesses.

Joseph Wood snorted and gasped for air for nearly two hours as his lawyers attempted to reach Arizona judges and halt the execution. The manner of his death led to lawsuits and a suspension of executions. It required the state to adopt a new lethal injection cocktail and go through a lengthy process to find approved drugs.

In March, Department of Corrections Director David Shinn notified Brnovich that his agency “now stands ready” to once again execute prisoners.

“Over the past months, at the direction of Governor Ducey, the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation & Reentry has been working diligently to obtain the drugs necessary to implement executions in the state of Arizona, and to identify sources to prepare the drugs in compliance with Arizona law,” Shinn wrote in the March 10 letter.

The same day, the department updated protocols for using lethal gas in a four-page amendment, documents on the Department of Corrections website show.

The protocol specifically calls for using sodium cyanide packets.

“Chemical Operator #2 shall place the sodium cyanide packets in the gas valve pot … under the chair,” the protocol states.

Invoices and purchase orders obtained by The Guardian under the Arizona Public Records Law, however, show the department purchased a brick of potassium cyanide for $1,529.

Both sodium and potassium cyanide are solid salt compounds that can be dissolved in water. They can form a hydrogen cyanide gas when mixed with acid. They have different applications, according to scientific journals.

Perkovich, who represents Atwood, said the contradiction between the state’s cyanide purchase and the protocol “speaks to a larger concern” about the Department of Corrections.

“Apart from the gravity of it … the mechanics of it (putting an inmate to death) should not be left to people who cannot order the right chemicals,” he said.

His concerns about the Department of Corrections are echoed by Federal Public Defender’s Office Supervisor Dale Baich. He said the state for years has tried to keep secret problems with chemicals used for lethal injections.

“This goes back to 2010, when it was caught using illegally imported drugs,” Baich said. “They violated the Food and Drugs and Cosmetics Act. In 2015, they tried the same thing again and got caught.”

Baich, who represents Dixon, said the state has so far refused to disclose where it got the $1.5 million it used to buy the new lethal injection drugs or disclose where they came from.

17 inmates eligible to select gas chamber

There are 17 inmates on Arizona’s death row eligible to choose the gas chamber.

It shouldn’t be an option for any of them, Baich said. He pointed to other states that have successfully retired outdated methods of execution.

“It is hard to comprehend that Arizona is considering using lethal gas to carry out executions,” Baich said. “Arizona should not take this gratuitous and brutal turn to the past.”

He said the state could amend the law so prisoners aren’t asked to make the macabre choice between gas and injection. If an inmate refuses to make a decision, the state’s default is lethal injection.

“What is key is that the prisoner is sentenced to death,” Baich said.

Spurred by the 1992 execution of Donald Harding, who took 11 minutes to die as he cursed and gestured at then-Attorney General Grant Woods, the public overwhelmingly sought to end death by lethal gas.

The last inmate to opt for the gas chamber overlethal injection was Walter LaGrand in 1999.

LaGrand was convicted in 1984 for his role in the stabbing death of Kenneth Hartsock, the manager of a Marana bank that he and his brother, Karl, unsuccessfully tried to rob.

Karl was executed by lethal injection days before Walter.

An eyewitness account of his execution in the Tucson Citizen said it took Walter LaGrand 18 minutes to die. As he was enveloped in a toxic cloud, his agonized choking and gagging went on for several minutes, the newspaper reported.

6 other states still use the gas chamber, although all show lethal injection is the primary method of execution, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The states are Alabama, Arizona, California, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

One of Deana Lynne Bowdoin’s favorite hobbies was poetry. The Arizona Republic ran an excerpt of her poetry after her death in a Jan. 28, 1978 report.

Dixon, 65, was convicted in 2008 for the 1978 murder of Deana Bowdoin, a 21-year-old senior at Arizona State University found dead inside her apartment with a belt around her neck.

Multiple lawyers have argued since the 1970s that Dixon has severe mental health issues.

2 days before Dixon murdered Bowdoin, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled he was “not guilty by reason of insanity” for an attack on another woman. Sandra Day O’Connor was the judge. Dixon was released without supervision from a state hospital.

Neither Perkovich nor Baich would say if their clients have voiced an opinion on how they would like to be executed.

(source: Robert Anglen, Arizona Republic)

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Arizona’s Horrifying Plan to Bring Back the Gas Chamber

Late last month, Americans learned of the latest twist in the efforts of death penalty states to keep their execution machinery running when the Guardian revealed Arizona’s plan to revive the gas chamber. This news followed on the heels of continuing moves by the state’s Republican officeholders to resume putting inmates to death after a 7-year hiatus.

Arizona stopped executions after the botched lethal injection of Joseph Wood in 2014. Wood died after 2 hours during which time he was injected with a total of 750 mg of midazolam and hydromorphone, 15 times the amount specified in the state’s execution protocol. His death was just one of many such gruesome spectacles that have marked lethal injection’s recent history.

The plan to add death by hydrogen cyanide, the same gas (also known as Zyklon B) used by the Nazis at Auschwitz, reveals the lengths to which proponents of capital punishment will go to keep the machinery of death running. And adding the gas chamber to lethal injection as an approved method of execution ignores the ugly truth of the gas chamber’s own gruesome history.

It is ironic that Arizona, of all states, would take this step, since in 1999 it carried out the last, and one of the most horrifying, executions by lethal gas. Eye witnesses to the killing of Walter LaGrand, who had been sentenced to die for a 1982 robbery and murder, reported that LaGrand suffered greatly as he choked and gagged for more than 18 minutes before he died.

Like many of this country’s now discredited methods of execution, the gas chamber was introduced with great fanfare as an alternative to the grisly business of hanging. At the start of the 20th century, supporters of capital punishment said that it would produce quick and painless death.

Typical was the testimony of Dr. J. Chris Lange, who told the Pennsylvania Medical Society, which was reviewing the state’s execution methods, that death by lethal gas would insure that “[d]eath will happen quickly after the gas ascends to a level with the mouth and nose of the prisoner. It will leave the criminal little more to dread of the future than the common lot of all mankind.” While Pennsylvania did not end up adopting the gas chamber, 11 other states did so.

In 1921, Nevada became the 1st state to authorize the gas chamber. The Nevada law—in line with the most advanced thinking of the time—called for executions to take place while the condemned was asleep. Death row inmates were to be housed in air-tight, leak-proof cells, separate from other prisoners. On the day of execution, valves would be opened that would fill the chamber with gas, killing the prisoner “painlessly.”

By the time Nevada carried out its first execution by lethal gas in 1924, the original idea of gassing an inmate in his cell while he slept had been abandoned. Instead, an old stone and concrete building in the prison yard—previously the prison barbershop—was converted into a specially designed gas chamber. It was fitted with pipes, an exhaust fan, and glass windows on the front and back walls for witness viewing. Perhaps most importantly, the room where the gas would be used was insulated in order to be “leak-proof.”

Though Nevada’s early uses of lethal gas were not unproblematic, favorable news coverage, along with concerted efforts by opponents of hanging, led other states to adopt lethal gas over the next 2 decades. After the hanging of Eva Dugan in 1930 resulted in a beheading, Arizona became the first state to follow Nevada’s lead by replacing the gallows with the gas chamber. Colorado soon did the same. In 1935, North Carolina and Wyoming constructed their own gas chambers. The year 1937 saw 3 more states—California, Missouri, and Oregon—adopt lethal gas as their sole method of execution. During the 1950s, Mississippi, Maryland, and New Mexico all began using lethal gas.

From 1890 to 2010 a total of 593 of America’s 8,776 executions were carried out by using the gas chamber. My examination of those executions reveals that 32 of those, or 5.4 % were botched, making the gas chamber the 2nd most unreliable execution method (exceeded only by lethal injection) used in that period.

Like LaGrand’s execution, death in the gas chamber often came only after a prolonged period in which the condemned struggled to breathe, convulsed, turned blue, and jerked their heads around desperately searching for fresh air.

The gas chamber received renewed scrutiny in the aftermath of World War II. The recognition of the role played by lethal gas in the Holocaust led many nations to reconsider the death penalty and the gas chamber. But in the United States, gassings continued, with 211 of them carried out between 1950 and 1979.

Nonetheless, executions by gas continued to encounter problems.

After the war, California’s gas chamber became known worldwide after a series of botched executions and highly publicized legal battles. In 1953, Leandress Riley’s execution garnered a great deal of attention when he went to his death fighting. After attempting suicide, he was finally subdued, handcuffed, and dragged into the gas chamber. Riley somehow managed to get free from the chair’s straps. When the gas finally entered the chamber, Riley held his breath for many minutes before allowing himself to begin to die.

Only a few years later, Caryl Chessman garnered public and celebrity support in his efforts to escape California’s gas chamber. Chessman wrote a bestselling memoir about his time on death row and managed his own legal proceedings from prison. When his 1960 execution was botched, anti–death penalty campaigns around the world erupted in anger.

The eventual demise of the gas chamber came as death penalty proponents, propelled in part by its frequent problems, sought new alternatives. Although lethal gas had once been touted as a progressive, humane, and painless method of execution, the gas chamber had a relatively short life. It was used as the sole method of execution in several states only, from 1924 to 1977.

By the time of LaGrand’s 1999 execution, the gas chamber had become a relic of the past, in large part because of its inability to deliver on its promise to offer a safe, reliable, and humane method of execution that would “leave the criminal little more to dread of the future than the common lot of all mankind.”

The lessons of history suggest that the gas chamber is not the solution to the continuing problems plaguing America’s death penalty. Arizona should learn from that history rather than risk repeating it.

(source: Austin Sarat, Slate)

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Holocaust Survivors Outraged As Arizona Reverts To Nazi-Era Gas Chamber For Death Row

The state of Arizona is reportedly moving to use hydrogen cyanide to execute inmates on death row on U.S. soil, more than seven decades after the Nazis slew more than 1 million people with the lethal gas in Auschwitz and other death camps.

The news has elicited rage from Holocaust survivors and critics across the globe.

The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation & Reentry recently obtained ingredients to produce hydrogen cyanide, known by the brand name Zyklon B, worth more than $2,000. The department acquired a $1,530 solid brick of potassium cyanide in December, according to reports.

Nonpartisan group Death Penalty Information Center, which gathers data on executions in America, noted that Zyklon B was initially developed as an insecticide. It was the Nazis’ “signature method” to kill men, women, and children during the Holocaust, the New York Daily Post reported.

Recent documents revealed that Arizona has recently “refurbished” its gas chamber. The facility was last used two decades ago in 1999 against Walter LaGrand, marking the last execution by lethal gas in America. A witness had revealed harrowing details of LaGrand’s death. The inmate reportedly had to be repeatedly strangled and choked for some 18 minutes before dying.

In October last year, Arizona also spent an eye-watering $1.5 million on a batch of the sedative pentobarbital. The department plans to use the chemical as its main lethal injection method.

3 months later, sometime in December, corrections officers declared the gas chambers to be “operationally ready,” following a series of tests.

The Guardian reported that Arizona launched its bold campaign to restart the deeply flawed execution system seven years after the death penalty was suspended in the Republican-controlled state.

It follows the horrifying 2014 botched lethal injection of Joseph Wood, who died after 2 hours of torture. Authorities later found he had been injected 15 times the amount of execution drugs called for in Arizona’s execution protocol.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, has slammed the horrifying reports of re-using hydrogen cyanide gas for executions.

“If they say, ‘We’ll carry out the law because it’s the law,’ that’s a bit like saying ‘We’re just following orders,’ and we know where we’ve heard that before,” Dunham told the ABC. “If they say they were aware of the history and they didn’t care, that’s even worse.”

Executions in gas chambers, as well as electric chairs, are extremely controversial in the U.S. as some states moved to deem it unconstitutional, ultimately prohibiting the use of such execution methods. However, there is no outright ban on the method across America.

(source: Latin Times)

NEVADA:

Judge to decide Monday on whether Nevada can set execution

A state judge will decide next week whether prosecutors in Las Vegas can plan the 1st execution in Nevada in 15 years.

District Judge Michael Villani said at a hearing Friday in Las Vegas that he will make a decision on Monday in the case of Zane Michael Floyd, who was convicted of killing four people in a grocery store. Prosecutors are pushing to have Floyd executed in late July.

“At some point, this has to be final,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Alex Chen said, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “If the court never sets a date for certain, then there really is no goal, and theoretically this litigation will just continue for years and years and years.”

State prison officials have not disclosed the names of the drugs or the injection procedure they plan to use in Floyd’s death.

Nevada requires executions to be by lethal injection, and state law requires prison officials to make public their execution plan, or protocol, only after a death warrant is issued.

Floyd, 45, does not want to die. He has been on death row since he was convicted in 2000 in the shotgun killing of 4 people and the wounding of a fifth person at a Las Vegas supermarket in 1999.

After he lost federal appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take his case, Clark County prosecutors earlier this year moved forward to carry out his sentence.

At the time, a measure was pending in the state Legislature to abolish the death penalty. It failed.

Attorneys from the federal public defender’s office in Las Vegas are fighting in state and federal courts to keep Floyd alive.

A federal judge signaled this week that he may block an execution date once it’s set in order to review the execution procedure and drug officials plan to use. U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware II set a June 10 hearing for prison officials to disclose the type of drugs that would be used.

Challenges of the drugs and the execution procedure that prisons officials drew up for the lethal injection of twice-convicted killer Scott Dozier stalled his execution twice, in 2017 and 2018.

Dozier had pleaded with the state to put him to death and expressed frustration at the delays. He killed himself in prison in January 2019.

Defense attorney David Anthony, who represented Dozier and now represents Floyd, told Boulware on Thursday that Floyd has also applied for a Sept. 21 clemency hearing before the state Board of Pardons. The panel is made up of the governor, seven state Supreme Court justices and the state attorney general.

The last person put to death in Nevada was Daryl Mack in 2006 for a 1988 rape and murder in Reno. Mack asked for his sentence to be carried out.

(source: Las Vegas Sun)

CALIFORNIA:

California Death Penalty Faces Test

CBSN Bay Area’s Allen Martin talks to UCSF Law Professor Lara Baselon about the case at the CA Supreme Court that could make the death penalty harder to impose.

MICHELLE GRIEGO: Penalty in California faces a major test and hundreds of cases could be affected. KPIX 5’s Allen Martin asked a law professor what’s at stake.

– OK, first question I have is please explain for us the context of this challenge to California’s death penalty, and why this is not necessarily an overall challenge to the death penalty law.

LARA BASELON: Sure. This is a very specific challenge that goes to the factors that jurors weigh at sentencing to determine whether or not to give somebody the death penalty or life in prison without parole. They’re called aggravating factors. And the jury is supposed to weigh them against the mitigating evidence– so the evidence showing that maybe this person should not be executed– and make a determination.

The lawyers are saying that the jurors need to agree on the specific aggravating factors that lead them to find death beyond a reasonable doubt. And the law doesn’t require that they do that right now.

– So right now, the law requires that they find these extenuating circumstances, these special circumstances, but not specifically what it was?

LARA BASELON: Right. So for example, you and I could be on a jury and we could be presented with different aggravating factors– this was a hate crime and this was a lying in wait crime, for example. And so you decide, I think it’s a hate crime, and I decided to lying in wait crime, and so we have different bases for our votes– that the aggravation outweighed the mitigation. This case is saying, no, no, no, you and I have to agree beyond a reasonable doubt on this specific aggravating factors.

– And why is this particular challenge being mounted?

LARA BASELON: So I think it’s being mounted because we’re in a really different climate right now. And for decades, we’ve had a Supreme Court that has, in our state, repeatedly upheld the death penalty as being constitutional. We now have a court that is tilted to the left. There are Jerry Brown appointees on this court, there are Gavin Newsom appointees on this court, and there may be some thinking by the litigants that there’s going to be a more receptive audience to attacks on the constitutionality of the death penalty. And what’s interesting is that the Supreme Court did ask for amicus briefing, and the governor weighed in as an amicus on behalf of the condemned defendant as did a number of law professors.

– So do you think it’s likely there will be a ruling that will alter the state death penalty?

LARA BASELON: I think it is definitely plausible with this court and this particular argument that, yes, there could be a finding by this court, by a majority of this court, that the jurors have to agree on aggravating factors and that this death sentence can’t stand. Then the question becomes, well, is the ruling retroactive? Because if so, it could affect hundreds of people currently on death row.

– That’s exactly what I was going to ask. What effect would the ruling have on those 700-plus who are sitting on death row at San Quentin?

LARA BASELON: That is really the crucial question, assuming that the ruling goes the way that I suggested it might. And there’s really no way to tell that. Retroactivity is a funny thing. The US Supreme Court just declined to find a constitutional principle retroactive. In that case, it was unanimous juries. And in 2 states, Louisiana and Oregon, non-unanimous juries were permitted.

And the court, while saying this was a relic of Jim Crow, and racist, and going forward not going to be allowed, then later held, this does not apply to everybody who’s already in prison on a non-ret– excuse me, on a non-unanimous verdict. And so the California Supreme Court could make a similar ruling in this case. They could say, yes, there was a problem with this death sentence, but everyone else who came before this ruling doesn’t get the benefit of it. They’re stuck with their death sentences. So just moving forward prospectively, defendants will get the benefit. It’s really unclear what they will do.

– Well, how could– I guess how could different county district attorney’s approach a change in the death penalty? Would they have to retry the death penalty phase in all these cases?

LARA BASELON: So, yes. Were the ruling to be retroactive, it would vacate those death sentences– hundreds of them– and then it would be up to the district attorneys to decide whether or not they would live with a life without parole sentence for those people or whether they would try to get the death penalty all over again. The other thing that’s really interesting about this– and, again, it speaks to what’s going on in California, just the sea change– there are a number of district attorneys elected now who have also weighed in on the side of the governor, on the side of the defendants, saying that they think the death penalty as currently written is unconstitutional. And so those district attorneys have already said they’re not going to seek it anyway.

– OK. So if this change happens, how likely is– that’s going to be challenged, then, in the higher court.

LARA BASELON: Well, so if the Supreme Court rules the way that the condemned prisoner is hoping that they rule, it’s going to be hard for the losing party to go any higher. They have to ask the US Supreme Court to grant review. And it’s hard for me to see how the court would, because this turns on an equation of state law. And the Supreme Court really can’t weigh in– the US Supreme Court can’t weigh in of questions that are purely questions of state law. In those cases, it’s really up to the state’s highest court to make the decision.

– And when are we anticipating a decision?

LARA BASELON: It’s hard to say, because it’s a really complicated case. And there are a lot of people weighing in. I would guess within the next three to 6 months.

– Anything I’ve missed here that you want to add?

LARA BASELON: You’ve been very thorough. I don’t think so. It’s a really fascinating case, and it’s going to be hard to predict the outcome.

– Lara, thanks so much. I really appreciate your time– at the last minute too– really gracious of you.

LARA BASELON: You’re so welcome. It was a pleasure to speak with you.

(source: Yahoo News)

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Accused Poway synagogue shooter signs conditional plea agreement

The man accused of opening fire in a Poway synagogue, killing 1 person and wounding 3 others, has signed a conditional plea agreement that is now in the hands of the U.S. attorney general, who is still deciding whether to pursue the federal death penalty in the case, attorneys said at a court hearing Friday.

The terms of the plea offer were not disclosed.

John T. Earnest, 21, is indicted on 113 counts in the case.

Newly installed U.S. Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland will now have to decide how to procced. He could accept the terms of the plea or negotiate new ones. Or he could reject the possibility of a deal and continue to trial, a choice that would also have to include whether to seek the death penalty.

The highest levels of the Department of Justice have been weighing the capital punishment option since September. But a decision was not reached under the Trump administration, and the presidential transition put the decision on Garland’s desk. Federal death penalty cases are rare.

U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia had previously asked the government to announce its death penalty decision by Aug. 30.

“The defense provided its offer to plead guilty to the government, and we have forwarded that on to the appropriate decision-makers,” Special Assistant U.S. Atty. Rose Gibson told Battaglia on Friday.

Earnest, who lived in Rancho Peñasquitos, is already facing the death penalty in a parallel state prosecution in San Diego County Superior Court that is headed to trial. Defense attorney Ellis “Tripp” Johnston III told the judge that both parties in the state case have been notified of the plea offer in the federal case.

A status hearing for the state case is set for Tuesday.

There were 54 people inside the Chabad of Poway the morning of April 27, 2019, when Earnest is accused of entering the lobby and opening fire with an assault-style rifle.

The indictment counts each person as a victim on charges of a hate crime and obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs using a dangerous weapon resulting in death, bodily injury and attempts to kill.

Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, was killed in the attack. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was shot in both hands, causing him to lose an index finger, while Noya Dahan, then 8, and her uncle, Almog Peretz, were wounded.

Earnest was also charged with four counts of discharging a firearm during crimes of violence.

An additional charge — damage to a religious property using fire — relates to an arson at Dar-ul-Arquam mosque in Escondido a month earlier.

According to testimony in the state case, Earnest fled the synagogue after appearing to have trouble with his weapon and being confronted by congregants, including an off-duty Border Patrol agent who obtained a gun and fired back.

Earnest drove to a nearby parking lot, called 911 and told the dispatcher he’d been involved in a shooting. He then waited for law enforcement to arrive and arrest him.

An online screed attributed to him — full of racist and antisemitic statements — was posted moments before the attack on the online messaging platform 8chan, which was known to host extremists. Someone reported the manifesto, which suggested an imminent attack, to the FBI in San Diego, but the posting lacked specific details of who wrote it and a location, and by then it was too late to intervene.

Goldstein, who urged peace during speeches in the Rose Garden at the White House and at the United Nations, has since stepped down from the synagogue.

At the time of the shooting, the rabbi had been quietly under investigation by the FBI for masterminding several financial schemes tied to Chabad of Poway. He pleaded guilty last summer and has not been sentenced.

(source: Associated Press)

USA:

Essential Politics: Support for the death penalty dropped for 2 decades. Now it’s hit a plateau

A lot of American political debates involve values and personal beliefs, rather than economics. But while such cultural issues, as they are often labeled, can get lumped together as a single category, Americans’ attitudes toward them don’t move in lockstep.

On some issues — attitudes toward LGBTQ relationships, for example — American attitudes have shifted profoundly over the last 2 decades. On other issues, such as abortion, the division of opinion has barely changed: About 6 in 10 Americans say the procedure should be legal in all or most cases, about 4 in 10 say it should be illegal in all or most cases, and the division in opinion is about the same now as it was in the mid-1990s.

American feelings about the death penalty occupy a middle ground between those two poles: Support for executions dropped a lot from the mid-1990s until a few years ago, but since then has plateaued, as new data from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center shows.

“While they often get talked about together, these issues are all very different,” and the differences often surface in unpredicted ways, said Carroll Doherty, Pew’s director of political research.

Because cultural issues involve people’s personal values and beliefs, they’re often seen as intractable. But the record suggests something different: New facts and experiences can change people’s beliefs, but only up to a point.

The long decline in executions

In March, Virginia abolished the death penalty. The move by the state that once led the nation in executions brought the number of jurisdictions to have ended capital punishment to 23 states plus the District of Columbia. Three other states — California, Oregon and Pennsylvania — have moratoriums put in place by their governors.

Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed California’s moratorium in 2019. The state has 703 prisoners on death row, according to the Department of Corrections — more by far than any other state — but hasn’t executed anyone in more than 15 years.

11 of the state abolition decisions came in recent years, following a long slide in support for the death penalty that began in the mid-1990s.

That was the second such drop. In the 1960s, evidence that Black Americans were disproportionately subject to capital punishment helped cause a sharp decline in support and set the stage for a 1972 Supreme Court ruling that struck down all then-existing death penalties.

The high court in 1976 allowed executions to resume, under new rules, and backing for capital punishment steadily increased through the 1980s. It peaked in the mid-1990s, when roughly 8 in 10 Americans said they favored execution for people convicted of murder, according to polling by Pew and the Gallup organization.

By 2019, backing for the death penalty had fallen to some 6 in 10 Americans. That’s about where it has remained since. In the most recent Pew survey, 60% of American adults said they supported the death penalty; 39% opposed it.

Notably, that 60/40 split holds true when people are surveyed online. When people are surveyed by telephone with live interviewers, support for the death penalty is somewhat lower and opposition somewhat higher, according to Pew, which has tested both methods for several years.

That suggests that some people who support the death penalty hesitate to say so to another person. Democrats seem especially likely to be in that group, Pew found. It’s an example of how polls can be skewed by what’s considered the accepted position in a person’s social circle. That sort of gap between phone and online surveys is not present on some other issues Pew has tested, such as abortion.

That polling issue, however, doesn’t change the two-decade decline in support for executions. Scholars who have studied the shift cite several possible factors:

The steep drop in homicides and other crimes that began in the early 1990s eroded support for a variety of get-tough measures. The reduction in the number of people being executed, especially in recent years, may have made the penalty seem less a normal part of public life. Growing racial diversity has reduced support for executions, which white people in the U.S. back more than Black or Latino Americans.

Democrats, in particular, have turned against the death penalty in recent decades. Republican attitudes have not changed as much.

In 1992, then-candidate Bill Clinton very publicly interrupted his presidential campaign to return to Arkansas to oversee the execution of a man convicted of killing a police officer. In 2020, Joe Biden promised to seek repeal of the federal death penalty.

One of the biggest factors in the shift in attitudes involved a new fact in the public debate: Starting in the 1990s, DNA testing began to prove that wrongful convictions were real — and not uncommon. The wave of exonerations of people wrongly convicted of crimes included scores who had faced death sentences. The Death Penalty Information Center counts 185 cases of people sentenced to death who have been exonerated.

Those exonerations have had an impact on how the public sees the death penalty. In 1991, only about 10% of death penalty opponents said that the risk of an innocent person being executed was a reason for their stand. By 2011, not only were a lot more people opposed to the death penalty, but more than 25% of opponents cited concern about the wrongfully convicted being killed as a reason, Pew found.

Acknowledgement of that risk, however, doesn’t necessarily cause people to oppose the death penalty. In Pew’s latest survey, 78% of Americans said that there was “some risk that an innocent person will be put to death” — that’s twice as many as said they opposed the penalty.

For many people, what outweighs the risk of wrongful executions is the belief that capital punishment is morally justified for murder. Most supporters of the death penalty don’t believe it is perfect — only 30% of supporters said they believe that “adequate safeguards” exist to “ensure that no innocent person will be put to death.” But 90% of supporters see it as morally just and don’t want to abolish it in all cases.

People’s judgments about what is moral can be hard to change. That doesn’t mean they’re immovable, however, as the shift in attitudes toward gay and lesbian relationships shows.

In 1996, only about 25% of Americans said they believed that same-sex marriages should be valid, according to Gallup’s polling. By 2004, when opponents of marriage equality made the issue part of that year’s political campaign, a majority remained opposed, but support had grown to around 40%. By 2015, when the Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality, a majority of Americans said same-sex unions should be legal. By now, two-thirds of Americans say so.

Some of that shift involves generational change, but the flip in public attitudes happened so quickly only because tens of millions of older Americans changed their minds. That change in attitudes toward marriage equality went hand-in-hand with a shift in what Americans deemed to be moral.

As recently as 2006, a majority of Americans told Gallup that gay and lesbian relations were “morally wrong.” By 2010, a clear majority felt the opposite. Last year, Americans rejected that view by 2 to 1, Gallup found.

There are other issues, of course, on which opinions have not shifted and some, such as regulation of guns, on which already formidable partisan divides have grown even deeper and seemingly more stubborn in recent years.

But at a time in American public life when it sometimes seems as if every issue has become a matter for trench warfare, both of these topics stand as reminders that even on some of the most deeply felt questions — literal matters of life and death — change is possible, and shifts in opinion do take place.

(source: Los Angeles Times)

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Pew Poll: Support for Death Penalty Declining, But Higher in Internet Polling than Phone Polling

A new poll by the Pew Research Center reports that support for the death penalty is down in the United States but may be higher than previous estimates because some poll respondents are unwilling to admit to a live pollster that they support capital punishment.

Results of Pew’s April 5–11, 2021 on-line survey of U.S. adults, released on June 2, indicated that 60% of respondents said they favored the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, down from the 65% level of support reported by on-line respondents in August 2020 and September 2019. In a phone survey over what Pew said was “a nearly identical period” in August 2020, 52% of adults said that they favored the death penalty.

Pew found that during the last 3 times in which it surveyed Americans about their views on the death penalty, on-line respondents were 9–12 % points more like to say they favored capital punishment than were respondents who provided responses to a live interviewer on the phone. Pew said that “survey questions that ask about sensitive or controversial topics — and views of the death penalty may be one such topic — may be more likely to elicit different responses across modes.” That difference, it posited, is “perhaps attributable to social desirability bias.”

Courtney Kennedy, Pew’s director of survey research, told the New York Times the researchers were “absolutely” convinced that social desirability bias was the most significant factor in the differences between the responses to the on-line and phone surveys. The death penalty, Kennesy said, is “a bit of a touchy subject, it’s kind of sensitive, and admitting that you hold an opinion that has such profound implications for somebody else — not everybody wants to engage with that with a stranger.”

Because of this, Pew has shifted its methodology in death-penalty polling from phone interviews to on-line surveying. However, it said, telephone surveys continue to “provide a basis for examining long-term changes in the public’s attitudes toward the death penalty.” Those surveys, Pew noted, “have shown a steady decline in support for the death penalty in the United States since the mid-1990s.”

The April 2021 on-line survey found that 60% of respondents said that they favored the death penalty, while 39% said they opposed it. Opposition to capital punishment grew by 5 % points compared to on-line surveys taken in August 2020 and September 2019. Strikingly, however, a majority of respondents reported significant problems in the way the death penalty is administered. Although 64% of respondents thought “the death penalty is morally justified” when a person “commits a crime like murder,” most respondents —a nearly 4-to-1 margin — reported that the death penalty risks executing the innocent. 78% of respondents told Pew that “[t]here is some risk that an innocent person will be put to death,” while only 21% responded that “[t] here are adequate safeguards to ensure that no innocent person will be put to death.” “Only 30% of death penalty supporters — and just 6% of opponents — say adequate safeguards exist to prevent innocent people from being executed,” Pew said.

Respondents also disagreed with the notion that capital punishment contributes to public safety. 63% of on-line respondents told Pew that “the death penalty does not deter people from committing serious crimes,” compared to 35% who said they believed the death penalty was a deterrent. A majority of U.S. adults surveyed (56%) also said that “Black people are more likely than White people to be sentenced to death for committing similar crimes.” 41% said that “White people and Black people are equally likely” to receive the death penalty for similar crimes. The results reflected significantly different worldviews on this issue dependning upon a respondent’s race. 85% of Black adults responded that Black people are more likely than Whites to be sentenced to death for similar crimes, falling to 61% of Hispanic adults and 49% of White adults.

The poll found significant differences in views of the death penalty based upon respondents’ race, age, education, and political affiliation. 64% of Whites and Asians said they supported the death penalty, compared to 56% of Hispanics and 49% of Blacks. Support for capital punishment was highest among adults aged 50-64 (69%), falling to 60% among those over 65, 58% among those aged 30–49, and 51% among those aged 18–29.

Whether respondents favored or opposed the death penalty was inversely related to their level of education. Those with a high school education or less were most likely to favor the death penalty (68%), dropping to 63% among those with some college education, 49% among college graduates, and 44% among those with postgraduate education.

77% of Republicans — and 82% of Republicans who identified themselves as conservative —said they favored the death penalty, with 23% and 17%, respectively, saying they opposed it. 53% of Democrats — and 64% of those identifying themselves as liberal — said they opposed the death penalty, versus 46% and 36%, respectively, who said they favor it.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

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

Convicted Chili’s murderer will no longer face death penalty

Convicted murderer William Wood Jr. will no longer face the death penalty. Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the notice of intent to seek the death penalty to be dropped.

On September 15, 2018, Wood opened fire inside the Chili’s restaurant on Erie Boulevard in DeWitt, killing two of his former co-workers during an armed robbery. He planned to kill others, but his handgun jammed.

Wood is already serving a sentence of life without parole in New York State for the killings.

(source: rochesterfirst.com)

IRAN:

11 Executions in 1 Week, Including 2 Women

As Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi run his campaign for the June 18 Presidential election, he still oversees the implementation of death sentences against prisoners. In this context, authorities hanged at least eleven prisoners, including 2 women, in the prisons of Qazvin, Birjand, Isfahan, and Yazd within 1 week alone, based on reports provided by the human rights association No to Prison – No to Execution.

Execution of a Young Couple

At dawn on May 30, authorities in Iran hanged a young couple in Qazvin Prison, west of Tehran. The man was identified as Yousef Pir-Ostovan. However, the female victim’s identification is unclear. It is said that they had a cousinhood relationship. They had been kept in prison for around 8 years.

According to human rights defenders, the State Security Forces detained them on drug-related charges on the Qazvin-Karaj highway 8 years ago. As of this report, authorities have avoided announcing this news.

In 2015, judicial officials allegedly reformed and revised the Penal Code. Since then, Mrs. Pir-Ostoven is the 1st female prisoner who has been executed on drug-related charges. As of this report, authorities have refused to announce the death penalty. Notably, Mrs. Pir-Ostovan was the 118th woman who was hanged during the ‘moderate’ Hassan Rouhani’s presidency.

Execution of 6 Baluch Inmates

Furthermore, at dawn on May 25, Iranian authorities executed six Iranian Baluch inmates at Birjand Prison in the northeastern province of South Khorasan. According to human rights defenders, the prison guards deprived the death-row prisoners of a last visit with their families.

“33-year-old Javad Nakhaei, Mohammadreza Harati, Reza Azarian, Ruhollah Riggi, Alireza Farsi, and Reza As’adi were identified,” reported the Campaign of Baluchi Human Rights Defenders. The government had already convicted these inmates on drug-related charges. As of this report, the state-run media has yet to announce the executions.

Execution of 2 Inmates in Isfahan Prison

Also, authorities secretly hanged 2 inmates at Isfahan Central Prison on May 24. According to human rights activists, the executed inmates were Kianoush Ali-Moradi, 50, and Ahmad-Ali Ghodrati. The government had accused them of drug-related charges.

Mr. Ali-Moradi was married and had several children. However, the Judiciary mercilessly executed him pushing his impoverished widow and orphans to enormous dilemmas in various aspects.

Execution of a Woman for IRGC Member’s Sake

On May 23, authorities hanged 41-year-old female prisoner Kobra Fatemi for murdering her husband. She was considered as the 117th woman who was executed during Rouhani’s 8-year tenure in office.

According to the Islamic Republic’s Penal Code, the Fatemis would pay ‘Diya’ [blood money] to the grieving family, sparing their lived one’s life. The victim’s family had initially agreed to accept blood money. However, the victim’s uncle, who was a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), rejected the money, insisting the death penalty be carried out.

42 Executions in 70 Days

Human rights activists reported the Iranian government had hanged at least 42 inmates since the beginning of the new Persian year on March 21. “Most executions, around 71 percent, are secretly carrying out,” they added.

Meanwhile, authorities still hang inmates on drug-related charges, while according to a new directive issued in 2017, it was supposed that the death penalty is dramatically limited. However, the Judiciary, led by Ebrahim Raisi yet emphasizes issuing and implementing death sentences.

In such circumstances, Judiciary Chief Raisi, who has yet to resign, runs for the June 18 Presidential election. All indicators show that he is the favorite candidate of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, which puts a darker situation of human rights in Iran on the horizon.

Moreover, the government has established an international arms smuggling and drug trafficking system, using national resources to carry out such operations. “These groups operating under the influence of Khamenei and managed by the IRGC. Furthermore, the IRGC’s extraterritorial arm Quds Force funds terrorism and regional interventions through sending drugs to the West,” said Iranian dissident Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK).

In 2007, WikiLeaks revealed a U.S. Embassy report that stated that over 80 % of global opium and over 28 % of global heroin were being transported through Iran. In 2011 the Times reported that the IRGC has a huge role in Iran’s “multibillion-pound” drug trafficking and that they’re using this to create a relationship with the “global crime network” to undermine the West.

Aside from China, at least 283 people were executed across the globe in 2020. At least 246 of whom were hanged in Iran, reported Amnesty International.

(source: irannewsupdate.com)

ZIMBABWE:

Innocent persons should not spend even a minute in jail, says President Mnangagwa’s lawyer

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s lawyer, advocate Tino Chinyoka has bemoaned the country’s criminal justice procedures saying it is taking longer than necessary to conclude certain cases, especially after an appeal.

His comments came after it took 8 years to hear the appeal by MDC Alliance’s Last Maengahama and Tungamirai Madzokere who were jailed on allegations that they had killed a police officer.

The 2 were freed yesterday by the Supreme Court, after having had spent 8 years behind bars, despite their appeal.

Meanwhile, the matter became a talk of town with many questioning why it had to take 8 years before their appeal was heard. Others viewed it as political persecution.

However, Chinyoka says: “The conversation we are now having around this is wrong. Clearly, no innocent person should spend even a minute in jail, let alone 8 years.

“But instead of this being a good time to bash “Zanu-PF”, it should be time to talk about bail reforms, appeal rules, and size of Supreme Court.”

He also says it is time to address the structure of the country’s criminal court system.

“Like, what role was played by the assessors in this trial? Are they representative of society or do we need juries in murder cases? The death penalty? We could have executed innocent people!” He adds.

Meanwhile, Chinyoka denies assertions that the country’s justice system is captured by the status quo, saying when a court reverses an appeal is evidence enough to show that the system works.

“Yes! It’s precisely why we have appeal courts, because sometimes trial courts get it wrong.

“When an appeal court reverses a ruling, it’s evidence that the system works.

“The problem here is the 8 years delay, that’s what we must fix. ZanuPF haipindi apa. But vanhu,” he says.

(source: zwnews.com)

INDIA:

‘An obscene law’: How Tamil writer Sundara Ramaswamy argued against the death penalty in 1999

This is a period when opinions against the death penalty are being disseminated all around the world. Since the birth of the 20th century, Western thinkers have formulated arguments against capital punishment. Among them, Arthur Koestler (1905-1983), a Hungarian writer, is particularly important. He was subject to imprisonment under the dictatorship of a fascist regime.

During the Spanish Civil War, he was taken prisoner under sentence of death. He experienced the many brutalities of an authoritarian regime during his lifetime. Through his novel, Darkness at Noon, he exposed the dictatorial nature of Stalin’s regime for the world to see. It must be said that Arthur Koestler was the 1st person to plant thoughts against the death penalty deep in the minds of writers across the world.

In India, Mahatma Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayanan were important figures in engendering opinions against the death penalty among writers. Humanity is the underlying value that forms the basis of a writer’s creative vision. Therefore, it is none too surprising that writers in India and the rest of the world have been captivated by considerations against the death penalty.

Even if we hold great affinity towards a particular thought, we need some sort of a crisis to be able to act in relation to it, and explain the effect of that action to society at large. At this juncture, Indian writers, particularly Tamil writers, are faced with a critical period to strengthen the reasoning against capital punishment.

After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, four of the accused: Nalini, Murugan, Perarivalan and Santhan, have been pushed towards the state of being hanged. There are many reasons to commute their death sentence to life imprisonment. I will put forth a few of them here.

In the case of the Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, the Central Bureau of Investigation recorded 41 people as suspects in the crime. 12 suspects, who were considered crucial to the commission of the crime, died before the investigation. 2 of them had died during the blast itself. Another 10, anticipating the torture ahead of them, committed suicide. 3 others were proclaimed criminals; they could not be arrested.

The remaining 26 suspects were arrested and presented for investigation. All of them were given death sentences by the special TADA court. The Supreme Court freed 19 of those 26. It commuted the death sentences of 3 of the remaining 7 to life imprisonment. The death sentences of the other 4 were upheld.

These 4 people did not play a major role in the commission of the crime. According to the report on Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, they played only supporting roles. That does not mean we consider them innocent. We are not asking that they be released either. They need to be punished in proportion to their crime. But when we look at the small part they played, the question of whether they need to face the death penalty for it arises in our minds.

Had the main perpetrators of the crime – Sivarasan, Suba and others – been apprehended and investigated, there is basis to assume that the 4 currently facing the death penalty would not have been awarded the same. The case was conducted under the provisions of TADA and other similar laws.

TADA, which was introduced in 1985, was strongly condemned by compassionate scholars and legal experts. In Parliament as well, the majority opposed it. The central government washed its hands of it in 1999. It would be more accurate to say that it slipped it off its hands.

TADA contains many cruel features. I will not list all of them here. Let me mention only one feature. It states that a confession received by a senior police officer from a suspect can be administered as evidence. Legal scholars have pointed this out as the most perilous feature of the Act.

There cannot be anyone in this country who is unaware that the use of violence to extract confessions from suspects in an investigation is part of the culture of the police department. If the Supreme Court had been a little sceptical towards the confessions of the accused, it would have mitigated their situation.

It is surprising that the judges of the Supreme Court have declared the verdict without casting any doubt. At this point, we must also take into account that the 10 suspects who killed themselves did so because they were afraid of this very police culture.

They have not been presented to us as people whose socio-economic backgrounds could have allowed them the capacity to create such a big conspiracy. There are reasons to believe that they were people who, owing to bitterness and frustration stemming from the conditions of their life, went down the wrong path. Since the case was registered, they have spent eight years in prison. I believe that it would be easy for imaginative writers to comprehend the suffering that they would have experienced in these 8 years.

We, as writers, should protest that no matter how severe their crime, all convicts facing the death penalty in India must have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. That four people are on the verge of being hanged presents a crisis for us. By foregrounding them, we are striving to make a great change in the law.

Our aim is to expunge all provisions for a death sentence from our statutes. It is an obscene law. I believe that it would not be incorrect to call it barbaric.

Writers can never be stagnant in outdated modes of thinking. They are the ones who need to know the intricacies of contemporary society and represent them. Only if we grasp the contemporary thinking on social structure, crime and criminology can we fully comprehend the nuances of our complicated society. Additionally, we must be knowledgeable about the relationship between punishment and humans, as well as the relationship between punishment and community. The dark thoughts that lurk in the human mind, hidden from sight, must also be known to us.

There has never been a permanent law or punishment in history. No law is sacred. The respectability of a law depends on how well it protects the welfare of a society. Over the years, various societies have imposed severe punishments for extremely minor offences. Death penalties have been enforced for crimes like theft, arson and robbery. Criminals have been whipped, crushed, boiled in oil, skinned, crucified, stoned and impaled.

The punishment that one person receives for a crime acts as a deterrent against other people committing that crime – this is the foundational principle of criminal law. This in itself is outdated thinking.

If one looks at the history of criminal law, it becomes evident that the kind of beneficial community that is sought to be established has never materialised. A system of law which does not assimilate the empathetic considerations that changing times generate becomes an evil of society. We live in such a society, where the law is outmoded.

It is not possible to separate the mind that commits a crime from the fabric of society. To what extent is the community that we have created principled enough to produce individuals who do not commit crimes? What assurances are there that a person will receive the bare minimum of physical and emotional nourishment that every human needs?

Countless Tamil films have been made based on the hostile notion of revenge. These films instil the worst of violent thoughts in the minds of viewers. The government looks forward to the entertainment tax from these films that preach violence. Only people who maintain physical and mental welfare can function with stability in society.

It is by selling alcohol – which undermines a person’s stability, degenerates body and mind, places women in unrelenting misery – that our government sustains itself. Most of our politicians reap profits through the functioning of anti-social activities. A man seeking to lead an honourable life ends up constantly wondering if he is a fool. We live in a society with people who operate under the belief that their wealth, authority, caste capital and political strength will allow them to commit any crime whatsoever and emerge unscathed.

According to contemporary thinking, those who commit crimes are like diseased people, requiring psychological and physical treatment. It is to obtain this treatment that they are isolated from society for a stipulated period of time. This is like the quarantining of a sick person. There is strong hope among today’s intellectuals that there can be treatment methods, based on current research, that would allow the majority of convicts to become productive members of society.

Callous people – without compassion, without any knowledge of contemporary thinking, uninfluenced by poetic tradition, mythological tradition and religious thought, welcoming thoughts of vengeance, relishing in displaying cruelties on fellow humans – cannot reform any criminal.

The people overseeing criminals today only make them degenerate into even worse criminals. They are also inclined to justify such degeneration. In fact, the ones who should oversee criminals are the scholars, psychologists and psychiatrists who are aware of the current modes of thinking.

Their combined thinking will impart the necessary physical and mental nourishment for convicts and reform them into people who add value to society. Writers must work accordingly to foster such a day. I request all the writers gathered here to take the first step towards that resolution and immerse themselves in the commendable work of abolishing the death penalty.

(source: Sundara Ramaswamy; Presented to the Conference of Writers Against Death Penalty, Chennai, November 27, 1999. Published in Dinamani, November 30, 1999—-scroll.in

JUNE 4, 2021:

TEXAS:

Commute these death sentences

At the end of May, I am once again sobered with reflection as we honor those veterans who have died in service to our nation. I am also humbled and appreciative of the many nonpartisan expressions of support for veterans, especially in Texas.

A sad irony is that Texas will soon kill a former Marine who earned an honorable discharge. John Hummel was proven guilty of heinous murder in Kennedale in 2009. His execution date is June 30.

Hummel is one of 24 veterans on death row in Texas. Given the statistic that only 3% of the U.S. population has ever served in the armed forces, it is understandable that most district attorneys, judges, jurors and legislators do not have a clear understanding of the military experience in general or the full range of the experiences endured by the young people who volunteer to serve us.

I believe our veterans on death row deserve “life without parole” instead of death at our hands. Texas can fix this easily by recognizing the mitigating circumstances of military service and by commuting the death sentences of all veterans.

Bob Michael, Grapevine

(source: Letter to the Editor, Dallas Morning News)

FLORIDA:

Does Ashley Moody really want to execute 75-year-old Tommy Zeigler without testing DNA? The Florida attorney general’s complaints seem easily addressed.

Before Florida executes 75-year-old Tommy Zeigler, State Attorney Monique Worrell wants to conduct DNA testing to make sure the state is killing a guilty man.

Attorney General Ashley Moody is trying to thwart that.

Yes, Florida’s top prosecutor is trying to obstruct a local prosecutor’s attempt to collect more evidence.

That’s disturbing, particularly for a state that has wrongly sentenced more people to die than any other state in America.

At least 30 times, Florida judges or juries have ordered executions only to later learn they did so in error.

In Zeigler’s case, the jury actually wanted him to live. Jurors voted for life in prison. (And one juror didn’t even want to convict him at all until after the judge ordered the bailiff to give her a Valium.) But a judge overruled the jury’s life sentence and ordered Zeigler’s execution.

So, for the past 45 years, taxpayers have spent far more money trying to kill Zeigler than they ever would have locking him up for life.

The case was a grisly one on Christmas Eve of 1975, when authorities said Zeigler killed his wife, her parents and 1 other person at his furniture store in Winter Garden. Zeigler, who was also shot that night, claimed they were all victims of a robbery gone bad.

For more than 4 decades, questions have persisted. And finally, the prosecutor joined with Zeigler’s pro-bono defense team to seek answers through DNA technology that wasn’t available 40 years ago.

But Moody is trying to intervene, which astounded Zeigler’s defense attorney, former U.S. Navy JAG officer Terry Hadley of Winter Park.

“It is beyond my ability to comprehend why the attorney general would try to stop testing that could potentially prove Zeigler innocent when the same has been agreed to by the state attorney’s office,” Hadley said. “We’re not asking for a free ticket, just the chance to test at our expense the evidence to establish guilt or innocence once and for all.”

I have trouble comprehending that, too. I know some people are certain Zeigler’s guilty. Others are certain he’s innocent. The only thing I’m certain about is that the state should have every possible piece of evidence before taking a man’s life.

In a statement Wednesday, Moody spokeswoman Kylie Mason said the office objected, in part, because Worrell didn’t first confer with her office. She also said any additional DNA testing should be conducted by a state lab, rather than a private certified one that Zeigler’s team offered to pay for.

Great. Both those things are easy fixes. So Moody, now duly notified, can request the state lab perform the test and get everyone the answers they seek. Right?

There’s a solid case for stopping executions altogether:

The death penalty doesn’t deter murder. (States with capital punishment have similar, and in some cases higher, murder rates.)

It isn’t applied evenly. (Men are sentenced to death more than women. The poor more than the rich. People of color more than whites. Southerners more than Northerners.)

And taxpayers often spend far more money trying to kill people than keeping them alive.

But the single best argument against the death penalty is that judges and juries sometimes get it wrong.

More than 170 people have been sentenced to death in this country only to later have their convictions overturned, thanks to revelations of everything from lying witnesses and fabricated evidence to sloppy police work and new DNA.

It takes an incredible suspension of logic to think that we catch every error.

That is why most states have stopped executing people. Yes, most. While executions are still legal in just over half of the states, almost all have stopped carrying them out. Last year, only 5 states executed anyone.

And even if you still believe in a-death-for-a-death brand of justice, I’m not sure how you can object to doing everything possible to make sure you’re killing the right person.

Zeigler’s case has always been a messy. Authorities say he wanted to kill his wife for insurance money and that he shot himself as a cover story. They stress that a witness claimed Zeigler also tried to kill him earlier the same day.

Zeigler says he was attacked by someone else, that he loved his wife, that authorities never looked for the real culprit, and that the judge played dirty pool handling the case.

The story and questions about Zeigler’s guilt have been the focus of a book, movie and multiple documentaries. Former Orlando Sentinel columnist Charley Reese — a man who liked the death penalty so much he wanted to bring back public hangings — studied Zeigler’s case and declared it proof that “the wheels of justice can crush innocents.”

(source: Opinion; Scott Maxwell, Tampa Bay Times)

NEVADA:

Nevada prisons near finalizing execution plans

Within days, prison officials could finalize their execution protocol and disclose the lethal injection cocktail planned for the capital punishment of Zane Floyd, sentenced to die for killing four inside a Las Vegas grocery store.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Randall Gilmer, who represents the Nevada Department of Corrections, said during a federal court hearing Thursday that Floyd and his attorneys would have access to the plans by next week, or at least in 2 weeks.

Federal Public Defenders David Anthony and Brad Levenson have asked U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware to stay Floyd’s execution, as prison officials have kept details surrounding the plans secret.

“I would like to know the actual drugs as soon as possible,” Anthony told Boulware.

But the types of drugs prison officials want to use and other details of how the state’s 1st execution in 15 years would be carried out may not be available to the public for weeks.

On Friday, prosecutors are expected to ask a state court judge for an order to execute Floyd at the end of next month.

But Boulware said Thursday that he could decide on a stay of execution within 2 weeks.

“I’m going to issue my decision as quickly as possible,” the judge said. “It cannot be overstated how significant this timing is.”

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

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

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

The Clark County District Attorney’s pursuit of Floyd’s execution came as state lawmakers considered abolishing capital punishment. Assembly Bill 395, which would have banned executions and commuted the sentences of those on death row to life in prison without parole, passed in the Assembly. But the bill failed last month after Gov. Steve Sisolak said he did not support a full repeal of the death penalty.

(source: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

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New Podcast: Rethinking Public Safety, A Conversation with Former Nevada Prison Doctor, Dr. Karen Gedney

In 1989, Nevada prison doctor, Dr. Karen Gedney refused a request by state officials to write a prescription for execution drugs, believing that doing so violated her medical oath to do no harm and her duty to provide medical care to prisoners. In the 2nd episode of the Discussions With DPIC podcast’s Rethinking Public Safety series, Dr. Gedney speaks with DPIC Managing Director Anne Holsinger about this and other issues she encountered in her three decades as a doctor in the Nevada prison system.

Holsinger and Gedney explore a range of issues during the podcast, including how prison conditions affect the physical and mental health of prisoners, how prison bureaucracy determines the quality of care that prisoners receive, and how executions take a toll on prison staff. Today, Dr. Gedney advocates for the abolition of the death penalty, and she explains how her career influenced her views on capital punishment.

Dr. Gedney began her career in Nevada’s Department of Corrections in 1987, as part of a 4-year assignment with the National Health Service Corps. After building a strong rapport with prisoners and seeing the opportunity to improve the quality of care offered to them, she turned that short-term assignment into a 30-year career. During that time, she observed first-hand how prison conditions — from low-quality food to isolation from others — adversely affected the physical and mental health of her patients.

Gedney tells the story of being asked to write a prescription for execution drugs in 1989, which she refused to do. “That’s not my role as a doctor to write drugs to kill someone,” she said. “I was put there by the federal government to give constitutional health care, not to be part of executions.” After state officials unsuccessfully attempted to “pressure” her to prescribe the drugs, they found a doctor who was not affiliated with the prison who was willing to write the prescription for a $500 fee.

In discussing the impact of the death penalty on the medical decisions she was required to make, Gedney recounted the story of a death-row prisoner dying from metastatic lung cancer. Given the late stage of the prisoner’s disease and the near impossibility of successful treatment, Gedney saw it as her duty to present his options, which included hospice care. “There were some people who wanted me to keep him alive, so he could be executed,” she said. “And when he died, people were angry at me, you know, for not prolonging it, so he could get executed. … Really, they affected me like, wow, is revenge that strong that dying from a miserable cancer and being dead, is dead? … It’s just, I didn’t quite get it as a doctor, as a person at all that revenge piece.” She also attributed Nevada’s high rate of prisoners who “volunteer” for execution to the geographic isolation of the state’s death row. “Guys will look at death as preferential to living a life without parole, if they are 100% hopeless, and 100% miserable,” she explained, noting that the facility where death-row prisoners were incarcerated was “away from all the major cities in Nevada. So, for family members to visit, it is incredibly arduous for them to visit,” she said.

Since retiring, Gedney has advocated for prison reform, including an end to capital punishment. She said she opposes capital punishment as part of a “holistic” view of reform, especially after learning more about its application. She questioned the deterrent value of the death penalty, saying, “It does not deter these heinous acts, or deter these violent emotional acts, because it’s emotion, it’s not logic.” She also noted the inequities in who gets sentenced to death, saying, “if you’re poor, you’re uneducated, you mentally can’t defend yourself, you’re a minority, you are at high risk.” The misconduct of Nevada prosecutors, particularly in Clark County (Las Vegas), also contributed to her view. “You have these prosecuting attorneys, who just want notches in their belt. You will see in certain counties, it’s incredibly disproportionate,” she said, going on to cite a Fair Punishment Project study that found misconduct in 47% of Clark County’s death sentences.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

CALIFORNIA:

California’s top court weighs overturning hundreds of death penalty sentences

For decades, California’s highest court has left it up to individual jurors to decide whether certain circumstances increase the severity of a crime and thereby warrant the death penalty in murder cases that qualify for the ultimate punishment.

On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court heard arguments on a change to that long-standing practice, which could potentially overturn hundreds of death penalty sentences in California.

At issue is how juries review “aggravating” factors — such as whether a crime was gang-related or involved multiple victims. Defense lawyers in the case argued that to ensure equal application of the death penalty, state law and the state Constitution require juries to be unanimous in their reasoning on each factor.

That the court is even considering new requirements is unusual. It has refused to impose them in the past and has even summarily dismissed the kind of arguments presented Wednesday.

But the court’s composition has changed over the years. Last June, the court issued a brief order asking for written arguments on the jury issue in what was otherwise a routine death penalty case. That raised hopes among some that the court might be ready to wield an ax to capital punishment in California, a state that has produced the nation’s largest death row but hardly any executions.

Wednesday’s hearing probably tempered those hopes. During a 90-minute hearing, only three justices — the more liberal members of the seven-judge court — spoke. Though the silence of the majority can be interpreted in different ways, the hearing did not clearly signal that monumental changes were afoot.

The June order asked litigants to submit written arguments on this issue: Must a jury decide beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant should get the death penalty or life without parole, and must that jury also be unanimous in deciding the reasons for a capital verdict? If the court agreed, a ruling would probably throw out hundreds, if not all, previous death sentences in California.

The court’s sudden interest in the issue alarmed death penalty supporters. They considered the questions long answered. Kent Scheidegger, a lawyer for a prominent pro-death penalty group, said he was both “surprised” and “very disturbed,” even with the changed composition of the court.

Over the last decade, appointments by Govs. Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom, both opponents of the death penalty, have transformed the court from a moderately conservative forum dominated by former prosecutors to a moderately liberal one. Democratic appointees now hold 5 of the 7 seats.

Newsom, moreover, filed written arguments in the case urging the court to take a new path. In a brief written by 2 legal scholars, Newsom assailed the death penalty as racist and cited study after study that found the system discriminated against Black and Latino defendants.

“I think there’s a lot of appeal to your argument from a fairness perspective,” Liu told a defense lawyer.

Liu’s “difficulty,” he said, was in finding cases that supported the argument legally. Is it possible, he asked, “that this issue has simply been missed this entire time? For 150 years, we have missed this issue?”

Under California’s death penalty law, capital trials are held in two phases. In the first, the jury decides guilt. The verdict must be unanimous and beyond a reasonable doubt.

During the 2nd phase, the jury decides whether to impose the death penalty or life without possibility of parole. The jury considers “aggravating” factors that favor the death penalty and weighs them against mitigating factors, such as a defendant’s history of being severely abused.

Individual jurors can now decide which of several disputed, aggravating factors weigh in favor of death. Their decision on the penalty must be unanimous, but their reasoning can be varied. Defense lawyers want the court to require the jury to agree unanimously on what factor justified the death penalty and to decide the penalty under a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.

Justice Joshua Groban, another Brown appointee, noted that courts uphold criminal verdicts all the time in which different jurors had different views about how the crime was committed.

But both Liu and Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, also a Brown appointee, seemed open to the idea that an ultimate jury decision on whether a defendant should live or die should be made beyond a reasonable doubt.

Scheidegger said even that partial victory for the defense would have a “cataclysmic” impact on the death penalty and potentially overturn scores of sentences. Such decisions in California are usually applied retroactively.

But Scheidegger said he felt “cautiously optimistic” after the hearing.

Liu, he said, did not seem “to be buying” the defendant’s main arguments.

UC Berkeley law professor Elisabeth A. Semel, who co-wrote Newsom’s written argument, declined to predict how the court would vote.

“Justices Liu, Cuellar, and Groban had some tough questions” for the deputy attorney general defending the death penalty, she said. “I do not believe she answered to their satisfaction.”

California has more than 700 inmates on death row, but legal challenges have stymied executions. Only 13 inmates have been executed since 1992, and Newsom imposed a moratorium on executions during his term in office.

The case before the court is an appeal brought by Don’te Lamont McDaniel, who was convicted with a co-defendant of entering an apartment in South Los Angeles’ Nickerson Gardens public housing project in April 2004 to settle a drug dispute.

McDaniel was convicted of killing two people and wounding two witnesses. The dead were 33-year-old George Brooks and Brooks’ 52-year-old cousin Annette Anderson.

Whatever the court decides, the case of People v. Don’te Lamont McDaniel has focused attention on the fairness of the jury process in deciding the sentence.

Even Deputy Atty. Gen. Dana Muhammad Ali, who argued that the law does not require the new jury rules, called the arguments of McDaniel’s lawyers “persuasive.” She said the state prosecutor’s office believes that adding such rules “deserves serious consideration” by voters, who could change the requirements for how juries decide the death penalty.

“These additional requirements are feasible because there are other states that have incorporated them into their death penalty schemes,” she told the court.

Defense lawyer Elias Batchelder implored the court to be bold, despite the many rulings that upheld death sentences without imposing the jury requirements.

“Sometimes courts make profound mistakes,” he said, “and it is not a malfunction of justice for courts to look deeply at history and reconsider.”

(source: Los Angeles Times)

USA:

How to respond to evil: Vengeance must stop, says sister of murder victim

Editor’s note: A year ago, after the murder of George Floyd, the U.S. exploded with protests bringing attention to the scourge of police violence against African Americans. Initial calls to “defund the police” have since been nuanced to call for substantive reform that includes reappropriation of funds for other social services. But policing is just part of a massive justice system that includes courts, jails and prisons. In this four-day series, “Justice Reimagined,” two NCR writers look at the prison abolition and reform movements, as well as what might work better: restorative justice. The three stories on prison abolition/reform are by Bertelsen fellow Madeleine Davison; former NCR executive editor Tom Roberts reported the 2 pieces on restorative justice.

Of the infinite ways in which Jeanne Bishop could have reacted in the wake of that shattering phone call, the one that came the day after a family dinner to celebrate her sister’s pregnancy, the one that essentially announced that all the reasons for celebration had been turned to horror and grieving, she permitted only one to dominate, and it surfaced almost immediately: “I don’t want to hate anyone.”

Her life was ripped from its moorings on a Palm Sunday morning, when she was already in choir robes, palms in hand, just before the start of a service at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. She was summoned to take the call from her father, who said: “Nancy and Richard have been killed.”

Her sister, Nancy, and brother-in-law, Richard Langert, had returned to their townhouse in Winnetka, Illinois, after leaving the dinner with Jeanne and her mother and father. When they arrived, a teenage gunman, David Biro, then only a junior in high school, was sitting in the living room, waiting. After a brief exchange he handcuffed Richard, ordered the couple to the basement where he shot Richard in the back of the head and fired three shots into Nancy’s side and stomach. Richard died instantly, Nancy lived, it is estimated, for about 15 minutes after the killer fled, enough time to crawl across the floor nearer to her dead husband and draw on the floor in her own blood a heart and the letter ‘U’.

What followed is detailed in a compelling narrative of life-changing heartbreak and healing in her first book, “Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with My Sister’s Killer.”

Bishop is a lawyer, one who left a big firm and big salary to become a public defender after her sister and brother-in-law were killed. She is also a writer and a believer of deep faith and conviction. She gives a great deal of credit to God for the journey she undertook and the results of that journey to date, described over the arc of 2 books.

But the story is as much about cooperation with grace and acting out of a faith that doesn’t first demand certainty as it is a story of God’s action in a life. And it involved at the time a lot of anguished questioning of that same God.

Her personal experience also gave her a unique authority when she began to investigate the remarkable friendship that developed between Bud Welch, a gas station owner in Oklahoma City, and Bill McVeigh, an auto parts worker from western New York, two working class Catholics whose meeting resulted from horrifying circumstances.

Welch’s daughter, Julie, was 23 and just beginning to engage life as a vibrant young adult when she was killed in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. McVeigh’s son, Timothy, then 26, was the mastermind behind the terrorist bombing of that building. He was later executed, an outcome he desired, by the federal government.

Bishop recounts the path from the pits of despair and hatred on the part of Welch to what today she terms “enduring” friendship in Grace from the Rubble: Two Fathers’ Road to Reconciliation After the Oklahoma City Bombing. The book received a 2021 Christopher Award.

Bishop said her reaction to the murder of her sister and brother-in-law, the determination not to hate, startled even her. The statement emerged in a conversation at the police station soon after the killing. It surfaced, she writes, because “I grasped at that moment that evil had intruded into our lives. I could not ignore it. It was too vast and terrible not to change me. It required a response.”

A response of hatred, she reasoned, “would take me away from who Nancy was, someone who loved, and move me closer to who the killer was, someone who could snuff out the life of another human being with the squeeze of a trigger. Whoever he was, I would not hate him.”

If that conviction came early on, it was hardly determinative of the next steps and the steps beyond that. It took more than 20 years for Bishop to reach the resolve that resulted in a letter to Biro in prison that ultimately led to their meeting. She is still advocating for a reduction in sentence, convinced that minors should not receive life without parole, the sentence Biro received.

“One of the boards I’m on is this group called Restore Justice Illinois and we’re trying to eliminate life without parole for juveniles and anything that creates these long, long sentences for young people,” she said in a recent phone interview.

She said 2 other board members had visited Germany to learn about that country’s system. She described it as different from the warehousing that goes on in the United States.

“One of the first people you meet is your re-entry counselor,” someone who works with you “to make sure when you get out of prison 2, 3, 4, 10 years later, that you have had counseling, that you have job skills, that you’re ready to deploy out in the world to support yourself.”

A similar question about hate occurred to Welch, who began drinking heavily and regularly visiting the site of the Oklahoma City bombing after his daughter’s death. Bishop writes in Grace from the Rubble that he was “asking myself a lot of questions. What do you do to get rid of this terrible hate?” He wondered if McVeigh’s execution would aid the healing process, a question that he pondered for about a month.

According to Bishop’s account in her book, Welch then spoke to an AP reporter who asked if he’d be glad when the execution occurred. Welch responded, “No, that’s not what I want.” The quote hit the wires and he became an instant target for news outlets everywhere. His response to the unbelieving inquiries: “When I was for the death penalty for Tim McVeigh, I was wanting to do the same thing he had done. It just made no sense to me.”

He told another outlet that the vengeance and rage of the sort that led to the bombing “has to stop somewhere.”

In the telling of her own tale and that of Welch and McVeigh, Bishop has become a high-profile advocate for the restorative justice process and for reform of the justice system. In a keynote address she gave during a 2019 conference on the subject sponsored by University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, she asked why the “dream” of restorative justice matters.

“It matters because we have to learn how to respond to evil because there’s been no shortage of evil since [the Oklahoma City bombing]. We’ve had Newtown and Parkland and El Paso and Dayton and Tree of Life Synagogue and Mother Emmanuel Baptist Church in Charleston. And we know that we have to respond, and if our response is hatred and vengeance, that will get us nowhere. It will just cause more bloodshed.”

She recounted the chilling calculation McVeigh described to journalists before he died: “He said, ‘You know they think they’ve got me, I’m some kind of trophy, that with the death penalty they’ve won. They haven’t won. By the crudest terms: 168 to 1.’ And we know what he meant by that.”

The conclusions she reaches about restorative justice, the ones on display today in talks and conferences and panel discussions, might be admirable or cause astounded heads to shake, but the work required to get to these end points is essential. It is, some might say, the destination without end. During this past year of COVID-19-inspired cleaning, said Bishop, she has come upon her journals from the earliest days of that work. They were written largely during a family getaway to a friend’s house on Sanibel Island where they went to spend some time grieving and healing.

In the immediate aftermath, her meditations were angry confrontations with God, with big questions about whether God even existed. “I was pouring my heart out in this journal. It was my cry of agony and rage at God,” she writes in her book.

She said she “was never going to be the person who wrote the book, ‘Nine Easy Steps to Forgiveness.’ I don’t believe that’s how it happens or that it’s even appropriate.”

But she’s considering revisiting the journals as the heart of a story about how her argument with God turned out.

(source: Tom Roberts is former editor of NCR—National Catholic Reporter)

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

Support For Death Penalty Slips In U.S., But Remains High Among Whites And Republicans

Key Facts

• About 60% of U.S. adults favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder (down from 65% in August 2020), including 27% who “strongly favor” it, while 39% oppose the death penalty, including 15% who are “strongly opposed.”

• About 78% of U.S. adults said there is some risk that an innocent person could be wrongly executed, and only 21% think there are proper procedures in place to prevent such mistakes

• About 85% of Black adults said Blacks are more likely than whites to be sentenced to death for serious crimes, while only 49% of whites hold this view.

• On the whole, 63% of American adults said the death penalty does not deter people from committing serious crimes, while about half, 48%, of death penalty supporters hold this view.

• Some 77% of Republicans favor the death penalty for murder (down from 84% in 2019) while only 46% of Democrats favor it (down from 49% in 2019).

• By race, Whites and Asians (each 63%) and Hispanic adults (56%) favor the death penalty for murder, while 49% of Black adults do.

Key Background

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 22 U.S. states have abolished capital punishment while another 12 states have not carried out an execution in at least ten years. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of California, the state with the highest number of death row prisoners at more than 700, will soon hear arguments to challenge the application of the death penalty, thereby making it potentially harder for courts to impose a death penalty ruling. If successful, the move could lead to overturning hundreds of death penalty sentenceso o the books.The last 2 governors of the state, Democrats Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom, both oppose the death penalty, and have created a court where five of seven seats are now occupied by Democratic appointees, creating a moderately liberal bench. However, despite California’s large number of death row inmates, the state rarely kills them – only 13 inmates have been executed since 1992. Moreover, in early 2019, Newsom ordered a moratorium on executions during his term in office.

Crucial Quote

“Our death penalty system has been, by all measures, a failure. It has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation. It has provided no public safety benefit or value as a deterrent. It has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars,” said Newsom when he ordered the moratorium.

Tangent

In the state of Arizona, outrage has grown as the Department of Corrections reportedly plans to consider using on death row convicts hydrogen cyanide, a lethal gas similar to Zyklon B, which the Nazis used to kill hundreds of thousands of Jews and others at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, told the New York Times that for Auschwitz survivors, the world will “finally come apart at the seams, if in any place on this earth the use of Zyklon B in the killing of human beings is considered again.”

Surprising Fact

Last year, partly due to the Covid epidemic, 17 people were executed in the U.S., down from 22 in 2019, and the lowest number of executions since 1983, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The 2020 figure included ten executions by federal authorities and seven by states. All state executions in 2020 occurred in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas.

Big Number

25,911. That’s how many prisoners were sitting on death row at the end of 2020, down from 26,561 the prior year. Of the 2020 figure, California (724) and Florida (346) had the highest number of death row inmates.

(source: forbes.com)

PERU:

Pedro Castillo, rural teacher with a shot at Peru’s presidency

Rural school teacher Pedro Castillo was largely unknown in Peru until he led a nationwide strike 4 years ago.

Now the 51-year-old far-left unionist, rarely without the trademark white, wide-brimmed hat of his home region of Cajamarca, has a chance to become Peru’s next president.

Facing off against neoliberal Keiko Fujimori in elections on Sunday, Castillo has vowed to nationalize Peru’s vast mineral resources, to expel foreigners who commit crimes in the country, and to move towards reinstating the death penalty.

One thing unlikely to change under a Castillo presidency is the Peruvian state’s socially conservative character: he is Catholic and vehemently opposed to gay marriage, elective abortion and euthanasia.

He frequently quotes from the Bible to drive home his points.

In April, Castillo surprised many by taking the lead in the race to become Peru’s 5th president in 3 years.

He had not ranked among the top 5 choices in opinion polls ahead of a 1st voting round contested by a record 18 candidates.

Yet Castillo garnered nearly 20 % of ballots cast amid a raging Covid-19 outbreak to which he also fell victim when he contracted the virus last year.

A poll issued a week ahead of Sunday’s vote showed Castillo leading with 42 % of voter intention, compared to 40 % for Fujimori.

– ‘Clean hands’ –

Castillo burst onto the national scene 4 years ago when he led thousands of teachers on a nearly 80-day strike to demand a pay rise and the repeal of an unpopular system for evaluating teacher performance.

The strike left 3.5 million public school pupils without classes to attend, and compelled then-president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who initially refused to negotiate, to relent and agree to striker demands.

In a bid to delegitimize the protest, then-interior minister Carlos Basombrio claimed its leaders were linked to Movadef, the political wing of the defeated Shining Path Maoist guerrilla group dubbed a “terrorist” organization by Lima.

Castillo, who had participated in armed “peasant patrols” that resisted Shining Path incursions during the height of Peru’s internal conflict from 1980 to 2000, vehemently rejected these allegations.

He was born in Puna, a town in Cajamarca, where he worked as a rural school teacher from the age of 24.

He almost always wears Cajamarca’s traditional hat, likes to don a poncho and shoes made of recycled tires, and arrived on horseback — the region’s traditional means of transport — to cast his vote in the 1st round.

“I come with clean hands, I am a man of work, a man of faith, a man of hope,” is how he recently described himself.

– Minerals ‘must be nationalized’ –

On the campaign trail for the Free Peru party, Castillo promised radical change to improve the lot of Peruvians contending with a recession worsened by the pandemic, rising unemployment and poverty.

He has targeted creating a million jobs in a year, denying that he intends to confiscate workers’ pensions, as his critics claim.

“We are not going to take savings from the people who work, we will respect private property… workers own their savings,” he said.

But Castillo has said that Peru’s mining and hydrocarbon riches “must be nationalized.”

Peru is a large producer of copper, gold, silver, lead and zinc, and mining brings in 10 % of national GDP and 1/5 of company taxes.

Castillo has promised public investment to reactivate the economy through infrastructure projects, public procurement from small businesses, and to “curb imports that affect the national industry and peasantry.”

But he has sought to dispel claims that “we are going to take your wine farm, that we are going to take your house, your property.”

– Expel foreign criminals –

Among his more controversial campaign promises, Castillo has vowed to expel illegal foreigners who commit crimes in Peru, giving them “72 hours… to leave the country.”

The comment was perceived as a warning to undocumented Venezuelan migrants who have arrived in their hundreds of thousands since 2017.

Free Peru is one of few left-wing Peruvian parties to defend the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose 2018 re-election is not recognized by more than 50 countries.

To combat crime, Castillo has proposed withdrawing Peru from the American Convention on Human Rights, or San Jose pact, to allow it to reintroduce the death penalty.

On social matters, he has made his position clear.

“I would not at all legalize abortion and, worse still, gay marriage,” he told RPP radio in April.

If elected, Castillo has said he would renounce his presidential salary and continue living on his teacher earnings.

His wife joined him for the first time at a campaign event during a closing rally Thursday, where Castillo urged his supporters to be “vigilant” throughout the vote-counting process on Sunday.

(source: france24.com)

EGYPT:

Reprieve: Egypt remains 5th largest executioner worldwide

Reprieve has released a new report on the death penalty which reveals that Egypt remains the 5th largest executioner worldwide.

Since Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi rose to power in a military coup he headed in 2013, a record number of death sentences have been imposed and carried out.

At least 26 people are currently at risk of imminent execution and at least 17 children have received the death sentence since 2011.

This is despite the fact that Egypt’s child law stipulates that no child who has committed a crime under the age of 18 can be sentenced to death, life imprisonment or forced labour.

In Egypt there are 60,000 political prisoners who are systematically tortured and denied medical care as a punitive measure against their activism.

This systematic torture is often used to obtain a confession which raises huge concerns amid the escalating use of the death penalty.

Since their last report was released in 2019, Egypt’s “mass trial complex” shows no signs of slowing, despite widespread international condemnation.

Since the 2011 Egyptian revolution there have been at least 53 mass trials from which 2,182 people have been sentenced to death.

“Based on the findings of this report, it is now clearer than ever that Egypt is using the death penalty as a tool of repression,” says the author of the report, Jeed Basyouni.

“The death penalty is the ultimate abuse of state power. In Egypt, it is being wielded by a regime which makes use of systematic torture, stifles the right to free assembly and expression, and condemns those who exercise these internationally-protected rights – including children – as terrorists.”

Bayouni called on the international community to restrict its use of the death penalty and comply with international obligations.

“Without reform, the machinery of death will only move quicker in years to come.”

(source: Middle East Monitor)

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES:

Lulu group chairman pays 1 crore to save Indian expat on death row—-The Indian expat was languishing in prison awaiting the death penalty since 9 years as all hopes faded. But he got a second lease of life, thanks to the efforts of Yusuf Ali, Chairman of Lulu Group.

A 45-year-old Indian expat, who was on death row in the United Arab Emirates for causing the death of a young Sudanese boy in a traffic accident, can finally see the outside of his prison cell after the intervention of NRI businessman M.A. Yusuf Ali.

The Indian expat was languishing in prison awaiting the death penalty for 9 years as all hopes faded. But he got a 2nd lease of life, thanks to the efforts of Yusuf Ali, Chairman of Lulu Group.

Krishnan, the expat from Kerala has sentenced to death by the UAE Supreme Court after being found guilty of causing the death of a young boy. He had crashed his car into a group of kids in September 2012.

As per media reports, since then, his family and friends have been relentlessly trying to release Krishnan without any success, especially since the victim’s family has already returned and settled in Sudan, putting an end to any kind of discussion.

As a last resort, the Krishnan family reached out to Yusuf Ali, who proceeded to obtain details of the case and reached out to all stakeholders. At one point, Yusuf Ali transported the victim’s family from Sudan to Abu Dhabi for a month and had extensive discussions to come up with a compensation amount and secure a pardon for Krishnan.

Ultimately, in January of this year, the victim’s family agreed to pardon Krishnan, and Yusuf Ali paid Rs 1 crore (500,000 dirhams) in damages in court to secure early release.

All legal formalities related to Krishnan’s release were completed on Thursday and he is expected to return to his home in Kerala soon.

(source: The Siasat Daily)

PAKISTAN:

Pakistan acquits Christian couple facing death for blasphemy

A Pakistani appeals court on Thursday acquitted a Christian couple sentenced to death on blasphemy charges for allegedly insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, their defense lawyer said.

The appeal of their 2014 death penalty by Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel from the country’s eastern Punjab province had not been heard until now for unexplained reasons, said the lawyer, Saiful Malook. The 2 were arrested in 2013 and tried on suspicion of sending a blasphemous text message to a local cleric in Punjab.

Then on Thursday, the Lahore High Court overturned the death sentence and ordered the couple released. They had been on death row in 2 separate prisons, and would be freed after all the paperwork was done, said the lawyer.

“I fought a legal battle for this innocent couple for years,” Malook told The Associated Press. “I am happy that justice has been done to this poor wife and her husband.”

Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone accused of insulting Islam or other religious figures can be sentenced to death if found guilty. While Pakistan has yet to carry out a death sentence for blasphemy, just the accusation of blasphemy can incite riots and lynching.

Thursday’s development comes weeks after the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for a review of a preferential trade status given to Islamabad in 2017 and demanding the release of the couple. The EU Parliament in April had also asked Pakistan to immediately repeal its blasphemy laws.

It is unlikely, however, that Pakistan would even consider repealing the laws because as blasphemy remains an extremely sensitive issue in this predominantly Muslim nation. Radical Islamists parties have held violent rallies in recent years to stop the government from making any changes in the blasphemy laws.

Amnesty International welcomed Thursday’s acquittal of the Christian couple. The watchdog’s deputy director for South Asia, Dinushika Dissanayake, asked authorities to provide protection to the couple and their lawyer. She also urged Pakistan to repeal the blasphemy laws.

Domestic and international rights groups say blasphemy allegations have often been used to intimidate religious minorities in Pakistan and settle personal scores.

A Punjab governor was killed by his own guard in 2011 after he defended a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy. She was acquitted after spending 8 years on death row and left Pakistan for Canada to join her family after receiving threats.

(source: Associated Press)

JUNE 3, 2021:

PENNSYLVANIA:

Documentary—-Philly DA: inside the fight to end mass incarceration in America—-In captivating new docuseries Philly DA, ‘progressive prosecutor’ Larry Krasner works with activists to tackle the highest incarceration rate in the world

America may be the land of the free but it also has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Its prisons contain more people than big cities such as Philadelphia or Dallas and express systemic racism in concrete and steel. But solutions do not necessarily lie with the White House.

“People think that criminal policy in the United States is set by the federal government,” says film-maker Yoni Brook. “But in actuality, when you think about mass incarceration, there’s over 2,000 district attorneys and state attorneys and local prosecutors with a huge amount of unchecked discretion to decide what is a crime and what isn’t a crime. We really need to think about who we want in those offices.”

Brook and his co-director, Ted Passon, have made a fly-on-the-wall documentary series about one such district attorney in their home city of Philadelphia. Larry Krasner is part of a new wave of “progressive prosecutors” who are winning elections in Boston, Los Angeles and other major cities with a mandate to reform criminal justice from within.

Krasner’s steady but steely assault on the status quo, including elements in the police fiercely resistant to change, is traced by Philly DA, which ended on PBS on Tuesday night and is streaming on its website. He is seen addressing hearings, community meetings and town halls, taking heat from conservatives who say he is pushing too far and radicals who say he is not pushing far enough.

One activist seeking to abolish the cash bail system – which disproportionately keeps poor defendants confined before trial – tells Krasner at a meeting shown in the final episode: “I think we’ve been patient as a working group understanding all of the different challenges of us as crazy-ass leftists or whatever, but we do want to say that we’re not taking off the table for ourselves the idea of publicly saying that we don’t think you guys have done enough.”

Krasner appears unfazed by such criticism from left or right. The 60-year-old tells the Guardian: “I’ve had a thick skin for a long time, but I can say it gets thicker.”

He is tested in episode 3 by the case of Robert Wilson, a Black police officer murdered while attempting to thwart an armed robbery. Two Black brothers plead guilty to the killing. John McNesby of a local police union responds: “If there’s ever a classic case for a death penalty case, this is it.” After all, one of Krasner’s predecessors, Lynne Abraham, became known as “the country’s deadliest DA” because of her aggressive pursuit of capital punishment.

But there is a new, more liberal sheriff in town. Krasner has always opposed the death penalty, which was used 17 times in America last year alone. He served on a jury in one such case when he was 23, before going to law school, where he studied the punishment carefully. Then he became a civil rights lawyer who defended people in death penalty cases.

“It’s quite an experience to be standing in front of a jury when the prosecutor’s purpose is to kill your client,” he explains by phone. “That’s quite a moment. So it’s an issue I’ve thought a lot about and it’s an issue I feel strongly about and that particular episode covers a scenario in which basically every one of my predecessors would have sought the death penalty for reasons that were at least as political as they were philosophical.”

He adds: “I did the thing that was not politically normal at all but which I thought was justice, and that was we did not pursue the death penalty in a case involving the killing of a police officer during a robbery. It was a specific decision about a specific case.

“It was a decision that reflected, among other things, that the two different mothers [of Wilson’s two sons] were not supportive of the death penalty. But their position was not the traditional one and therefore we were really up against the police union trying to use the entire scenario in a ghoulish way for their own politics.”

The film poses the classic question of whether all idealists are destined, as the much-quoted phrase goes, to campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Krasner was seen as an outsider candidate in 2017 – when Philadelphia had one of the highest incarceration rates of any major city – but pulled off a landslide victory with huge support from African American voters. Does he feel that he has been able to stay true to his principles or were there moments when he bowed to pragmatism?

“I think in many ways the reason we got so much resistance in the 1st term is because we did what we said we would do,” he replies firmly. “Doing what you say you will do does not necessarily mean you always succeed.

“We said we were going to cut mass incarceration; we cut future years of incarceration in half. We said we were going to cut mass supervision on probation and parole; we cut that by two-thirds. I can list a few more enormous achievements, including exonerating 20 people at this point, almost all of whom are completely innocent, that stand in stark contrast to our predecessors.

“But we also said we were going to push against the cash bail system. We did push against the cash bail system but ultimately realised that it’s going to take state legislation to eliminate the use of cash bail in order for us to eliminate it completely because we don’t control that. Bail is not set by us; bail is set by judges.”

Voters evidently agree that Krasner kept his promises and his soul. Last month, despite the police union throwing its weight and money against him, he won resoundingly in a Democratic primary election seen as a test of progressive prosecutors’ sustainability.

“So even where there is frustration, the voters understood and Philadelphia understood, so long as you have tried to do the right thing, you have tried to be fair, you have not simply compromised out of some sort of political expediency, they respect that.

“I think the real story of our first term is that our opponents came at us with flamethrowers because we did what we said we would do, we accomplished so much, and therefore they felt it was necessary to turn us back because we were accomplishing what we said we would do.”

No one wielded an angrier flamethrower than John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), Lodge 5. But Krasner is careful to distinguish this union, which he says has always been led by conservative white men (“people who came up at a time when policing was all about brutality and racism”), from the police department as a whole, which is more representative of Philadelphia’s racial diversity than it used to be.

“There are some deeply troubling white supremacist elements in the police department and they are coddled if not encouraged by the head of the police union, a guy named John McNesby, who also referred to Black Lives Matter as ‘a pack of rabid animals’. I feel like our relationship with rank-and-file police officers is improving and, with some of them, it’s quite good.”

Krasner, who insists he does not harbour ambitions for higher office, is optimistic about the future of criminal justice reform. “Number one, 10% of the United States has now elected and re-elected, in many cases, a progressive prosecutor. That’s a lot and they’ve done it usually in big cities that have an outsized level of control over mass incarceration.

“So in the same way that in Philadelphia we were able to slam on the brakes on mass incarceration and cut in half the number of years of jail and prison being generated in our county court, that sort of thing is happening in places like Chicago and Los Angeles and Brooklyn, and it will continue to happen as more and more DAs are elected.

“The 2nd thing is that progressive prosecutors are winning elections like crazy and we’re not winning them because we’re so magnetically wonderful. We’re winning them because people want this. There’s a pretty good argument that the most effective political party in the United States is not the Democrats or the Republicans who win some and lose some; it’s progressive prosecutors.”

With investment in prevention rather than policing, Krasner argues, history will come to regard America’s addiction to locking people up as a grim anomaly with origins in Richard Nixon’s cynical politics, structural racism and the war on drugs. “Everybody’s going to look back on the period of mass incarceration as the radical experiment that failed.

“They’re going to look at the decade that preceded it and the decades that hopefully we’re setting in motion as being normal and an appropriate level of incarceration in which we see declining crime, declining numbers of people in jail, because we’ve reinvested in the things that actually prevent crime and make us safer.”

And he has no regrets about allowing “a couple of scrappy Philly guys” to film his successes and failures for the sake of transparency and demystifying the process for other outsiders who might consider running to be a district attorney.

Passon, 40, became curious about the criminal justice system when he was young after three family members, including his brother, got locked up at different times. He had heard Krasner’s name about town but never dreamed the activist lawyer could win an election.

“He shocked the city, including us, when he actually won and so immediately the story became way bigger. Well, now we get to know if you’re actually going to be able to do any of this stuff and why or why not.”

Brook, 38, says: “You could look at the series and, to some degree, you’d think that we had planned out how this was going to go in terms of the characters and the access to the office. But the truth is Larry Krasner walks in, turns on the lights and we’re there with him and there was such chaos and tumult in the office.

“All these prosecutors who had worked there for 30 years had just been vilified in the campaign by Larry Krasner. They’d been his courtroom opponent for 30 years and he walks in and there’s 2 guys with cameras with him. Up was down. Down was up. And so in that moment, as film-makers and journalists, we said to ourselves we’re just going to keep showing up until somebody tells us not to.

“I really believe that Larry Krasner is a storyteller at heart and I think he knows that one of the biggest tools he has in his office is the bully pulpit to be able to change the narrative of what people perceive to be crime and punishment in Philadelphia, and maybe the nation.”

But he adds with candid humour: “Sometimes when you ask him and his team about the series, they sometimes project an aura of knowing what they were doing but that’s total bullshit. He didn’t know how to be a DA. We didn’t know how to even make a film about this. So it was all people learning together, to be quite honest.”

Philly DA is all available to stream on PBS.org and via the PBS app with a UK date to be announced.

(source: The Guardian)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

Standard for imposing death penalty should be higher

The controversy surrounding imposition of the death penalty continues.

Currently, 10 states and the District of Columbia allow physician-assisted death, i.e., suicide, for terminally ill patients who request it.

I do not understand why the same lethal drugs, and the protocols for using them, that are used in such cases cannot be used to carry out capital sentences.

I’m certain that the utmost care and scientific knowledge has been employed to ensure that the procedure used for the terminally ill is as compassionate and pain-free as possible.

I believe that a death penalty is necessary but that perhaps the standard for imposing it should be raised from “beyond a reasonable doubt” to “an absolute certainty beyond any doubt whatsoever” that the accused committed the offense.

MICHAEL YOUNG, Florence

(source: Letter to the Editor, scnow.com)

TENNESSEE:

Advocates continue to fight for release of man on Tennessee death row—-Pervis Payne, who lives with an intellectual disability, was convicted of murdering his neighbor and her daughter in Millington in 1987.

Pervis Payne has been on death row in Tennessee for more than 3 decades, but his supporters still are fighting for his release.

Payne was convicted of murdering his neighbor and her daughter in Millington in 1987. At a rally Wednesday in Memphis, advocates of the Free Pervis Payne Coalition told Local 24 News they will fight for justice until he is back home with his family.

“We believe that Pervis Payne is on death row unfairly.”

“We don’t believe that he committed this crime.”

“Pervis Payne is a human, and we need to stand with Pervis Payne and his family.”

“Anti-death penalty advocates used to stand on this corner at Union and McLean in front of this Walgreens each and every Wednesday about this same time, 4-5. So we wanted to stand on the shoulders who came before and do the work we feel called to do,” said Andre E. Johnson, Senior Pastor of Gifts of Life Ministries.

“Justice should have no bias of gender, sexuality, color, or anything like that because justice should search for the truth,” added Laramire Wheeler, Free Pervis Payne advocate.

“I don’t think it would sit well with anybody, to be perfectly candid, if he was white. So, the whole racial justice comes into play there. It is enraging to me that our lives, there is a hierarchy of color. You are safe, or you are not safe, you are a judge or you are not judged.”

“We wanted people to know that there is an injustice happening right here in Shelby Tennessee.”

(source: localmemphis.com)

OKLAHOMA—-new death sentence

Jury Hands Down Death Penalty For Convicted Murderer William Reece

It took the jury about 2 hours to unanimously agree, the state of Oklahoma should execute William Reece as punishment for the 1997 murder of Tiffany Johnston.

Johnston went missing on July 26, 1997, from a carwash in Bethany. Investigators said Johnston’s body was found a field and she was partially clothed.

Sheriff’s deputies walked Reece out of the courtroom in handcuffs Wednesday, as Johnston’s and other victims’ families hugged in the hall. The trial spanned almost two and a half weeks.

Jurors heard hours of recorded interviews and conversations between Reece and investigators in the initial phase of the trial.

In those recordings Reece admitted he killed and raped Johnston. He also told law enforcement in Texas he killed three others, including a 12-year-old, outside Dallas and Houston.

The defense did not call any witnesses during the 1st phase but called several witnesses during the sentencing phase.

Some knew Reece as a child and told jurors of his childhood.

The final day, the jury heard from Reece’s friend and Texas inmate, who convinced the defendant to confess to investigators. The defense’s final witnesses were detention officers from the Oklahoma County jail, who testified Reece is a model inmate, with just one write up or disciplinary action against him in the five years he’s been housed at the jail.

The victims’ families were in the courtroom for parts of the trial and sentencing phases. They listened as prosecutors shared gruesome evidence.

Johnston’s mom, Kathy Dobry was overjoyed as the verdict came down more than two decades after her 19-year-old daughter was brutally murdered.

“This was for Tiff. Even though it helped families in Texas, but it was for Tiffany after 24 years and 10 months,” said Dobry.

Reece’s case will automatically head to the Court of Criminal Appeals, protocol for anyone who’s sentenced to death.

(source: news9.com)

ARIZONA:

Outrage Greets Report of Arizona Plan to Use ‘Holocaust Gas’ in Executions

Global headlines reflected the anger of death camp survivors and others after The Guardian published documents showing the state planned to return to the use of hydrogen cyanide, a gas associated with what the Nazis called Zyklon B.

The gas chamber used for executions in Florence, Ariz. The state last killed a death row inmate with lethal cyanide gas in 1999, in an execution that drew outrage in Germany.

Arizona has refurbished and tested a gas chamber and purchased chemicals used to make hydrogen cyanide, a recent report said, drawing a backlash over its possible use on death row inmates.

Headlines noting that the chemicals could form the same poison found in Zyklon B, a lethal gas used by the Nazis, provoked fresh outrage, including among Auschwitz survivors in Germany and Israel, over the association with the Holocaust and hydrogen cyanide’s use in the death camps.

Internal documents about Arizona’s recent steps were published last week by The Guardian. Arizona officials have not confirmed that the state was preparing hydrogen cyanide for use.

Arizona last executed someone with lethal cyanide gas in 1999, when a death row inmate, Walter LaGrand, took 18 minutes to die in an execution that also fueled an outcry in Germany.

“For Auschwitz survivors, the world will finally come apart at the seams, if in any place on this earth the use of Zyklon B in the killing of human beings is considered again,” Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, said in an interview on Wednesday.

“In their eyes, this is a disgraceful act that is unworthy of any democracy and, moreover, insults the victims of the Holocaust,” he said.

Austria’s ambassador to the United States, Martin Weiss, wrote on Twitter that the death penalty was “itself a cruel and unusual punishment. Getting ready to use Zyklon B for executions is just beyond the pale.”

Zyklon B was the trade name of a product that was originally developed as a pesticide and was then chosen as a means of mass murder in the Nazi camps. It was produced by I.G. Farben, a German chemical conglomerate broken up after World War II.

On Friday, The Guardian published documents from the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry. One of them, a memo dated Dec. 17, described an assessment conducted in August to determine whether a gas chamber in Florence was functional.

The document showed that a smoke grenade was detonated inside the chamber to make sure that it was airtight, and that the fan and exhaust functions were also tested. A candle was held up to sealed areas, like doors and windows, at the facility. No deflection of the flame was observed, the report said.

Overall, there were no “functionality issues” detected, and the “vessel is operationally ready,” the document said.

The Guardian, which obtained redacted state documents and invoices through public records requests, also reported that Arizona in December purchased the components to make the hydrogen cyanide gas.

The Department of Corrections declined to comment, and it was not immediately clear where the agency bought the chemicals. Arizona’s state Constitution says that inmates can choose either lethal injection or lethal gas if they committed their offense before Nov. 23, 1992.

A short supply of lethal drugs has framed the lines of debate over the death penalty in the United States, and pushed several states to seek alternatives, as in South Carolina, where lawmakers have proposed either the electric chair or firing squad.

Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said on Wednesday that Arizona’s protocol designates sodium cyanide as the lethal gas to be used for executions. The documents, he said, suggest that if the state “can’t get lethal injection drugs, then we are prepared to carry out executions with cyanide gas.”

Asked about Arizona’s reported purchase of supplies to make hydrogen cyanide, he said, “There are no assurances that just because it violates their protocol that they are not going to do it.”

He added, “The issue is whether in the 21st century it is appropriate for any state in the United States to be executing prisoners with cyanide gas.”

There are 115 inmates on Arizona’s death row. Arizona has not carried out an execution since 2014, and the last time it did so with hydrogen cyanide gas was in 1999.

In April, the state attorney general, Mark Brnovich, said that he had notified the Arizona Supreme Court that the state intended to seek warrants of execution for 2 death row inmates, Frank Atwood and Clarence Dixon.

The men can select either lethal injection or gas under the state law that allows them the choice because they committed murders before Nov. 23, 1992, his statement said.

C.J. Karamargin, a spokesman for Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, referred to the state’s Constitution, and said the governor “has said in the past that this is the law and it is his duty to carry out the law.”

The report about the gas chamber testing and chemical purchase was picked up by national news organizations and spread internationally, drawing particular outrage in Europe.

During World War II, concentration camps were designed for the use of pellets of Zyklon B, including at the Auschwitz camp in German-occupied Poland. At the height of the deportations of Jews from 1943 to 1944, an average of 6,000 Jews were killed each day at Auschwitz.

“What we do know concretely is that of the 1.1 million persons murdered at Auschwitz, 865,000 of these were Jews who were gassed with Zyklon B in the gas chambers, most upon arrival,” said Patricia Heberer Rice, a senior historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

In Germany and Austria, where a culture of atonement for the crimes of the Nazis has led to bans on Nazi symbols, the erecting of monuments honoring Jewish and other victims, and the teaching of history lessons meant to ensure future generations “never again” repeat their transgressions, news media headlines reflected a sense of disbelief and dismay.

“Executions With Holocaust Gas: Arizona to Use Zyklon B,” read the headline in Kurier, an Austrian daily.

“The Nazis gassed millions of Jews with the poison,” the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel reported. “Now the Republican-led state of Arizona wants to use Zyklon B, of all things, for executions.”

“When you hear ‘Zyklon B,’ you automatically think of the Nazi gas chambers, where they murdered millions of people,” wrote the news channel n-tv.de. “Now the gas is to be used again, in the U.S. state of Arizona.”

The association of the gas and the Holocaust was cited in Israeli press reports as well. The Jerusalem Post reported this week that the name Zyklon B “is inextricably linked to the horrors of the past, when over a million Jews and others were murdered in Nazi gas chambers using the lethal gas between 1942 and 1945.”

(source: New York Times)

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

Arizona Prepares for Executions With Gas Used in Holocaust Death Camps

Arizona reportedly has “refurbished” its gas chamber and has spent more than $2,000 to acquire ingredients to execute prisoners with cyanide gas, the same gas used by the Nazis to murder more than one million men, women, and children during the Holocaust.

Records obtained by The Guardian show that the Arizona Department of Corrections Rehabilitation and Reentry purchased a solid brick of potassium cyanide in December for $1,530. The state also purchased supplies of additional ingredients for producing hydrogen cyanide gas, including sodium hydroxide pellets and sulfuric acid. Initially developed as an insecticide and known by the Nazis as “Zyklon B,” the gas was the signature method by which the Nazis carried out their genocide against European Jews, the Roma, and local populations at the Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, and other concentration camps and killed Soviet prisoners of war and anti-Nazi resistance fighters.

Executions in Arizona have been on hold since 2014, when the state botched the lethal-injection execution of Joseph Wood. As Arizona officials attempt to restart executions, they spent $1.5 million to obtain lethal injection drugs, even as the Department of Corrections faces a budget crisis.

In August, the state tested its gas chamber, built in 1949, to determine whether it can be used for executions. After initial tests found “slow drainage” and “overflowing,” corrections officials had the seals and gaskets replaced. Corrections staff then tested the chamber for airtightness by passing the flame of a candle slowly near the seals of the chamber.

Arizona last used its gas chamber in 1999, for the execution of Walter LaGrand. Eleven people in five states were executed in the gas chamber since executions were permitted to resume in 1976. LaGrand’s was the last execution by lethal gas anywhere in the United States. The Tucson Citizen reported “agonizing choking and gasping” during the execution. “The witness room fell silent as a mist of gas rose, much like steam in a shower, and Walter LaGrand became enveloped in a cloud of cyanide vapor,” the Citizen reported. “He began coughing violently — three or four loud hacks — and made a gagging sound before falling forward.” LeGrand took 18 minutes to die.

“Despite Arizona’s efforts to present their planned execution method as acceptable and reputable,” The Jerusalem Post reported, the name Zyklon B is inextricably linked to the horrors of the past, when over a million Jews and others were murdered in Nazi gas chambers using the lethal gas between 1942 and 1945.”

Death Penalty Information Center executive director Robert Dunham told The Guardian: “You have to wonder what Arizona was thinking in believing that in 2021 it is acceptable to execute people in a gas chamber with cyanide gas. Did they have anybody study the history of the Holocaust?”

Arizona’s actions provoked a sharp international response.

Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, told the New York Times, “For Auschwitz survivors, the world will finally come apart at the seams, if in any place on this earth the use of Zyklon B in the killing of human beings is considered again.” In a June 2 interview, he said, “In their eyes, this is a disgraceful act that is unworthy of any democracy and, moreover, insults the victims of the Holocaust.”

Austrian ambassador to the United States, Martin Weiss, tweeted: “The death penalty is in and of itself a cruel and unusual punishment. Getting ready to use Zyklon B for executions is just beyond the pale.” German and Austrian news headlines, the New York Times said, “reflected a sense of disbelief and dismay.”

Arizona requires prisoners facing execution to choose between the gas chamber and lethal injection. In the words of Joseph Perkovich, a lawyer for death-row prisoner Frank Atwood, “neither option is tenable.” If they make no designation, they are executed by lethal injection. Atwood is one of the two Arizona prisoners for whom state officials are seeking execution dates.

On April 6, 2021, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced that he is asking the Arizona Supreme Court to set a briefing schedule and issue execution warrants for Atwood and Clarence Dixon. 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 experts’ 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.

The Arizona Supreme Court granted Brnovich’s motion on May 21, directing the attorney general to file motions seeking the execution warrants no later than August 12. Atwood and Dixon have until August 26 to respond, and state prosecutors have until September 2 to reply.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

CALIFORNIA:

California Supreme Court Hears Case That Could Impact Future Of Death Penalty

he California Supreme Court began hearing arguments Wednesday in the death penalty appeal of Donte McDaniel, a case that legal experts say could impact the future of capital punishment in the state.

McDaniel’s case could make it harder for prosecutors to put people on California’s death row and nearly every inmate could be affected. One of 700 condemned inmates at San Quentin, McDaniel was convicted of 2 murders in 2004, following a gang-related drug deal when he was 24-years-old.

The inmate’s lawyers are focusing on what are called “aggravating factors,” 22 different things such as gang activity, was the perpetrator lying in wait, or was the crime especially heinous or cruel.

Lara Bazelon, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, said that current law requires jurors agree that there was an aggravating factor, not on a specific one.

“The lawyers are saying that the jurors need to agree on the specific aggravating factors that lead them to find death beyond a reasonable doubt and the law doesn’t require that they do that right now,” Bazelon told KPIX 5.

That’s what the governor and public defenders want changed, thus making the death penalty more difficult to impose.

Bazelon believes the makeup of the court right now means this change has a real chance of happening.

“We now have a court that is tilted to the left. There are Jerry Brown appointees on this court. There are Gavin Newsom appointees on this court,” the professor said. “And there may be some thinking by the litigants that there’s going to be a more receptive audience to attacks on the constitutionality of the death penalty.”

Bazelon said she doesn’t necessarily believe the California Supreme Court’s ruling would be retroactive and apply to everyone who’s already on death row.

“They could say ‘yes, there’s a problem with this death sentence’ but everyone else who came before this ruling doesn’t get the benefit of it, they’re stuck with their death sentences,” she said. “It’s just moving forward prospectively, defendants will get the benefit.”

The professor said it’s really unclear what the court will do in terms of making any change retroactive.

Ultimately district attorneys would decide whether to retry the sentencing phase in all these convictions. But many DAs have sided with the governor, in favor of this change.

A ruling from the California Supreme Court should be expected in the next 3 to 6 months.

(source: KPIX news)

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

Scott Peterson attorneys say state ‘made only choice’ it could after confirming plans not to seek death—-Peterson was convicted in 2004 of murdering Laci Peterson, then 27, and their unborn son, Connor

California prosecutors’ Tuesday decision not to see the death penalty against accused murderer Scott Peterson should come as “no real surprise” to anyone familiar with the circumstances surrounding the case, an attorney representing Peterson said.

Cliff Gardner, Peterson’s appellate attorney, said in a statement after Tuesday’s news that anyone who knows about “the new evidence presented in state habeas proceedings” and “the basis of the Supreme Court’s decision reversing the original penalty phase verdict” would not be surprised by prosecutors’ decision.

“The Supreme Court properly found that the jury was not fairly selected,” Gardner said. “Those aware of the new evidence presented in habeas proceedings (including the state’s lawyers of course) knew full well that if the state was forced to fairly select jurors, no jury would either conclude Scott was guilty much less impose death at a penalty retrial.”

Gardner added: “So, the state made the only choice it really could.”

Prosecutors confirmed during a Tuesday hearing in California Superior Court they will not seek the death penalty against Peterson in the 2002 slaying of his pregnant wife even if he is granted a new trial based on juror misconduct. But even that declaration wasn’t enough to entirely take a death sentence off the table, Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo said.

“Laws change, district attorneys change,” she said. “I want to make sure that we do this right.”

Massullo is considering when to re-sentence Peterson to life without parole after Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager said in a court filing Friday that she would not seek to retry the death penalty portion of the case after it was overturned by the state Supreme Court in August.

“From the legal point of view — I hate using this term — it’s a done deal,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris told the judge during what was otherwise an unresolved procedural hearing over who will represent Peterson. “He’s no longer eligible to be housed on death row. He’s not going to be subjected to the death penalty.”

As a legal matter, “it would be a violation for us to ‘up’ that punishment” once Peterson is re-sentenced to life in prison, Harris said. “That can’t be changed once it’s relied upon by the other side.”

Massullo is also considering if Peterson should get an entirely new trial because of juror misconduct.

Peterson was convicted in 2004 of murdering Laci Peterson, 27 at the time, and their unborn son, Connor. Laci was 8 months pregnant at the time of her death.

In 2003, Stanislaus prosecutors had charged Peterson with double homicide, but the case was later moved to San Mateo County, nearly 90 miles away from the couple’s Central Valley home in Modesto.

Investigators have said Peterson took the bodies from their Modesto home and dumped them from his fishing boat into the San Francisco Bay, where they surfaced months later. Peterson was arrested after Amber Frey, a massage therapist living in Fresno, told police that they began dating a month before his wife’s death — but that he had told her his wife was dead.

On Oct. 14, 2020, the California Supreme Court ordered his conviction to be re-examined to determine whether Peterson should receive a new trial. And in August that year, the Supreme Court had overturned Peterson’s death sentence, citing “significant errors” in the jury selection process.

Peterson has maintained his innocence.

(source: Fox News)

USA:

How Many Americans Support the Death Penalty? Depends How You Ask. Polling responses to certain policy-related questions — particularly morally or ethically sensitive ones — can differ significantly depending on whether the survey was taken online or by phone.

The use of capital punishment has fallen to historically low levels in recent years. This year, Virginia became the 1st Southern state to outlaw the practice.

Support for the death penalty has been in decline since the 1990s, when close to 4 in 5 Americans were for it. On the campaign trail last year, Joe Biden committed to ending capital punishment nationwide (though he hasn’t taken any major steps to follow through on that since taking office).

Still, a solid majority of Americans continue to favor keeping the death penalty, driven by the conviction that it’s morally justified in cases of murder — even though most of the country recognizes that there are racial disparities in how it’s doled out, and an overwhelming majority admits that it sometimes results in the death of an innocent person.

We can say all this with relative certainty thanks to a Pew Research Center poll released today. 60 % considered the death penalty acceptable for people convicted of murder, according to the survey of Pew’s online American Trends Panel.

But arguably the most intriguing part of the report wasn’t the numbers themselves. It was how those numbers might have looked, if the pollsters had used an older method: phone calls.

Until this year, Pew contacted at least some of its respondents via phone, allowing researchers to compare results between so-called modes. They found that on certain policy-related questions — particularly morally or ethically sensitive ones — there could be significant differences between people’s responses to self-administered online surveys and to live telephone interviewers.

Polls on the death penalty presented one of the most glaring examples. More than other issues — and far more than on questions about candidate choice, which generally aren’t as deeply impacted by survey mode — capital punishment drew meaningfully different responses.

Last year, participants of Pew’s online panel were 13 points more likely than those surveyed by phone to say they approved of the death penalty. Among Democrats, there was a particularly strong aversion to expressing support via phone: In an August 2020 Pew poll, just 32 % of Democratic respondents via phone said they supported the death penalty, while 49 % of online Democratic respondents did.

If Pew had only reported its phone poll results last summer, it would have shown that support for capital punishment was down to 52 %, more than 20 % points off its high in the 1990s. Instead, its online poll revealed that closer to 2/3 were in favor of it.

There are a number of issues that make phone polls different from online surveys, including the fact that they tend to yield a slightly different sample of respondents. But Pew’s researchers have taken this into account, and they’re “absolutely” convinced that so-called social desirability bias is the strongest factor driving mode differences here, said Courtney Kennedy, Pew’s director of survey research.

“It’s a bit of a touchy subject, it’s kind of sensitive, and admitting that you hold an opinion that has such profound implications for somebody else — not everybody wants to engage with that with a stranger,” Kennedy said, referring to questions about the death penalty.

Carroll Doherty, the director of political research at Pew, said that capital punishment was up there with immigration on the list of issues where response is most affected by survey mode.

The stark differences among Democratic respondents indicate “that this is an issue on which they’re kind of cross-pressured,” Doherty said. “You see many Democrats saying the death penalty is morally justified in cases of murder, and on the other hand, Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to have doubts about its implementation, especially whether there’s racial bias.”

One thing that’s consistent in Pew’s research: Republicans tend to be far more supportive of capital punishment than Democrats. Likewise, white Americans are considerably more supportive than Black Americans, and less concerned about racial disparities.

Among Republicans and independents who lean toward the G.O.P., 77 % said in the new poll that they supported the death penalty. And 80 % called its use morally justified “when someone commits a crime like murder.” Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, just 46 % favored the practice; 51 % called it morally justified.

Even among Republicans, however, there was broad acknowledgment that it’s impossible to ensure innocent people won’t be executed. Just 31 % of Republicans and leaners said there were “adequate safeguards” to that effect. Only 12 % of Democrats and their leaners said so.

And most Americans — 63 % — doubted that the death penalty successfully discouraged crime. Even among those who favored its use, just 50 percent said it was a deterrent to serious crimes.

At 63 %, white Americans were far more likely to support the death penalty than Black Americans, who were evenly split. The inverse was true on the question of whether the death penalty is applied unfairly across race, something that studies consistently find to be true. Fully 85 % of Black people said that whites were less likely to be put to death for similar crimes, but white respondents were evenly divided on the question.

(source: New York Times)

JORDAN:

Trial begins of 2 officials accused of ‘conspiracy’ against government—-Cases referred to national security court over alleged foreign plot

Jordan on Wednesday sent 2 former senior officials to a national security court accused of participating in a conspiracy linked to King Abdullah II’s half-brother, Jordanian news agency Petra reported.

Bassem Awadallah, a former minister and former head of the royal court, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family, were arrested in April 2021. They are due in court on Wednesday.

Prince Hamzah, former crown prince, was then placed under house arrest.

The government accused them of being part of a foreign plot to undermine Jordan’s stability.

Hamzah has denied being part of any conspiracy and said he was being targeted for exposing corruption in the Jordanian government.

King Abdullah then said he had resolved the case with his half-brother through mediation within the royal family and that Hamzah was at home under his protection.

Bassem Awadallah and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid face up to the death penalty.

The Jordanian authorities banned publication of any information on the case.

(source: i24news.tv)

INDIA:

Allahabad high court sets aside trial court’s verdict in rape, murder case

The Lucknow bench of Allahabad high court on Wednesday set aside the judgment of a Barabanki court which had sentenced a youth seven years ago with death penalty for allegedly outraging modesty of a minor girl and thereafter strangulating her to death. The court said that the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.

Rejecting the death reference forwarded by the trial court seeking confirmation of the sentence it had awarded on August 29, 2014, a division bench of Justice Ramesh Sinha and Justice Rajeev Singh said, “The court is conscious of the fact that in the present case a 12-year-old girl was sexually assaulted and done to death by throttling. But the fact remains as to whether it was the accused-appellant who committed the alleged crime appears to be doubtful.”

Allowing the appeal filed by the accused against the trial court verdict, Justice Rajeev Singh, who wrote the judgment for the division bench, said “The incident does not appear to have happened in the manner in which the prosecution wants the court to believe it had happened. Therefore, the accused-appellant becomes entitled for the benefit of doubt and the appeal deserves to be allowed.”

The bench also expressed displeasure on the manner of investigation.

Additional Sessions Judge, court number one, Barabanki, had on August 29, 2014, awarded death sentence to Ubhan Yadav alias Abhay Kumar Yadav holding him guilty under sections 302, 376 and 201 of the IPC. The father had lodged an FIR with the Deva police station on March 3, 2013, that her minor daughter had gone out of house in the noon.

Later, her body was found in a groove.

(The victim’s identity has not been revealed to protect her privacy as per Supreme Court directives on cases related to sexual assault)

(source: The Times of India)

UGANDA:

No more firing squad for UPDF soldiers, says top officer

The Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) has said, it will never carry out public firing squads for its soldiers.

Uganda last carried out public firing execution of its soldiers 21 years ago.

This was after 2 of their own confessed to have killed an Irish Catholic Priest, Father Declan O’Toole, his driver and a passenger in an ambush as they travelled on the Moroto-Kotido road in 2002.

Brig Godard Busingye, the chief of legal services of the UPDF, yesterday said firing squad is no longer necessary because Uganda is now peaceful.

“For the case of UPDF, we believe in popular justice, once one of us commits an offense, which attracts a death penalty, historically, he or she would be tried, and if the circumstances were such that they could not be tried by the ordinary courts or general court, he or she would be tried by the field court martial,” Brig Busingye said.

Explaining why they stopped the firing squads in the field court martial, Brig Busingye said they were compelled by human rights advocates and the general public who pushed for its disbandment since the same process did not give the condemned people chance to appeal as demanded by the Constitution.

He was speaking on the side-lines of a training organised by the United Nations African Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFRI) in Kampala for law enforcement officers.

The 2 weeks’ training targeted law enforcement officers in international human rights law and pre-trial detention. “They (human rights advocates), reasoned that it [firing squad] was relevant when we had insurgencies but since we have peaceful now, there is no need for it,” he said.

Corporal James Omediyo and Pte Abdullah Muhammad were the last group of soldiers to be publicly put under firing squad for the murder of the aforementioned Irish priest.

During the firing squad process, the duo were tied on trees, blindfolded and shot to death.

About one thousand locals watched the execution. Following the famous landmark ruling of Susan Kigula, currently, the death sentence has since remained on the law books but it is no longer mandatory.

(source: monitor.co.ug)

LUHANSK PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC:

The chief prosecutor’s office in the breakaway Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) said on Wednesday that it had filed a request with LPR leader Leonid Pasechnik and the parliament, asking for harsher punishment, up to the death penalty, for crimes against the peace and security of humankind

The chief prosecutor’s office in the breakaway Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) said on Wednesday that it had filed a request with LPR leader Leonid Pasechnik and the parliament, asking for harsher punishment, up to the death penalty, for crimes against the peace and security of humankind.

The appeal comes as Luhansk prosecutors opened a criminal case against Belarusian opposition activist Roman Protasevich on suspicion of taking part in military action against civilians in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. He may face up to 20 years in prison or a life sentence under LPR legislation.

“The prosecutor general’s office of the Luhansk People’s Republic is asking members of the People’s Council and the LPR leader to consider the possibility of toughening penalties, up to capital punishment, for crimes related to the use of prohibited means and methods of warfare, and genocide,” the office said in a statement.

According to prosecutors, they have collected enough evidence of an inhumane attitude of Ukrainian nationalist battalion members alongside whom Protasevish is believed to have fought toward civilians in the conflict area to ask for tightening sanctions under some provisions of the LPR criminal code, namely, the punishment for crimes against the peace and security of humankind.

Protasevich was detained in Minsk on May 23 after disembarking from a Ryanair plane during an emergency stopover due to an alleged bomb threat which turned out to have been false. Minsk accuses him of helping to run the outlawed Nexta Telegram channel, which was behind last year’s protests in Belarus. After the arrest, LPR prosecutors asked for Protasevich’s extradition.

(source: urdupoint.com)

JUNE 2, 2021:

TEXAS:

Attorneys Face-Off Over The Case Of A Man On Death Row Who Claims He Didn’t Pull The Trigger

Rob Will is currently sitting on death row in Texas convicted of capital murder of Harris County Sheriff Deputy Barrett Hill. Will denies he pulled the trigger and claims his co-defendant, Michael Rosario, killed the officer. Will’s appellate attorney, Samy Khalil, who was appointed by a federal judge to take over the case 8 years ago, says that he could not have shot Deputy Hill because his hands were cuffed behind his back. He claims that a bloodhound tracked Rosario’s scent to the scene of the crime and that he fired 7 long-range shots. The assistant district attorney for Harris County, Josh Reiss, says he stands by the conviction. He says the murder weapon was found in Will’s belt buckle and claims that Will has continued to change his story regarding how he got the handcuffs off. “Is the right person on death row?” Dr. Phil asks the attorneys on Monday’s episode. Hear their responses and explanations as they face-off about this 20-year-old murder in the video above. On Monday’s episode, “Inmate on Death Row: Review of the Evidence,” hear what Will claims happened on the night Deputy Hill was killed. Plus, hear from a firearms and ballistic expert, and Jason Flom, a prison reform activist, weighs in on the case. Check local listings to see where you can tune in.

(source: Yahoo News)

NORTH CAROLINA:

‘Innocent until proven guilty:’ Lawyer defends man charged with murder in Goldsboro dismembered body case

The attorney for Willie Lee Langston mounted a vocal defense Tuesday when his client had a court appearance on murder charges. Langston is linked to the discovery last week of a woman’s dismembered body in a Goldsboro driveway.

“This is the United States of America, and a man is innocent until proven guilty,” J. Michael Ricks declared in arguing that Langston, 29, of LaGrange, be released on bond while he awaits trial.

Goldsboro police took Langston into custody Friday when he tried to pick up his car, which had been seized as part of the investigation.

Last Monday, Rodney Daniels drove up to a sordid scene at his home in the 300 block of Bright Street near downtown Goldsboro.

“I just pulled up to my house. It looks like there is a rotting corpse on my driveway,” Daniels told dispatchers.

Investigators said the body was that of a woman, likely in her 30s. They’re confident that they’ve identified the remains, but are waiting for a DNA confirmation.

Police told neighbors that the murder did not happen there and the neighborhood was not targeted.

Ricks argued that Langston is not a flight risk and would be willing to wear an ankle monitor.

The prosecutor opposed any bond, saying Langston could end up facing the death penalty or life in prison in the case depending on if the state charges him with 1st-degree murder.

The judge agreed, and Langston will remain without bond at Wayne County Detention Center.

He’s due in court again on June 17 for a probable cause hearing in which prosecutors lay out the evidence they have.

After the hearing, Ricks told WRAL News that he was eager for that next step in the process to better understand and plan his defense.

(source: WRAL news)

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

Reform at last? $75 million verdict should send message to prosecutors, lawmakers

I first met Henry McCollum nearly 3 decades ago. I was a social worker and he was on death row. Henry was shy and halting and seemed much younger than his years. He and his brother, Leon Brown, were intellectually disabled teenagers when they were sentenced to death in 1984. In horror, Henry had watched his friends marched, one after the other, to the execution chamber. He had attempted suicide. We wrote and visited frequently over the years, and he always insisted he was innocent and that God would free him one day. I believed him, but I had no idea how anyone could prove it.

In 2014, the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission produced the DNA evidence that would finally exonerate Henry and Leon of the rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie. By the time Henry was released, he’d spent more than 30 torturous years imagining his own execution. 42 of his friends had been put to death by the state of North Carolina. He still gets overwhelmed when he talks about those years. He still misses his family who live on death row.

I was euphoric 2 weeks ago when a civil jury returned a verdict ordering the State Bureau of Investigation to pay Henry and Leon $75 million for the wrongful conviction that stole much of their lives. That was in addition to a $9 million settlement that morning with the Robeson County Sheriff’s Department, and $1 million from the town of Red Springs.

I don’t believe this money – or any amount of money – will compensate them for what they lost. But I’m overjoyed that the judgment was so large that it should force law enforcement and prosecutors to take notice.

This may be the largest police misconduct verdict in U.S. history. By comparison, a jury awarded the young men known as the Central Park Five just over $40 million.

Maybe police will think about Henry and Leon the next time they have a vulnerable suspect – a teenager, a person with intellectual disabilities or mental illness, a person of color with no economic power – in an interrogation room. Maybe they won’t call them the n-word, or threaten them with death by lethal gas, or tell them that, if they just go ahead and confess to murder, they’ll be allowed to go home. That was the final lie that persuaded Henry to falsely confess.

Maybe prosecutors will think about Henry and Leon the next time they are handed a capital case with no physical evidence, unreliable witnesses, and an incomplete investigation. Maybe they’ll insist that investigators follow up on other suspects – like the guy who lives next door to the crime scene and committed an eerily similar murder around the same time. Just such a suspect was ignored in Henry’s case until 2014, when the Innocence Commission found his DNA on a cigarette left at the crime scene.

Henry and Leon’s exoneration and pardon of innocence made international headlines in 2014. Yet, unbelievably, their exoneration did not prompt state or national leaders to enact a single reform. North Carolina had spent 30 years trying to execute an innocent man; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had even called out Henry as an example of the type of remorseless killer who justified the existence of the death penalty. Still, no one did anything to ensure that such a mistake could not happen again.

Then, when Henry and Leon brought a civil suit against the officers who coerced their confessions, lawyers for the State Bureau of Investigation had the nerve to stand up in court and – despite the overwhelming evidence of innocence – argue that Henry and Leon were guilty.

It took a jury of ordinary citizens to stand up and say: “Enough.” With their extraordinary verdict, they said that what happened to Henry and Leon was unacceptable and must never happen again. They said if police and prosecutors lie and disregard people’s lives, they will pay for it. They said to Henry and Leon: We believe you.

The night of the verdict Henry told me that, while he was thankful, he was still upset that no one had apologized to him and Leon. I told him I thought the jury was trying to do just that.

Henry and Leon are not alone. 185 innocent people who were sentenced to death in the U.S. were later exonerated. Clearly, we cannot be sure all of those wrongfully convicted were cleared before execution. Recently, evidence emerged that Arkansas almost certainly executed an innocent man in 2017.

That’s why we must go further than paying damages to the exonerated. We need our leaders to act. Police and prosecutors must commit to meaningful reform. And we must end the death penalty, which is the only appropriate response after the realization that a state spent 30 years trying to execute an innocent man.

(source: Gerda Stein is the Director of Public Information and former mitigation specialist at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, North Carolina. She worked on Henry McCollum’s case for more than 20 years—-ncpolicywatch.com)

SOUTH CAROLINA—-new execution date

Execution set for 2nd SC inmate suing over death penalty law

The South Carolina Supreme Court on Tuesday issued an execution date for the 2nd of 2 men on death row suing the state over a new law forcing inmates to choose between dying by firing squad or the electric chair.

Freddie Owens’ execution is scheduled for June 25, according to court documents.

Owens and another man on death row, Brad Sigmon, sued South Carolina earlier this month, arguing that they can’t be electrocuted or shot since they were sentenced under a prior law that made lethal injection the default execution method. Their attorneys are seeking to block upcoming executions as the lawsuit works its way through the courts.

The state Department of Corrections has previously said the electric chair is ready to use. But no firing squad has been established yet, with officials researching how other states carry out executions with firing squads.

The court set Sigmon’s execution date for June 18 last week. Sigmon’s attorneys have argued that the state Supreme Court should grant a reprieve because there is pending litigation and only 1 current method of execution possible, the electric chair.

The execution notice comes less than a month after Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law a bill aimed at restarting executions after an involuntary 10-year pause, when the state ran out of lethal injection drugs. That law would require inmates to pick either death by gunshot or electrocution if lethal injection is not an available option.

Both men have run out of traditional appeals in recent months, leading the court to schedule their execution dates earlier this year, before the passage of the new law. Those dates were delayed after the corrections agency acknowledged it could not procure lethal injection drugs to carry out the executions.

South Carolina is 1 of only 9 states to still use the electric chair and the 4th to allow a firing squad. The other three states that allow a firing squad are Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Owens, 43, was first sentenced to death in 1999 for the murder 2 years earlier of a gas station employee, Irene Graves, during an armed robbery.

(source: Associated Press)

GEORGIA:

Georgia high court upholds man’s death sentence

Georgia’s highest court on Tuesday upheld a man’s death sentence for killing his ex-fiancée’s adult son, saying he failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he is intellectually disabled.

Rodney Young, 53, was convicted of murder and sentenced to die in the 2008 slaying of Gary Jones in Covington. The Georgia Supreme Court upheld his convictions and sentences, though some of the justices questioned the constitutionality of the state’s tough burden of proof of intellectual disability to avoid execution.

Georgia in 1988 was the 1st state to pass a law prohibiting the execution of intellectually disabled people, and the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 ruled that the execution of intellectually disabled people is unconstitutional. But the nation’s highest court left it up to the states to determine the level of proof required.

Georgia has the toughest standard in the nation for proving that someone is ineligible for execution because of intellectual disability, requiring it to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Chief Justice Harold Melton wrote in an opinion released Tuesday that Young failed to meet that bar.

“We are not called upon here to make a pronouncement on the wisdom of Georgia’s burden of proof from a policy perspective, and to do so would be beyond this Court’s constitutional power,” Melton wrote. “Instead, we are called upon to apply the Georgia Constitution and the United States Constitution.”

Brian Stull, a lawyer with the ACLU Capital Punishment project who represents Young, called the Georgia high court’s ruling “devastating.”

“Georgia’s uniquely high and onerous burden means that people with intellectual disability will be executed,” he said in an emailed statement, adding that Young’s legal team plans to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and “ask it to correct the injustices coming out of Georgia once and for all.”

3 other justices joined Melton’s opinion completely, and all but one agreed with its ultimate result. Presiding Justice David Nahmias wrote a concurring opinion, joined by two other justices, saying that while he agrees with upholding Young’s convictions and sentences, he doesn’t agree with all of Melton’s analysis. Justice Charlie Bethel dissented.

Nahmias wrote that he is not confident that Georgia’s unique law requiring that intellectual disability be proven beyond a reasonable doubt has “continued viability” under the U.S. Constitution. He wrote that if the U.S. Supreme Court says the Georgia high court ruled incorrectly, he would “obediently accept and forthrightly apply such a decision.”

Nahmias also wrote that Young and his advocates could ask Georgia legislators to change the burden of proof required by law in light of “extensive developments in the science of intellectual disability and the law in this area” in the past three decades. He wrote that “if the General Assembly takes a further humane step with regard to criminal defendants who are potentially intellectually disabled, I would embrace that change.”

In his dissenting opinion, Bethel wrote that he would send Young’s case back to the trial court for a new jury trial on the question of intellectual disability and resentencing consistent with the outcome of that trial.

Bethel cited a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in which, he wrote, “we have learned that States are not authorized to enforce legislative rules or judicial tests that by design or operation create ‘an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed.’” With Georgia’s highest-in-the-nation standard of proof, “the existence of such a risk seems plain,” he wrote.

Young, who lived in New Jersey, had been in a relationship with Jones’ mother, Doris Jones. Doris Jones had moved to New Jersey to be with Young, but they fought often and she moved back to Georgia and lived with her son, court documents say. Young often wrote to her to ask her to come back.

In March 2008, he went to Georgia and stayed with his half-sister and her husband, driving repeatedly to Gary Jones’ house, where Doris Jones was staying, according to evidence and testimony.

Late the night of March 30, 2008, Doris Jones discovered her son’s body at his home. He was tied to a chair with a bloody knife and hammer next to his body. He had multiple injuries, including skull fractures.

At trial, Young’s attorneys tried to convince the jury he was intellectually disabled, but a jury in February 2012 convicted him on all charges against him and recommended the death penalty.

(source: Associated Press)

ALABAMA:

Madison County mass murder suspect’s trial date nears—-Christopher Henderson is charged with killing 5 people, including his wife and unborn child

The man accused of a mass murder in Madison County is getting ready for his jury trial nearly 6 years since it happened.

Christopher Henderson appeared in court Monday morning for a status conference hearing. He along with his 1st wife Rhonda Carlson are facing more than a dozen capital murder charges. He’s expected to face a jury trial in the next few weeks.

WAAY 31 has been keeping track of this case since it happened in 2015.

The jury trial for Henderson is expected to last 3 to 4 weeks. Attorneys discussed what steps they’re going to take to ensure a fair trial.

“That’s a real problem particularly today,” Henderson’s attorney Bruce Gardner said.

Henderson is facing 19 counts of capital murder. Officials say he killed his 2nd wife, her unborn child, along with her 8-year-old son, mother and 1-year-old nephew.

Court documents show Kristen Henderson had filed a restraining order against chris just before she was killed in 2015.

In 2017, an investigator from the Madison County Sheriff’s Office testified that Henderson told him after the arrest, “I’m glad you caught me now because I could not have lived with what I’d done.” The defense filed a motion to suppress that statement — but it was dropped.

“When we checked with the witness and keep in mind this is about 6 years ago from now, he had no recollection of that statement,” Gardner explained.

The defense attorney says they asked another employee who was in the booking area during the time the statement was allegedly made, and they also had no recollection of that being said. Attorneys said they had no other evidence issues.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in this case.

Henderson’s attorney says he’s concerned about jurors being exposed to information during the trial.

“There have been occasions where people have access to social media including jurors during the proceeding of a trial and that’s just absolutely forbidden,” Gardner said.

Prosecutors also expressed a concern of social media. They said live updates of the trial could taint some of the witnesses.

The attorneys and judge will discuss the matter of social media on the next status hearing that is set to take place June 10.

“The judge is really going to have to clamp down on that,” Gardner said.

The judge and the defense did discuss the possibility of sequestering the jury during the trial, but the defense says they felt the motion would be a bigger waste of everybody’s time and efforts.

“I thought that would be too taxing on just about everybody,” Gardner said.

Jury selection will begin June 14th. That process is expected to last nearly a week before a preliminary examination of the witnesses is expected to begin.

The juror questionnaire will be finalized by the next status hearing on June 10.

During that hearing, Henderson will also be arraigned for his 19 capital murder charges.

Carlson is also facing 18 counts of capital murder. It’s unclear when she’s expected to face a jury trial. The latest court documents show that attorneys are still gathering and sharing evidence of the case.

(source: WAAY news)

LOUISIANA:

Louisiana’s indigent defense system is broken. A new bill may only make it worse.

In April, state Rep. Tanner Magee (R), speaker pro tempore of Louisiana’s House of Representatives, introduced a bill to overhaul the state’s public defender system. Though several witnesses opposed the bill in committee, and no one spoke in favor, it passed the state House overwhelmingly and now moves to the state Senate.

At first glance, this might seem like a welcome development. Public defense in Louisiana has been in a state of crisis essentially for as long as it has existed. For years, it has relied in part on fees attached to convictions, from felonies to traffic violations — an absurd setup that means lawyers who represent the poor receive funding only when their clients get convicted. The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated these problems, as fewer drivers meant fewer traffic tickets and fewer fees. Public defenders have battled high caseloads and underfunding with public relations campaigns, by lobbying and seeking grants and private donations. When things have been particularly dire, they have even refused to take new cases and sued the state itself.

In 2007, the state legislature set up a public defender board, whose members set policy, hire defenders for each district, and distribute the other major source of funding for indigent defense — money appropriated by the legislature. Supporters say that although the board isn’t perfect, it has improved indigent defense in the state. That’s especially true for death penalty cases, which the board outsourced to nonprofits with specifically qualified attorneys. Every death penalty defendant in Louisiana now gets a defense that meets the American Bar Association standards. Perhaps not surprisingly, death sentences in the state have plummeted.

But because the board oversees funding, it has also been subject to infighting and politics, as heads of public defender districts (known as district chiefs) fight over slices of a pie too small to feed everyone. Magee’s bill would abolish the public defender board and invest its powers in a single official, the state public defender.

“This bill would make funding, personnel and policy decisions less transparent and less deliberative,” said Derwyn Bunton, chief defender for Orleans Parish. “The biggest problems facing public defense in this state are the funding disparities between prosecution and defense, that our funding comes from user fees, and unmanageable workloads and caseloads. This bill doesn’t address any of those problems.”

Competition for funding has worsened existing divisions in the state’s indigent defense community. There has long been tension between rural and urban offices, for example. There’s another between the district offices, which usually handle day-to-day felonies and misdemeanors, and are mostly staffed with native Louisianans, and the nonprofits that handle death penalty cases, which tend to be staffed with attorneys from elite law schools and from outside the state.

The most pronounced dispute, which also has roots in the other two, is between the state’s longer-tenured public defenders and a new crop of reformers who have come to the state since Hurricane Katrina. The new guard takes a “holistic” approach to defense, in which public defenders go beyond clients’ criminal charges, such as arranging for mental health counseling, or helping a client find employment or avoid eviction resulting from an arrest or charge. The approach has been shown to reduce incarceration without harming public safety. The old guard sees the new guard as idealistic do-gooders. They worry the current board will impose the same standards on day-to-day public defense that it did for capital cases.

Trisha Ward, chief district defender for Evangeline Parish, is the rare holistic-oriented defender appointed to head up a rural district in the state. She experienced the culture clash firsthand when she tried to impose new guidelines on veteran attorneys in her office. “I told them they had to start meeting with clients in jail,” she said. “That’s standard practice in most of the country. But two of them quit over it.” Ward is currently the only full-time attorney in her office. The others work part time, in addition to their own practices. She said they average 200 felony cases each, far more than the 150 the ABA recommends in a year for full-time attorneys.

These rifts have created some odd and unexpected alliances, as opponents of criminal justice reform pit the defense factions against one another. While the typical criminal justice bill tends to pit prosecutors and/or police against defense attorneys, Magee’s bill has put law enforcement and Louisiana’s old-school public defenders on one side, and reformers, proponents of holistic public defense, and the nonprofits on the other.

In a contentious phone interview, Magee alleged a coordinated campaign against his bill organized by forces outside the state. He said more than half the chief district defenders support the law, though his critics dispute that claim. Magee insisted his plan was relatively benign. “I’m just trying to turn public defense into a state agency that operates like any other state agency,” he said.

Even critics of the law say they believe Magee is well-intentioned. But they say he never consulted with the reform-oriented chief defenders before introducing his bill. Opponents such as Bunton point out that while the current board makes its funding and personnel decisions in open meetings, Magee’s bill would put all decisions under one public official, with little pubic scrutiny. And they say indigent defense requires more independence and transparency than other government functions. “The state provides my clients with a defense, not out of the goodness of its heart, but because it’s required to do so under the Sixth Amendment,” said a capital defense attorney in the state who asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions should the law pass. “This would put decisions about the funding and quality of my clients’ defense under the same branch of state government that’s trying to kill them. It isn’t difficult to see the problem with that.”

Magee alleged the current board is corrupted by patronage. “It’s just a bunch of politicians who are siphoning money away from the district offices to their friends, and people are getting rich off of it,” he said. When asked to name who he thought was getting rich, Magee didn’t offer any names. “There is this one lawyer who doesn’t even live in Louisiana,” he said. “He just sits at his house in Georgia and collects fees to review cases.” Magee said he couldn’t recall that attorney’s name, and the district defenders interviewed for this article didn’t know to whom he was referring.

The current state chief public defender, who would take over the board’s powers should the bill become law, is Rémy Starns. Opponents of the bill point out that Starns is a former prosecutor with no experience as a line public defender, though he has done some criminal defense work in private practice. More pertinent, when the state’s public defenders sued the state over insufficient funding in 2017, Starns represented the state.

Starns was appointed to the position in January 2020, narrowly beating out a candidate backed by the more reform-oriented members of the board. Four people familiar with the appointment said Starns won by playing up his connections in the legislature and the governor’s office, which he argued would help him procure more funding. (Starns did not reply to a request for comment.)

Now Starns is backing the law that would abolish the board that appointed him, and would transfer all of its power to him. Even if Starns is surprisingly reformist, under Magee’s bill the position would answer to the governor. And though current governor John Bel Edwards (D) has supported criminal justice reform, “this is Louisiana,” said one reformist public defender who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation. “We’re going to have a lot more years with an enemy in that office than with an ally.” A conservative, law-and-order “public defense czar” could quickly roll back the modest improvements in the state’s public defense, such as by ending the contracts with the capital defense nonprofits. That would return death penalty cases to the district offices, where a single capital case could eat up much of the budget. Starns has already sought to end contracts with the nonprofit that handles serious juvenile felonies, another area that requires specialization.

Magee argues that opponents overstate the significance of capital cases, since the state hasn’t executed anyone since 2010, and only two people in the past 20 years. But that’s in part because the state has had difficulty obtaining execution drugs. And his opponents argue that death sentences have been declining because the groups’ attorneys are more effective.

“The state is doing a great job with capital defense and juvenile defense,” said Flozell Daniels, a member of the public defender board. “Instead of bringing the rest of indigent defense up to those standards, they’ve stoked anger and resentment toward the groups doing that work. The fear is they’re going to bring the areas that are working down to the level of those that aren’t.”

Magee said his bill is only a first step, and he plans to secure more permanent funding for indigent defense from a new state tax on medical marijuana. But there’s disagreement about how much the tax will generate. Critics put the figure as low as $200,000 annually, while Magee said it could generate up to $3 million. But his critics say even the higher figure wouldn’t significantly increase the state’s indigent defense budget (which was $54 million in 2018) and wouldn’t begin to address the discrepancy between defense and prosecution budgets, which is about 4 to 1 statewide and more than 6 to 1 in several parishes.

“They’re asking us to give up autonomy and a public board for a ‘czar’ in exchange for a paltry increase in funding that may never come,” Bunton said. (Magee objects to the term “czar.”)

The bill’s critics are also confused about why, after reports from media outlets, nonprofits and government oversight agencies have detailed corruption, misconduct and mismanagement of funds at police and prosecutor offices across the state, Magee decided to target indigent defense. “He says he wants to overhaul everything — the DA’s offices, the courts, all of it. I have no reason to doubt him on that,” Bunton said. “But there’s a reason he’s starting with us. Politically, we’re the weakest of those groups. The people harmed by this are our clients, vulnerable people with no platform.” Bunton said that Magee referred to public defenders as “low-hanging fruit” on a Zoom call between Magee and several public defenders. Two other people on the call confirmed Bunton’s account.

Finally, some chief defenders also fear the law will take away their independence to speak publicly about systemic problems. A public defender system should be structured to allow chief public defenders in a county or judicial district to speak publicly about broad problems, pending legislation and other issues without fear of retaliation. Although several district defenders have spoken out against the bill (all of them recent appointees, and advocates of holistic defense), others who oppose the bill are reluctant to say so publicly because if it passes, they’d be wholly dependent on Starns’s funding and personnel decisions.

Ward said Starns has already retaliated against her for publicly criticizing the law. “He has just stopped talking to me,” she said. “And he tried to retaliate against me on a funding issue. A lot of district defenders are afraid that speaking out will put a target on their backs. I don’t think they’re wrong. I’ve assumed that if this bill becomes law, I should expect repercussions.”

(source: Opinion; Radley Balko, Washington Post)

OHIO:

Suspect in murder of Cleveland undercover officer now faces death penalty

Cuyahoga County prosecutors have filed a new indictment that shows they are now seeking the death penalty against a suspect for the shooting deaths of a Cleveland Police undercover officer and another man with him.

New charges have been filed against David McDaniel.

He had been indicted for the killings last year, but county prosecutors often take cases to a committee before deciding whether or not to seek the death penalty.

McDaniel is charged with killing Detective James Skernivitz and Scott Dingess.

It happened last September as Officer Skernivitz was working in an unmarked police car and sitting with Dingess.

The indictment shows the death penalty specifications were added to the charges for killing two people and for committing the murders during a robbery.

Police sources told the I-Team at the time of the crime, there was no immediate indication McDaniel knew Skernivitz was a police officer. It appeared McDaniel and 2 juveniles walked up to the car and shot the men while trying to rob them.

The younger suspects face charges in juvenile court. Prosecutors have started the process toward trying to have them tried as adults.

Meantime, 2 other adults have also been indicted in the case. Brittany Cremeans and Antonio Darby faces charges for lying to investigators and helping to get rid of the murder weapon.

McDaniel goes back to court to face the new charges Thursday.

(source: Fox News)

KENTUCKY:

Kentucky man pardoned by Bevin in drug homicide could now face the death penalty

A man pardoned by former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin for a 2014 homicide could face the death penalty in a new federal case connected to the same shooting death, according to court records.

Patrick B. Baker, 43, was indicted last Friday on a charge of murder during a drug trafficking offense. The indictment was sealed until Tuesday, following Baker’s arrest in Frankfort on Sunday.

The indictment charged that while committing robbery and kidnapping in Knox County, Baker shot Donald Mills with a 9mm pistol. The crime was in relation to a conspiracy to distribute oxycodone pills, the indictment said.

Baker took pills from Mills, federal prosecutors said in a news release.

Baker allegedly went with another man to try to steal money and pain pills from Mills, described in other court records as a “known drug dealer.”

The indictment listed the potential penalties for Mills if he is convicted as death, life in prison, or “any term of years” in prison.

Baker, 43, was convicted in state court in 2017 of reckless homicide in Mills’ death and sentenced to 19 years in prison, but Bevin pardoned him in December 2019.

Melinda Mills, the sister of the slain man, has been harshly critical of the pardon, saying that as far as she is concerned, Bevin can “rot in hell” for his decision. Mills said family members were glad to learn of the new charge.

“He’da been better off to do his 19 years and shut his mouth,” she said of Baker.

The attorney representing Baker in the new federal case was not immediately available for comment Tuesday morning. Baker was scheduled to have his initial court appearance Tuesday afternoon.

Baker’s pardon was among hundreds of pardons and commutations Bevin granted in December 2019, most of them in the waning days of his term after losing re-election.

Some of the decisions caused a great deal of controversy because of the crimes involved, including the beheading of a woman, the rape of a 9-year-old girl and the sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy after he passed out from drinking alcohol.

Supporters of those released said Bevin had corrected poor investigations or faulty court decisions, but prosecutors and family members of victims were outraged, saying Bevin had struck down valid convictions, substituting his judgment for that of police, prosecutors, judges and juries.

Senate President Robert Stivers, like Bevin a Republican, said the Senate Republican majority condemned Bevin’s actions “as a travesty and perversion of justice,” and lawmakers called for an investigation.

The pardon for Baker drew particular interest because Baker’s brother and sister-in-law held a fundraiser for Bevin in July 2018. The event raised $21,500 to help Bevin pay off his 2015 campaign debt, and the couple donated $4,000.

Two House Democrats, Morgan McGarvey of Louisville and Chris Harris of Pikeville, said in December 2019 that the governor’s pardon power was meant to serve justice, not grant political favors to powerful friends and donors.

“The appearance of corruption in this instance is overwhelming and cannot be overlooked or brushed aside,” the 2 said.

Bevin strongly denied giving Baker a pardon because of financial or political considerations, saying any such claims were “highly offensive and entirely false.”

The crime that initially landed Baker in prison happened in May 2014, when Baker and another man, Christopher Wagner, allegedly went to the mobile home of Donald Mills in Knox County to rob him.

Mills was a drug dealer, according to a Kentucky Court of Appeals decision.

Patrick Baker was pardoned on a homicide charge in 2019 but arrested in May 2021 by federal authorities in connection with the same crime. Laurel County Correctional Center

Wagner later testified that he had earlier overheard Elijah Messer and Baker talking about robbing Mills, and that they thought Mills had about $200,000 and 1,500 oxycodone pills, according to an appeal in Messer’s case.

Messer had taken Baker and a woman to Mills’ house two days before the robbery to buy oxycodone pills.

Wagner said Baker pulled up an aerial view of Mills’ home on a computer the night he heard Baker and Messer discussing the robbery, but Messer said he didn’t need to see it because he knew the property, according to the court case.

Early on May 9, 2014, two armed men kicked down the door of Mills’ trailer, said they were police officers and tried to take money and drugs from him, according to an account of the crime in a Court of Appeals decision.

Mills was shot and killed during the attempted robbery. His wife and two young children, as well as a friend of the children, were there at the time.

Messer later testified that Baker said he had to shoot Mills because Mills was going to kill him.

Wagner also told police he and Baker had committed the break-in and later testified against him, according to court records.

A jury convicted Baker of reckless homicide, first-degree robbery, impersonating a police officer and tampering with physical evidence for allegedly disposing of the gun.

Special Judge David Williams sentenced Baker in December 2017 to 19 years in prison. A little less than two years later, Bevin commuted Baker’s sentence to time served and pardoned him of the crimes.

Bevin said in the order that Baker had made a series of “unwise decisions” and that his drug addiction had led him to associate with people that led to his conviction, but that the evidence against Baker in the homicide case was “sketchy at best.”

Baker argued he was innocent.

“It was a wonderful surprise,” Baker said of the pardon at a news conference after he was released.

However, the prosecutor, Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele, said there was ample evidence of Baker’s guilt, including the testimony of Wagner, who committed the crime with him.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals said in a decision that the “evidence of Baker’s guilt was overwhelming.”

Wagner pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Messer was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

They did not request pardons of Bevin.

Baker had applied three weeks ago to have the record of his state conviction expunged. In the section of the application that asked him to list the names of any victims in the case, his response was “None; all charges pardoned.”

Melinda Mills, Donald Mills’ sister, said she had been aware for some time that Baker was still under investigation by state and federal authorities.

Kentucky State Police and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives handled the investigation, according to a news release.

Mills alleged that after Baker got out of prison, he tried to intimidate her and her parents, Donald and Phyllis Mills, parking his car inches from hers at the Walmart in Corbin once in August 2020 and later following her parents on the road 3 separate times as they left church, tailgating them and blowing his horn.

Baker said she started carrying a .38-caliber pistol after the incident at Walmart.

Mills said she gave federal authorities video from her phone of Baker sitting near her car, as well as home-security footage of his car behind her parents. That could help if prosecutors seek to have Baker detained until trial, Mills said.

A federal agent called her Monday to let her know Baker had been arrested.

“We’re happy. We’re blessed and thankful,” Mills said. “We’ve got a whole ‘nother ballgame.”

(source: Lexington Herald-Leader)

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Man pardoned in Knox County murder indicted, jailed on federal charges

U.S. Marshals arrested a 43-year-old Kentucky man Sunday night on a federal indictment in connection with a crime for which he’d already been convicted in state court and then pardoned by former Gov. Matt Bevin.

Patrick Brian Hall remains in the Laurel County Detention Center, where he was booked in at 12:16 a.m. Monday, pending arraignment in U.S. District Court in London at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday before Magistrate Judge Hanly Ingram.

He was named Thursday in a sealed indictment (patrick baker indictment) charging him with the federal crime of causing the death of a person while committing a robbery or kidnapping related to drug trafficking.

Mills was killed during a home invasion.

The investigation preceding the indictment was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearm and Explosives and the Kentucky State Police. The indictment was presented to the grand jury by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jenna E. Reed.

If convicted, Baker faces up to life in prison or the death penalty and a $250,000 fine, according to federal court documents.

Baker initially was convicted in 2017 for the 2014 shooting death of Donald Mills with a Kel-tec 9 mm handgun in Knox County. He served two years of a 19-year sentence before being pardoned in late 2019 during the final days of Bevin’s term.

It was revealed Baker’s brother and sister-in-law held a political fundraiser for Bevin in 2018.

(source: WTVQ news)

MISSOURI:

MO Supreme Court rejects death row inmate’s arguments

The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a death row inmate’s argument that he received ineffective counsel, and prosecutors withheld important evidence during his trial for killing a central Missouri couple.

Jesse Driskill, of Lebanon, was sentenced to death in 2013 for killing 82-year-old Johnnie Wilson and 76-year-old Coleen Wilson at their home near Lebanon. The couple had just celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary when they confronted Driskill burglarizing the house on July 26, 2010.

He appealed a circuit court judgment that no due process violations had occurred and that his defense attorneys were not ineffective during Driskill’s trial and the penalty phase.

Among other things, Driskill contended prosecutors hid an alleged favorable deal on a prison sentence for a man who testified against him.

He also cited several examples of alleged ineffective representation by his defense attorney, such as failure to call expert witnesses on possible contamination of DNA evidence, or not calling witnesses to testify about Driskill’s mental health issues.

The state Supreme Court ruled the circuit court’s findings were not “clearly erroneous” and upheld the lower court’s denial of post-conviction relief for Driskill.

(source: Associated Press)

OKLAHOMA:

SCOTUS grants stay of voided capital convictions—-Attorney General Sara Hill said she believes the U.S. Supreme Court will grant stays of 2 more decisions by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals dealing with non-Natives who the state found guilty of committing murders on tribal reservations.

During her report to the Tribal Council’s Rules committee on May 27, Attorney General Sara Hill discussed a number of Oklahoma capital convictions for homicides on tribal lands that are under appeal.

The cases involved death row inmates convicted of murders on tribal land. Those convictions could be voided under the findings of McGirt v. Oklahoma.

“There are a trio of cases in the (Oklahoma) Court of Criminal Appeals: Bosse, Cole and Ryder,” Hill said. “Bosse happened in the Chickasaw Nation, Cole in the Cherokee Nation and Ryder on the Choctaw Nation. All 3 cases in involve non-Indians who committed crimes against Indians. All three individuals are on death row in Oklahoma. The Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the convictions on all three of those cases, and they were refiled by the United States.”

Hill said Oklahoma requested a stay of the mandate, asking that the decision not be carried out while a writ of certiorari is considered to ask that the cases be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. A stay was briefly granted by the appeals court for the Bosse case and a longer stay was being sought with SCOTUS.

However, attorneys for Bosse and the Chickasaw Nation – and the U.S. Solicitor General filed a brief arguing that SCOTUS had acknowledged exclusive federal jurisdiction over crimes by or against American Indians from “1896 and through McGirt itself.” Hill said the Supreme Court nonetheless granted the stay on May 26.

Should the expected cert request be granted, the stay would be in effect until there is a decision in the Bosse case. Refusal would put the OCCA decision in effect.

“That was surprising to a lot of people that the (Supreme Court) would grant the stay,” Hill said. “Especially because it was unusual for the United States to file a brief when it hadn’t been requested. So this is concerning. The only justices who dissented were (Stephen) Breyer, (Sonia) Sotomayor and (Elena) Kagan.”

Hill said the Cole and Ryder cases are similar to Bosse, and she expects the Supreme Court to grant stays on those decisions also.

Furthermore, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter was scheduled to resign his position June 1.

“So we don’t know what the cert petition will look like or who will be making those decisions right now,” Hill said.

Hunter’s request for the stay in Bosse questioned the application of McGirt to crimes against Natives in Indian Country allegedly perpetrated by non-Native suspects. It also suggests that concurrent state jurisdiction over non-Natives in such legal situations “furthers both federal and tribal interests by providing additional assurance that tribal members who are victims of crime will receive justice, either from the federal government, state government, or both.”

The filing also claimed that federal prosecutors were dealing with massive increases in caseload.

“The Northern District of Oklahoma has already seen a 300-400% increase in criminal cases,” the brief stated. “In the Eastern District of Oklahoma, the U.S. Attorney had indicted only 3 Indian country crimes in 2017, but in just the first few months following McGirt, that office has already been referred 571 such cases with respect to the Creek reservation alone, not including the other recently-recognized reservations.”

In its brief, the Chickasaw Nation argued that any concerns about caseload were matters to be addressed by Congress, not SCOTUS. The Five Tribes have stated that they want to fashion compacts with Oklahoma and the federal government to address criminal prosecutions on their reservations, which would require legislation by Congress.

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

On March 11, the OCCA reversed the convictions of Shaun Bosse because the crimes were committed on land within the Chickasaw Nation reservation and the victims were American Indians.

Bosse received a death sentence for the 2010 slayings of Katrina Griffin and her two children, who were found inside a burning mobile home near Dibble.

A federal death sentence for murder on tribal lands would require the agreement of the tribe. The only tribe that has yet sanctioned capital punishment in federal cases is the Sac and Fox Nation.

(source: Cherokee Phoenix)

UTAH:

‘Cold’: A prison informant reported Douglas Lovell’s death-row confessions to investigators — did either tell the truth?

A prison informant told Weber County investigators in 2006 that Douglas Lovell, the man who’d killed Joyce Yost in 1985 to prevent her from testifying in a sexual assault and kidnapping case, had lied to police about the location of Yost’s body.

“Doug told me every nook and cranny of everything,” Jared Dee Briggs told investigators in a video recording of his Dec. 15, 2006, interview with investigators.

KSL’s investigative podcast series “Cold” obtained a copy of the video recorded at the Utah State Prison, which has not previously been made public.

Lovell had admitted in 1993 to killing Yost. As part of plea negotiations, he led South Ogden police to the place where he’d claimed to have killed and buried Yost along the Old Snowbasin Road. An intensive search of that area subsequently failed to turn up any sign of Yost’s remains.

Briggs said Lovell had claimed to have transported Yost’s body from the site along the Old Snowbasin Road by placing her body into a plastic bag, carrying that to his car and then driving to Causey. There, Lovell had allegedly tied a cinder block to the bag and scrambled down a steep slope to the water’s edge.

“He said he swam out aways … and he just let it go,” Briggs told the investigators.

A search of Causey by divers in the spring of 2007 failed to locate any evidence that might corroborate the version of events offered by Briggs; however, police records show the dive team’s search of the reservoir was hampered by high water levels and cold temperatures.

Another search of Causey’s north arm occurred during September of 2007, following a fatal drowning accident there. In that case, divers were assisted by a robotic submersible in their combing of the murky lakebed. They succeeded in recovering the body of the drowning victim, but did not come across Yost’s body.

Other mentions of Causey

Briggs’ mention of Causey did correlate with existing bits of evidence in the case. An anonymous caller had told a Weber County dispatcher in 1987 that he’d located a woman’s body in the mountains behind the reservoir. Deputies repeatedly searched the area but did not find a body. They were also unable to identify the anonymous caller. Some investigators have speculated the body the caller reported locating could have been Yost’s.

Lovell’s ex-wife Rhonda Buttars had also told police in 1991 that on the morning following Yost’s murder, Lovell had told her he’d taken Yost’s body “up by Causey.” During a sentencing hearing in August of 1993, Lovell said Buttars was mistaken and that he’d never been to Causey except once as a young Boy Scout.

Briggs told the investigators Lovell had told him Buttars knew the precise location, contradicting what she’d told police.

“Doug has been holding that all the way through,” Briggs said. “But he says ‘if I go to trial, I’m gonna tell them. I’m gonna tell them that she knows.’ He had told her where it was.”

Lovell had attempted during a 2005 court hearing to question Buttars about the extent of her involvement in the plot to kill Yost but Utah 2nd District Judge Michael Lyon blocked the effort, calling it “irrelevant.” Buttars had received legal immunity in 1992 in exchange for her cooperation in providing prosecutors with evidence against her ex-husband.

Uinta 1

At the time of his interview, Briggs was housed at the Utah State Prison’s death row cell block with Lovell. Briggs was not himself incarcerated under a sentence of death. He’d instead accepted a job upon arriving at the prison cleaning and providing meals to the inmates of Uinta 1, section 1: the prison’s death row facility.

The section comprised 12 cells. Utah had 9 inmates housed under sentence of death in 2006, leaving 3 open cells. Briggs occupied one of those free cells, directly below Lovell.

Briggs was then facing charges in three separate felony cases in Utah and also had cases pending in several other western states. The cases in Utah included accusations of theft and communications fraud, none of them involving violence.

“My word probably isn’t worth a whole lot on the outside,” Briggs told the investigators.

Briggs said he and Lovell had never been out of their cells at the same time. However, Lovell had offered him coffee one day by passing the cup into Briggs’ cell.

Jared Briggs meets Doug Lovell

From there, Briggs said he and Lovell began conversing about hunting and their families during their free time. Briggs told the investigators their friendship had soon progressed to a point where Lovell volunteered the details of his rape of Joyce Yost and the subsequent murder.

“One day (Lovell) says ‘Hey, I want to tell you about my case so if that changes your opinion of me, I know that,'” Briggs said.

Briggs described having several long conversations with Lovell over the course of a couple of weeks, in which Lovell spelled out the details of Yost’s death.

“How I talk to Doug is I sat on a bucket in front of his cell and then when he talks to me he’s down at my cell doing the exact same thing,” Briggs said.

Briggs kept notes of these alleged conversations, which he provided to the investigators. In one of those notes, Briggs wrote Lovell had asked him to kill his ex-wife as payback for her cooperation with police.

“He told me she lives in Ogden and she is Ronda Butter (sic) and I can find her when I get out,” Briggs wrote.

Jared Briggs provided handwritten notes to Weber County Attorney’s Office investigators, recording what Douglas Lovell had reportedly told him about the murder of Joyce Yost.

Prison staff reviewed surveillance camera footage, which showed Briggs and Lovell had spent significant time sitting outside each other’s cells during November and December of 2006. The surveillance cameras did not capture audio of what the men had discussed.

Lies and letters

Briggs had sent letters to the Weber County Jail staff and to the FBI following his conversations with Lovell, offering information in the Joyce Yost case. Word had made its way to the Weber County Attorney’s Office, which sent the investigators to meet with Briggs. In the recording, Briggs asked the investigators if they could move him from the prison to a county jail, suggesting a potential ulterior motive for his providing information.

“If you guys know the case a little bit, you’ll know that I’m telling you the truth,” Briggs said.

Briggs had lied to Lovell, however. He told the investigators he’d falsely claimed to have terminal cancer and had also provided Lovell with false names for his family members and friends.

Lovell had written letters to at least one of those false friends, which Briggs had intercepted and provided to the investigators. In the letter, Lovell had said Briggs was “a man with character, morals and very loyal.”

Briggs also gave the investigators a card he’d received from one of Lovell’s relatives, who’d written that Lovell had said “I don’t believe I’ve ever met a better man than Jared Briggs.”

Impeachment of Jared Briggs

Lovell eventually succeeded in winning an appeal of his 1993 sentence and was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea. He stood trial for capital murder in March of 2015 and the Weber County Attorney’s Office called Briggs as a witness.

Lovell’s defense team then attempted to undermine Briggs’ credibility by suggesting he’d learned the details of Lovell’s case by reading transcripts and other documents Lovell had kept for his appeal. They called another Utah death row inmate, Ralph Menzies, who testified he’d once seen Briggs take Lovell’s files into his cell overnight during a lockdown of Uinta 1.

Defense attorney Michael Bouwhuis also suggested Briggs’ knowledge of the case included outdated details, dating back to the period prior to Lovell’s ’93 guilty plea, suggesting he’d gleaned them from a pre-sentence report prepared by Utah Adult Probation and Parole following Lovell’s December 1985 conviction in the sexual assault case.

Briggs completed his prison sentence in Utah. The Idaho Department of Corrections webpage indicates Briggs was later convicted there on a charge of grand theft. He released from custody in February of 2021.

Lovell did not respond to a request for an interview for “Cold.”

Listen to the full episode

Season 2 of the “Cold” podcast will take you inside the no-body homicide investigation triggered by Yost’s disappearance. Audiotapes never before made public will allow you to hear Yost, in her own voice, describe the events which preceded her death.

You will learn why police suspected one man, Douglas Lovell, yet were unable to arrest him at the time. And you will see how some individuals and institutions gave — and continue to give — Lovell every opportunity to evade the ultimate penalty.

Hear Joyce Yost’s voice for the first time in the “Cold” podcast season 2, available to listen free on Amazon Music.

Free resources and help with sexual abuse are available 24/7 at RAINN.org. You can also call 800-856-HOPE (4673).

(source: KSL news)

ARIZONA:

Is Arizona copying a Nazi method for carrying out executions? Opinion: Even if you believe strongly in the death penalty, is this technique for killing a person something you want our state to be associated with?

According to documents obtained by the Guardian, the Arizona Department of Corrections has been busy restoring the state’s gas chamber to workable condition and has purchased the chemicals necessary to turn it into a proper killing machine.

In doing so, however, did they take a page out of Adolf Hitler’s playbook?

The Guardian reports that DOC has purchased a brick of potassium cyanide, sodium hydroxide pellets and sulfuric acid, which when used in the desired order create cyanide gas.

“The same lethal gas that was deployed at Auschwitz,” the article says.

The report about the DOC’s actions was noted in the Jerusalem Post, which also pointed out that Arizona would be following Nazi methodology.

Even if you believe strongly in the death penalty is this technique for killing a person something you want our state to be associated with?

Arizona is not good at killing people

The problem is that while Arizona still has a death penalty the state has been really bad at killing people.

As you may recall, the execution of Joseph Wood in 2014 was a cruelly bungled affair in which the executioner had to administer the (eventually) lethal dose of the drug midazolam 15 times before a hideously suffering Wood finally died.

Back in 1992, when the state reinstituted the death penalty after a nearly 30-year hiatus, the first inmate executed, Donald Harding, died in the gas chamber that is now being refurbished.

It took roughly 10 minutes to kill him.

Witnesses reported that Harding took big gulps of the deadly gas, that his face got more and more red and that he slumped forward in his restraints and convulsed with tremors that rocked his upper body.

There’s also that pesky Eighth Amendment

A television journalist who witnessed the execution said afterward, “We put horses down more humanely … It was not something you would want to see.”

I’ve been told – again and again – that the murderers we condemn deserve as painful a death as their victims.

I get that.

But there is that pesky Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution banning “cruel and unusual punishments.”

Even so, putting aside any arguments over whether capital punishment should exist, and simply accepting for now that it does, why would Arizona want in any way to adopt a practice affiliated with Nazis?

Or, as Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told the Guardian, “You have to wonder what Arizona was thinking in believing that in 2021 it is acceptable to execute people in a gas chamber with cyanide gas. Did they have anybody study the history of the Holocaust?”

(source: Opinion; EJ Montini—-azcentral.com)

CALIFORNIA—-death row inmate dies

Death row inmate from San Luis Obispo County dies in prison

Death row inmate Richard Allen Benson was found dead in his cell at San Quentin State Prison on Monday, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Officials say Benson, 74, did not have a cellmate and foul play is not suspected in his death, the cause of which will be determined by the Marin County Coroner.

In 1987, Benson was sentenced to death for 4 counts of 1st-degree murder for the 1986 deaths of Laura Camargo and her 3 children.

Benson raped and beat Laura and suffocated her 2-year-old son, then spent 30 hours sexually assaulting her 2 young daughters before also beating them to death and setting the family’s Nipomo house on fire.

According to CDCR, there are currently 703 people on California’s death row. However, in 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order that put a moratorium on the death penalty in California.

(source: KSBY news)

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Laci Peterson’s Family ‘Devastated’ Scott Peterson Is Off death row: ‘It’s Beyond Painful’ —- Scott Peterson was convicted of murdering his wife and unborn son in 2004

For more than 18 years, the family of Laci Peterson has grieved the loss of the bubbly, pregnant 27-year-old who was killed by husband Scott Peterson on Christmas Eve, 2002.

Peterson was convicted of 2 counts of 1st-degree murder in the 2002 death of Laci and their unborn son, Conner. He was sentenced to death in 2005.

“This has been with them every single day,” a family source tells PEOPLE. “Their only comfort has been that Scott has been where he belongs, on death row. That he was going to pay for what he did to Laci. It was closure.”

But now, the family’s sense of closure is in jeopardy.

Peterson, now 48, scored 2 major legal victories in 2020. The 1st victory was in August, when his death penalty sentence was overturned, meaning that he would face a new penalty phase trial. The 2nd victory came in October, when the California Supreme Court ruled that a lower court should take a 2nd look at his case to determine whether his guilty verdict should be overturned.

Last Friday, Peterson scored another victory. In a San Mateo Superior Court filing, Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager said she won’t retry the penalty phase of the trial, meaning that Peterson will no longer be on death row.

Peterson will now be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

“The People have met and discussed with the victims’ family what a new penalty trial would involve, pursuant to their rights under Marsy’s Law,” the court documents read. “While the family of Laci and Conner believe there is no doubt that defendant is guilty of these crimes and that his conduct warrants the death penalty and defendant is deserving of the punishment of death, the family has decided this process is simply too painful to endure once again.”

The family source tells PEOPLE that Laci’s mother, Sharon Rocha, is still “devastated” by her daughter’s murder and the subsequent decisions by the courts.

“She has been so strong for so long,” the source says. “But she can’t go through reliving this again and again. It has taken such a toll on her. It’s beyond painful for her. And as much as she wanted to see Scott be placed back on death row, she can’t do it. No one in the family really can. It would be opening up old wounds.”

Now as Peterson’s future is uncertain, Laci’s family is figuring out how to keep Laci and Conner’s memories alive.

“They are trying to focus on the Laci they knew and loved,” says the insider, “rather than thinking about Scott. They’ve given him enough of their thoughts over the years. They don’t need to give him any more.”

(source: people.com)

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Press Release: CA Gov. Gavin Newsom Signs Executive Order for Independent Investigation of Kevin Cooper Case

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday ordered an independent investigation of death row prisoner Kevin Cooper’s case as part of Cooper’s application for clemency.

“In cases where the government seeks to impose the ultimate punishment of death, I need to be satisfied that all relevant evidence is carefully and fairly examined,” Newsom said in his Executive Order.

Cooper has been on death row for 36 years for the murder of 4 people in San Bernardino County in June 1983. Prosecutors said Cooper, who had escaped from a minimum-security prison and had been hiding out near the scene of the murder, killed Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and 10-year-old Chris Hughes, a friend who was spending the night at the Ryen’s. The lone survivor of the attack, 8-year-old Josh Ryen, was severely injured but survived.

For 36 years, Cooper has insisted he is innocent, and there are serious questions about evidence that was missing, tampered with, destroyed, possibly planted, or hidden from the defense. There were multiple murder weapons, raising questions about how one man could use all of them in the amount of time the coroner estimated the murders took place. There was also testimony from a woman who said her boyfriend, a former gang member who had been convicted of murder, came home on the night of the Ryen killings spattered in blood, driving a station wagon that wasn’t his (the Ryen’s station wagon was stolen the night of the murder), with people in the car who didn’t come into the house. She turned over the blood-spattered overalls her boyfriend left behind, but the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department never tested them for blood and threw them away on the day of Cooper’s arraignment.

Cooper has filed multiple appeals, all of which have been denied. But in 2009, referring to Cooper’s case, 5 federal judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals signed a dissenting opinion that begins: “The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man.”

“Nothing could be more important to the integrity of our justice system than ensuring that an innocent person is not executed.” – Norman Hile, attorney for Kevin Cooper

In his clemency request, Cooper’s attorney Norman Hile wrote, “Nothing could be more important to the integrity of our justice system than ensuring that an innocent person is not executed. Moreover, nothing could justify a failure to take all available steps to conclusively resolve legitimate questions regarding innocence or guilt before putting someone to death. There remain many legitimate and troubling questions regarding Mr. Cooper’s innocence, and there are readily available means to conclusively answer those questions.”

An innocence investigation is the first step toward answering many, if not all of those questions.

“If an independent investigation of Kevin’s case proves what we believe it will, it will fatally undermine the death penalty in this state and have a national impact,” DPF President Mike Farrell said. “It will be not an act of mercy but a manifestation of justice, which is all too rare in a system that has since its inception primarily victimized people of color, the economically disadvantaged, and the most marginalized in our society.”

“If an independent investigation of Kevin’s case proves what we believe it will, it will fatally undermine the death penalty in this state and have a national impact.” – Mike Farrell, Death Penalty Focus President

(source: Death Penalty Focus)

USA:

Overturn Dylann Roof’s death sentence — for me, not for him—-Despite the damage done to my family, and possibly because of it, I reject the death penalty.

The most famous person currently on federal death row is in the news again. Last week, lawyers for Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who murdered my mother, 2 cousins and 6 others in the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, because they were Black, argued the first appeal of his conviction and death sentence.

6 years after the shooting we’re talking again about a racist mass killer, hearing his name over and over. Here are the names we should be remembering: the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance (my mother), the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Simmons and Myra Thompson.

I have no complaint that our legal system requires that every death sentence be extensively reviewed, even when there is no question about the killer’s guilt. Appeals are vitally important because we must make sure that we get it right. God only knows how many times we’ve gotten it wrong, not only about actual guilt, but about culpability. Mental health is a valid concern, and I know that the man who killed my mother is not of a sound mind.

But for a few days now I have been returned to a space of heavy lament. I didn’t understand at first exactly why I was feeling so awful, but for survivors, appeals turn out to be the worst torture imaginable. Every time this case is in the news, I am brought right back to that terrible day and the searing pain of the weeks, months and years that have followed. It is awful.

Despite this pain and the damage done to my family, and possibly because of it, I reject the death penalty. I am aware that racism and other unfairnesses taint the criminal legal system in the United States; there are many other reasons to oppose capital punishment. But I know I am called to this work of ending it because these years of appeals can only be shortened if we abolish the death penalty altogether.

Without a death sentence, as I understand, there is just one appeal, after which we never have to hear the killer’s name again. With a death sentence, it is as if the victim’s family is on death row too. We do not deserve to live in limbo, waiting decades instead of just a year or two for finality in the criminal proceedings for the person who killed our loved ones.

Whatever happens legally, I know that this killer will never be free. For me that is enough. As a Christian, I also know what my faith teaches and I am grateful for the strength I get from Jesus. After wrestling with it for several years, I forgave him. In doing so I was able to release myself from the outrage and hatred that was consuming me with a desire for revenge.

Now I wish our government would also give up on revenge. We’re only on the first round of appeals. How much longer will this go on?

I want his death sentence to be overturned, not for him, but for me. We can be safe from people who hurt and kill others without executions. I know not all will agree with me, but from my perspective, ending the death penalty is the best thing we can do to help murder victim families heal.

(source: Opinion; The Rev. Sharon Risher lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is a leading spokesperson with Death Penalty Action, which is working to pass HR262/SB582, the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2021. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

PAKISTAN:

2 murderers awarded death sentence by Pindi court

The District Session Court on Monday awarded a death sentence to 2 accused in a murder case. Ahmed Razzaq and Safeer Butt were found guilty of killing Saeed Ahmed during an attempted dacoity.

The Additional Session Judge Farkhanda Arshad after recording evidence of the witnesses and final arguments by the defence and prosecution pronounced the verdict. The Court also awarded 17 years imprisonment to both while the convicted will also have to pay a fine of Rs0.6 million each. The case was registered with Saddar Beroni police.

(source: thenews.com.pk)

IRAN:

Iran Human Rights Monitor, Monthly Report May 2021

Over May 2021, Iranian authorities continued executions, torture, the suppression of minority groups, arrest and conviction of civil and political activists and the internet censorship.

Group arrests at private parties, summonses, interrogations, and detentions of religious and ethnic minorities also continued. The following report is a summary of the human rights situation in Iran over the past month.

This report will provide statistics and facts, including the execution of at least 19 citizens. Executions were mostly carried out in secret, with 13 executed on drug charges.

The authorities issued flogging sentences this month. Widespread arrests on social or politically motivated charges also continued.

In May 2021 Monthly Report, we look at those in more detail.

Executions – Monthly Report May 2021

At least 21 people were executed in Iran in May; 15 for drug-related offenses and two for rape charges, which are not capital crimes under international law. 4 people were executed on drug charges.

Iran has the highest number of executions per capita in the world.

One of the most important cases last month was the execution of Behzad Adl in Adelabad Prison in Shiraz.

One of the most important violations of the right to life in the past month is the execution of a man on rape charges in Adelabad Prison.

25-year-old Behzad Adl was executed on May 15, in Shiraz, south central Iran on rape charges that he denied in court. He was denied access to legal counsel. He said he confessed to the charges under severe torture.

In another development, Mehran Naroui from Iran’s Baluchi ethnic minority, was executed on May 17, in Dastgerd Prison of Isfahan. He had been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment to extract “confessions” used to convict and sentence him to death in unfair trials.

His execution was carried out despite social media users calling the authorities to halt the execution.

According to Amnesty International, Naroui had been subjected to serious human rights violations including enforced disappearance and torture and other ill-treatment to extract “confessions” used to convict and sentence them to death in unfair trials.

Executions carried out in May 2021 in Iran

R Name Surname Age Gender Charges Place of execution Date of execution

1 Abdulrauf Totazehi M drug Ghaen Prison 15-May-21

2 Alimorad Zabe’i M drug Qazvin Prison 5/15/2021

3 Behzad Adl M rape Adelabad Prison 5/15/2021

4 Jamal Mohammadi m murder Ilam Prison 5/16/2021

5 Amir Bayani m murder Adelabad Prison 5/16/2021

6 Mehran Naroui m drug Isfahan Prison 5/17/2021

7 Ghasem B 31 m rape Mashhad Central Prison 5/19/2021

8 Younes Totazehi m drug Birjand Prison 5/19/2021

9 Abdullah Totazehi m drug Birjand Prison 5/19/2021

10 Sajjad 25 m murder Mashhad Central Prison 5/19/2021

11 Kobra Fatemi 41 f murder Yazd Central Prison 23-May-21

12 Kianoosh Alimoradi 50 m drug Isfahan Prison 24-May-21

13 Ahmadali Ghodrati m drug Isfahan Prison 24-May-21

14 Javad Nakha’i m drug Birjand Prison 25-May-21

15 Mohammadreza Harati m drug Birjand Prison 25-May-21

16 Reza Azarian m drug Birjand Prison 25-May-21

17 Ruhollah Rigi m drug Birjand Prison 25-May-21

18 Alireza Farsi m drug Birjand Prison 25-May-21

19 Reza Assadi m drug Birjand Prison 25-May-21

20 Pirostovan f drug Qazvin Prison 30-May-21

21 Yousef Pirostovan m drug Qazvin Prison 30-May-21

Arrests

At least 540 people were arrested for various charges, including peaceful activities, or for believing in a religion other than Islam. Among those arrested are more than 13 civil and labor activists. At least 331 people have also been arrested for social crimes. Other arrests relate to ethnic and religious minorities.

Internet censorship – Monthly Report May 2021

An internet freedom activist tweeted on May 19 that confidential letters were leaked from Iran, revealing orders by the deputy head of Tehran’s Justice Department to filter Instagram, Google Play, and VPNs.

“According to a very classified letter I received, Tehran’s Judiciary has ordered relevant organizations to filter Instagram, Google Play, VPNs and anti-filtering tools. They have one week from May 15 to execute the orders. More info soon,” the activist tweeted.

The letters were also confirmed by the state-run Mehr News website. Iran’s Chief Justice, Ebrahim Raisi, is a presidential candidate in the upcoming June 18 elections and is a favorite of the regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.

The May 15 letter asks managers of major telecommunication and cellular companies to carry out as quickly as possible “orders issued to filter cyberspace, including Instagram, Google Play, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and internet circumvention tools.”

The letter has tasked the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) with “guaranteeing the execution of the order”. IRGC Commander in Chief Hossein Salami as well as other IRGC officials have been asked to “follow up the implementation” of the order and deal with telecom companies that do not carry out the orders in 1 week.

In the letter, the Judiciary threated companies that refuse to comply with the order with closure adding that company managers would be prosecuted.

The judiciary has ordered Internet Service Providers to filter Instagram in such a way that all access through any anti-filtering tools including VPNs would not be possible. Most Iranians use anti-filtering tools to access political news or many of the websites already filtered by the regime.

Discrimination against religious minorities

Increasing pressure and detentions and summonses of Baha’i citizens continued in Iran last month. In May 2021 Monthly Report, Iran human rights monitor briefly glances the situation of religious minority groups in Iran over the past month.

— Baha’i citizens living in Tehran Mahvash Adalati Aliabadi, Sepideh Keshavarz and Farid Ismaili were sentenced by Branch 36 of the Tehran Court of Appeals to 3 years and 7 months in prison each, on charges of “acting against national security through managing a Baha’i organization.”

— Also, in another case, six Baha’i citizens living in Shiraz and Borazjan, identified as Borhan Ismaili, Maryam Bashir, Faranak Sheikhi, Hayedeh Ram, Minoo Bashir and Dorna Ismaili, were sentenced by the Borazjan Revolutionary Court to a total of 73 years and 6 months in prison.

— Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran sentenced a Baha’i woman to 8 years imprisonment on the charge of forming a group to empower women. The court examining the charges of Atesa Ahmadaii Rafsanjani convened in March 2021 and issued its verdict for her efforts to register a non-governmental organization for the empowerment of women. — The trial of Kiana Shoaei, a Baha’i citizen living in Shiraz, was held on May 15, at the Revolutionary Court of Shiraz.

— Reza Zaimi, a Christian convert, was summoned to serve his sentence. Shula Assyri, a Baha’i citizen living in Hindijan, Khuzestan Province, was detained by security forces.

Discrimination against religious minorities

Iran Human Rights Monitor will present a report on the repression of ethnic minorities in a separate report. May 2021 Monthly Report, briefly mentions some cases.

Turks:

— Azerbaijani Turk activist Siamak Seifi was sentenced by the Meshginshahr Revolutionary Court to two years in prison on charges of “assembly and collusion to disrupt public order.”

— The sentence issued against Alireza Farshi, an Azerbaijani Turk activist imprisoned in the Greater Tehran Penitentiary, was upheld by the Tehran Court of Appeals. While serving a two-year sentence, Mr. Farshi was sentenced by the Tehran Revolutionary Court to four years and two months in prison and a supplementary sentence in another case.

–Azerbaijani Turk activist Roozbeh Piri was sentenced by Branch 103 of the Tabriz Criminal Court to pay a fine of 5 million Tomans for “publishing lies on social media.”

— Azerbaijani Turk activist Davood Shiri, a resident of Tabriz and one of the detainees of the November 2019 protests, was summoned to the Tabriz Criminal Court on May 15, to start serving his sentence. Mr. Shiri was previously sentenced by Branch 1 of the East Azarbaijan Court of Appeals to six months in prison.

Arabs:

Iranian authorities have embarked on a wave of arbitrary arrests of more than a dozen citizens in Ahvaz, capital of the southwestern Khuzestan Province. Among those arbitrarily arrested is the mother of one of the November 2019 uprising martyrs. The clerical regime arrested some at least 26 young men and the elderly mother of one of the November 2019 uprising martyrs in Ahvaz and the Port of Mahshahr from Friday, May 14 to Sunday, May 16.

Prisoners:

— Reza Taleshian Jalodarzadeh, a journalist imprisoned in the Greater Tehran Penitentiary, went on a hunger strike on April 28, to protest the authorities’ failure to comply with his demands and the lack of access to medical services.

— Human rights experts on May 4, expressed serious concern over the condition of imprisoned Iranian filmmaker and political activist Mohammad Nourizad and called for his immediate release. His health has reportedly deteriorated so severely that he risks serious complications and possible death if he remains in prison and does not receive appropriate medical care. “We are seriously concerned at the mistreatment of Mohammad Nourizad and his continued imprisonment for expressing his opinion,” the experts said. “Furthermore, his continued detention despite medical professionals finding he cannot stay in prison given his serious health condition, and the resulting denial of adequate medical care, may amount to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. “His case is emblematic of the situation many Iranian political activists face in detention. He must be immediately released.”

— Saba Kord Afshari went on hunger strike to lift the pressure it imposes on families of political prisoners. Despite a bleeding stomach ulcer, she refused food and medicine to have her sick mother released from Evin Prison. Hunger strike is a last resort for prisoners.

— The trial of Amir Hossein Moradi, Saeed Tamjidi and Mohammad Rajabi, three protesters arrested in November 2019 protests, was postponed for the second time on May 12, due to the absence of a second judge. The 3 political prisoners, who are currently being held in the Greater Tehran Penitentiary, have previously been sentenced to death, a total of 38 years in prison and 222 lashes by the Tehran Revolutionary Court. The authorities halted the executions of the 3 men last year after accepting their request for a retrial.

— Hossein Hashemi, an Iranian protester who is detained in the Greater Tehran Penitentiary was summoned and interrogated after revealing the horrible conditions of political prisoners in a letter published in May.

Arbitrary murders

At least 16 people were killed by the police without arrest or trial, while 15 were injured. The security forces have a long history of this and there are daily reports of border porters being killed or injured.

Iran Human Rights Monitor will publish these arbitrary killings in detail in a separate report.

Iranian police and security forces continued to shoot Iranians with impunity.

2 Iranian men who were detained for drinking alcohol were shot by the police near Tehran after being transferred to a police station in chains. The men were identified as 38-year-old Ghobad Rezaie Farzad and 32-year-old Behnam Karimi. The 2 men were detained for drinking alcohol on May 20 and were taken to the Valad Abad Police Station in Alborz Province near Tehran. Ghobad Rezaie was shot above his knee 4 times while Karimi was shot twice above his right knee after a scuffle broke out. The two men were taken to a hospital in Karaj with cuffed, wounded legs. They were both shot at very close range.

(source: iran-hrm.com)

JUNE 1, 2021:

TEXAS:

Tarrant County DA Declines To Seek Death Penalty For Man Accused In 1974 Killing Of Teen

In September 2020 Fort Worth police announced that an arrest had been made for the 1974 murder of Carla Walker, who was 17 years old when she was abducted, tortured and killed. On May 6 prosecutors said they wouldn’t seek the death penalty against the now 78-year-old man accused of the crimes.

The Tarrant County district attorney’s office has submitted documents seeking life imprisonment without parole for Glen McCurley, who was arrested on a capital murder charge.

District Attorney Sharen Wilson said they determined “justice would best be served” by a sentence ensuring McCurley “will spend the rest of his days in prison.”

Walker’s family supported the decision, she said.

Police had said the Fort Worth high school student was with her boyfriend in a car outside a bowling alley after a Valentine’s Day dance on February 17, 1974, when a man pistol-whipped the boy and abducted her. Searchers found her sexually assaulted and strangled to death 3 days later near a lake near where she had been abducted, prosecutors said.

(source: newsnationusa.com)

ALABAMA—-death sentence vacated

Federal judge vacates death sentence in Montgomery County capital murder case

Alabama has agreed to seek a reduced sentence for a man currently awaiting execution on death row for a 1996 Montgomery County murder.

Federal Judge Keith Watkins last week vacated Richard Jerome Flowers’ death sentence and remanded his case back to the Montgomery County Circuit Court for re-sentencing.

Watkins in January ruled Flowers was entitled to a new penalty phase trial due to ineffectual counsel at his 1998 trial, though he denied Flowers’ bid for a new guilt phase trial.

The state and Flowers have agreed to forego further appeals if the state petitioned the lower court to re-sentence Flowers to life without parole, according to court records filed last week.

Flowers’ federal habeas petition, 11 years in the making, has now been stayed pending action in the lower court.

The settlement agreement ends a decades-long bid by Flowers to overturn his death sentence on claims of ineffectual counsel, a constitutional violation, at his 1998 trial.

Flowers, now 58, has spent the majority of his life in Alabama prison. At age 14, he was arrested and jailed for killing a 28-year-old neighbor who had sexually abused his sister and broken into the family home. At 17, he was sent to prison for 16 years on a 2nd degree manslaughter charge.

6 months after his parole, Flowers was arrested for the murder of a co-worker, Annie Addy, at the Piknik Products plant in Montgomery.

“He came right back out to the streets, big man body, but still 14,” Flowers’ older brother said, according to court records.

In his January opinion granting Flowers a new penalty phase trial, Watkins also denied Flowers a new guilt phase trial, citing the strength of the state’s evidence against Flowers.

But Watkins said a “cascade of unprepared attorneys” erred in representing Flowers at his trial. With pretrial proceedings a “calamity of cumulative errors,” Watkins found Flowers’ attorney presented no witnesses or testimony to the jury regarding Flowers’ upbringing rife with abject poverty, abuse and credible psychological concerns.

“Trial counsel presented, effectively, no meaningful evidence or argument at the penalty phase and at sentencing. More relevant, the evidence reflected counsel’s investigative effort —also zero,” Watkins said in his January opinion.

The Montgomery County jury hearing the case deliberated for just 12 minutes before finding Flowers guilty and deliberated over his sentence the same day, voting 10 to 2 for death by electric chair, the state’s method of execution at the time.

While the Montgomery County Circuit Court will have to accept Alabama’s motion for re-sentencing, both parties stipulated in a filing last week that any remaining claims in the federal case would be dropped pending re-sentencing.

(source: Gadsden Times)

NEVADA:

The Nevada Supreme Court has overturned the death sentence imposed on Tracy Petrocelli in his May 2019 capital resentencing trial. In a 4-2 decision, the court ruled that the trial court had committed clear error requiring vacation of Petrocelli’s death sentence when it submitted to the jury a verdict slip that misstated the law on what the jury must find to impose a life sentence.

The verdict slip informed the jury that, to impose a life sentence, it must find “that any mitigating circumstance or circumstances are not sufficient to outweigh the aggravating circumstance found.” That was actually the standard for imposing a death sentence. Justice Douglas Herndon, joined by Justice Ron D. Parraquire, dissented on the grounds that Petrocelli’s counsel had not objected to the instruction and had “clearly focused their penalty hearing strategy on requesting mercy as opposed to making any substantial presentation that Petrocelli was not eligible for the death penalty.”

Petrocelli was initially convicted and sentenced to death in Reno, Nevada in 1982 for a murder committed during the course of an armed robbery. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned his death sentence in 2017, finding that the prosecution had unconstitutionally sent its psychiatrist to the prison to conduct a mental health evaluation of Petrocelli to determine his competency to stand trial without notice to or permission from defense counsel, and the psychiatrist then failed to advise Petrocelli that he had the right to counsel and that any statements could be used against him at trial, and then testified in the penalty phase of trial that Petrocelli was incurably dangerous.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

CALIFORNIA:

California Supreme Court to hear arguments challenging application of state’s death penalty

The California Supreme Court, which rarely overturns death penalty verdicts these days, takes up an issue Wednesday that could lead to reversals of hundreds of the state’s pending death sentences and perhaps all 704 of them.

In an appeal by a Los Angeles man sentenced to death for two gang-related murders in 2004, the justices have taken the rare step of asking both sides, and other interested parties, to file arguments on a question raised by the defense: Whether procedures in California capital cases have allowed prosecutors to sidestep state laws requiring jurors to decide, by a unanimous vote, that the evidence supports a death sentence.

In response, Gov. Gavin Newsom, who declared a moratorium on executions after taking office in 2019, became the first California chief executive to file arguments challenging the state’s application of the death penalty. Several district attorneys, including those in San Francisco and Los Angeles, have filed similar briefs, opposing the views of most county prosecutors. Law professors and activists on both sides of the issue have also weighed in.

The ruling, due within 90 days, could shape the future of capital punishment in California, which narrowly survived repeal efforts at the ballot box in 2012 and 2016.

(source: San Francisco Chronicle)

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

Death penalty faces critical test —- Will state high court raise bar?

The death penalty in California could be on the precipice of a dramatic change.

On Wednesday, the California Supreme Court will begin hearings in a case challenging the state’s application of the death penalty. The state’s highest court will consider whether to raise the bar for when a jury can sentence a defendant to capital punishment, a decision that could affect pending cases and potentially reverse death sentences for the 704 inmates already on California’s death row. It’s a move supported by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who in October took the unprecedented step of filing a brief urging the state Supreme Court to change how California applies the death penalty, arguing the current process is “infected by racism.”

The landmark hearing follows Newsom’s Friday executive order mandating an independent investigation into the case of death row inmate Kevin Cooper, who was convicted in 1985 of a quadruple murder but continues to maintain his innocence. Also Friday, Newsom granted 14 pardons, 13 commutations and eight medical reprieves, including pardons for 2 inmate firefighters who were facing deportation.

California’s reexamination of the death penalty comes amid a fraught debate over public safety in the wake of a string of mass shootings and a surge in gun violence. A lot of political futures — including Newsom’s — could be on the line. The governor angered some Californians by ordering a halt to the death penalty in 2019, just 3 years after voters rejected an attempt to end capital punishment. Recall organizers cite the order as a key reason to vote him out of office.

Capital punishment could also play a pivotal role in next year’s state attorney general race, with Newsom appointee Rob Bonta opposed to the death penalty and his main challenger so far, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, in favor of it.

A recent poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies found that although 44% of California voters support repealing the death penalty, a sizable 21% remain undecided.

(source: calmatters.org)

CHINA:

Death penalty for teacher in China who raped multiple students, 17 years for his accomplice; One of the teachers raped 9 young female students between 2001 and 2020—-The school also ignored a complaint from the parents of a student in 2017

A teacher in central China was sentenced to death and another received 17 years in jail after a court in Hunan found them guilty of raping and molesting numerous students between 2001 and 2020 in a case revealed on Monday.

One of the men, surnamed Yang, was found guilty of raping nine young girls at Baisha primary school in Luxi county in Hunan. 8 of the girls were under the age of 14. The other perpetrator, surnamed Mi, joined Yang in a gang-rape of a 12-year-old female student.

The pair also molested numerous other students while tutoring or looking after them.

For their crimes, Yang received the death sentence while Mi got 17 years in prison. The sentences were handed down in August 2020, but the case was only revealed to the public by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP), China’s Prosecutor General’s office, on Monday.

The court in Hunan introduced the death penalty because of the young age of the students.

In May last year, two victims called the police in Luxi county to report the former teachers, ending the 20-year-long crime spree. The SPP said that nobody else called the police during the 2 decades.

The principal and the deputy principal at Baisha primary school were also charged with crimes for “negligence of duty” after a police probe discovered a student’s parents had complained to school management in 2017. The leadership did not investigate or inform the authorities. The SPP did not specify the details of their punishment.

The SPP highlighted the case to show the necessity of a newly introduced law that requires mandatory reporting for crimes involving underage victims.

Under the newly amended law, designated institutions such as schools and kindergartens will be held accountable for failing to report infringements on minors’ rights and interests, resulting in serious consequences. The law also applies to individuals involved in the cases.

Previously, there had been no mandatory reporting mechanism in the law until China revised its Law on the Protection of Minors, which went into effect on Tuesday.

“The situation of minor protection leaves much to be desired. There has been a high occurrence of sexual abuse of children,” read a report on crimes involving minors released by the SPP on Tuesday.

According to the report, more than 15,000 people were charged with raping minors last year, a 19 per cent increase from a year earlier.

Nearly 6,000 people were charged with molesting children under the age of 14. Nearly 1,500 people molested minors between the age of 14 and 18, up by over 14 % and 12 % respectively from a year earlier, the report said.

The SPP revealed the case ahead of China’s Children’s Day, which falls on June 1 each year. It was part of 10 illustrative examples of crimes involving minors.

(source: South China Morning Post)

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

China strengthens death sentence review to better protect human rights

China has reinforced human rights protection in death sentence review and tightened the conditions applicable to the death penalty in recent years, a top court official said on Monday.

Defendants who render significant meritorious services shall generally be granted leniency and be exempted from the death sentence if possible, Li Xiao, a senior judge with the Supreme People’s Court, told a press conference.

The death penalty shall not be applicable to defendants over 75 years old unless they intentionally commit homicide or crimes with especially serious circumstances, Li added.

The top court has adhered to the highest standards, strictest conditions and taken a fact-based approach in accordance with the law, she said.

During the death penalty review, the SPC also heeds the opinions of the defendant’s lawyers as sufficiently as possible, as well as the supervisory results from the Supreme People’s Procuratorate over the case, Li said.

(source: Xinhua)

SINGAPORE:

Johor cops bust drug syndicate using modified fire extinguishers to smuggle drugs into Singapore

Johor police crippled a drug smuggling syndicate specialising in hiding the banned substance in modified fire extinguishers which were then transported by lorries into Singapore.

The syndicate’s operation was uncovered by the Johor Narcotics Criminal Investigation Department (NCID) in several raids in the city here.

Johor police chief Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay said the success was the result of intelligence information sharing by the Singapore Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB), Bukit Aman NCID and the Johor police contingent.

He said based on the information, a total of 9 suspects were nabbed in the raids carried out in several premises around the city here at about 1.20am yesterday.

“The suspects comprised 6 local males and a female, as well as an Indonesian man, aged between 26 and 46.

“Initial investigations revealed that the syndicate’s members, believed to be operating for the past 3 months, had hidden the drugs in modified fire extinguishers before being smuggled by a lorry carrying ice destined for Singapore,” said Ayob Khan in a statement issued here tonight.

Ayob Khan said investigators seized 7.12kg of cannabis, 4.52kg of syabu (crystal methamphetamine) and 3.11kg of heroin that had a total value of RM215,283.20.

He said police also seized eight cars worth RM172,000, RM1,200 in cash and various jewellery worth RM11,693.

Ayob Khan said one suspect was found positive for drugs during a urine test, while three other suspects had various narcotics and criminal records.

“The suspects have been remanded for a week starting today to assist in investigations under Section 39B and Section 15 (1) (a) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952,” he said.

Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act carries the mandatory death penalty upon conviction.

(source: malaymail.com)

SAUDI ARABIA:

Father Pardons Son’s Killer Minutes Before Execution

A convicted killer was “pardoned” by the Saudi father of his victim on 24 May 2021 morning, minutes before he was due to be executed.

Awad Suleiman Al-Amrani from Tabuk in northwestern Saudi Arabia, whose son was killed in a brawl 4 years ago, stipulated that neither the killer nor his family should celebrate the forgiveness. He also said that the family should not attempt to raise money from donors or attend any events that might be organized as a result of the waiver.

He did not demand any blood money in compensation for his son’s death, and so the killer will be released.

As news of the pardon spread on social media, Al-Amrani was praised for his forgiving nature. In appreciation of his “noble” gesture, some Twitter users posted Qur’anic verse 40 of surah Al-Shura, which says: “The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto (in degree): But if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allah: For (Allah) loveth not those who do wrong.”

Others said that Al-Amrani’s decision was in keeping with the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, who said: “Whosoever introduces a good practice in Islam, there is for him its reward and the reward of those who act upon it after him without anything being diminished from their rewards.”

In a message posted on Twitter, Saudi citizen Bandar Al-Atwi wrote: “The father has gained a promise from the Almighty to reward him for his noble act.” Quoting verse 32 of surah Al-Maidah, he added: “If anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.”

Waleed Khaled Darraj, a lawyer in Jeddah, told Arab News that the freed man and his family must adhere to the demands and conditions set by the victim’s father.

“If written and approved by the court, all that the father has requested should be followed, otherwise the waiver becomes invalid and the victim’s family has the right to demand beheading,” he said.

He said that while executions are permitted under Shariah as a deterrent to safeguard lives and preserve the human soul, Islam also urges its followers to forgive whenever possible.

“Islam also teaches its followers to show tolerance,” said Darraj. “It also instructs them to avoid anger, which in many cases leads to unwanted consequences.

“When such a crime happens, beheading the killer, demanding blood money is the right of the victim’s family. However, some noble people just forgive without requesting a penny. These people seek what Allah has promised the forgivers.”

In some cases in the Gulf region, the families of murder victims have asked for millions of riyals in return for forgiving the killers.

(source: Arab News)

IRAN—-female execution

The 118th woman executed under Rouhani in the Central Prison of Qazvin

A woman was executed along with her husband in the Central Prison of Qazvin at dawn on Sunday, May 30, 2021. This is the 118th woman executed during Hassan Rouhani’s tenure as the mullahs’ president.

At least 15 women have been executed every year in Iran over the past 8 years.

The couple were cousins identified by the last name of Pir-Ostovan. The woman’s 1st name is not known. They were arrested 8 years ago on Qazvin-Karaj Highway and sentenced to death in their 1st court hearing.

Mrs. Pir-Ostovan is the 1st woman executed after the amendment of the law on punishment of drug-related crimes in 2017. The amendment banned executions on drug-related charges.

The regime’s state-media have not yet announced these execution as this news is being published.

Death penalty is the mullahs’ main instrument to prop up their regime. They cannot slow down even on the eve of their sham elections. On the contrary, they have stepped up the executions. Exactly 1 week before, the clerical regime’s authorities executed Kobra Fatemi in the Central Prison of Yazd.

Iran holds the world’s top executioner record, with the highest number of citizens executed per capita. It is also the world’s chief executioner of women. The executions are grossly unfair.

More than 4300 people have been executed in Iran during Rouhani’s tenure. As of now, they include 118 women.

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: women.ncr-iran.org)

MAY 31, 2021:

UTAH:

In Utah, the death penalty can be a life sentence for victims’ families

In too many Utah courtrooms to count, for most of his adult life, Matt Hunsaker has stood alongside his grandmother, holding a framed picture of his mother in an effort, during death penalty proceedings, to remind judges, attorneys and the media that Maurine Hunsaker was more than a murder victim.

“I miss her deeply every day,” Hunsaker said. in Episode 9 of Talking Cold, the podcast that explores the issues raised in the Cold Podcast. “She was taken so much earlier than she should. And it angers me because I don’t have those things that I got to I never got to do. I never got to go to Disneyland with her; she never got to go to Disneyland. She didn’t get to enjoy this pandemic we all just went through.”

Life taking and life-changing

Hunsaker was 10 when his mother was killed while working the night shift at a gas station just about a mile from where he now lives in Taylorsville. Losing his mother dramatically changed the course of his life.

“For a long time, it was just me and my mom, a single mom,” he said. “We lived in a few different places. …That was my, that was my world. You know, it’s after she died. It was just a blur.”

He eventually moved in with his grandmother, who attended every hearing for the man convicted of killing Maurine Hunsaker in 1986 – Ralph Menzies. Menzies was sentenced to death for the murder, but he remains in prison with several appeals pending decades later.

Hunsaker said Menzies’ death sentence became a “life sentence” for him and his grandmother.

“Your mind frame is is getting justice for your loved ones,” he said. “But in all actual reality, it’s a verdict that you’re going to get here. And then… it’s a lifelong sentence for you and your family because you’re going to go to court, and you’re going to find out that that it’s not about your your loved one anymore. You can go sit in a five-hour hearing and you’re never going to hear your loved one’s name.”

He said if life without the possibility of parole was an option when Menzies was sentenced, he’d have chosen that. Instead, he now believes Menzies will die of old age in prison.

Death penalty used as a tool

Still, Hunsaker has made peace with a process that often ignores the victims of crimes.

“I’m done,” he said. “Losing my grandma (a month ago), that was it. That was the end of it for me. I fought so diligently on every level of (court and) going into the Capitol and fighting to keep the death penalty on the table – years and years.”

He said if Utah is going to have a death penalty option on the books, it shouldn’t be just a tool to persuade or pressure defendants into taking plea deals to life without parole.

“If you’re gonna have it on the books, use it,” he said. “Don’t have it on the books to threaten people with it and bully them – use it. Because the people like me that, that it comes into our (lives), I’ve got a lifelong sentence. It’s that’s me. I gotta carry this forever. Until it’s over, because I don’t have a choice now.”

Hunsaker said he will continue to represent his mom at hearings, but he will not invest the time and emotional energy in the legal process that he has for the last 3 decades.

“I will always honor my mom,” he said. “Until the day I am unable to walk, I will go t here and clean her headstone off, take her flowers, she was a great woman. I know she loved me. I know she loved me a lot. … I’m still going to make sure that everybody knows that she was an amazing woman, and she was robbed from us and from this world.”

Should the death penalty be abolished?

In the 2nd half of Episode 9, local attorney Mark Moffat talks about representing those accused of capital homicide and why he’s spent the last few years advocating to end the death penalty. Moffat said he realizes his personal opinions about the death penalty put him in the minority in Utah, but there are also very practical reasons to abandon the death penalty, including the fact that life in prison without parole is a viable option and much cheaper in the long run.

“I believe that imposing a sentence of death on anybody is barbaric,” Moffat said. “I don’t believe that it is just punishment, I don’t believe in the concept, that if you take a life, you, you, you you forfeit your right to live I just think that that’s that’s something that I fundamentally disagree with. …In my own opinion, when we as a society sanction the taking of life, we diminish the significance and importance of life. And I just I’ve got a problem with that.”

(source: kslnewsradio.com)

CALIFORNIA:

California Supreme Court changes rules on eyewitness testimony

Eyewitness testimony is often crucial in court cases, but can be hard for jurors to assess. So judges tell them what to consider, including how far a witness was from the scene, whether the witness was under stress, whether his or her account has changed, and — until now — how certain the witness was that the identification was accurate.

But the state Supreme Court has called a halt to the level-of-certainty factor in California trials because of increasing evidence that eyewitnesses are not the best judges of their own observations.

Research has shown that “eyewitness confidence is generally an unreliable indicator of accuracy,” the court said Thursday in a ruling on an assault case. Long-standing jury instructions in California trials suggest — wrongly, the court said — that an identification is more likely to reliable when the witness expresses confidence in it, and studies also show that a witness’ self-confidence is the most important factor in juror assessments of testimony.

The justices told judges to remove witness self-confidence from the factors jurors should consider in evaluating eyewitnesses, at least until a state Judicial Council expert panel can review the instruction and decide whether any of it can be retained.

The ruling illustrated the state high court’s broad authority to re-examine and change the rules under which trials are conducted in California. Next Wednesday, the justices are scheduled to hear a death penalty appeal in which they have asked the opposing parties, and advocacy groups, to address possible revisions in jury instructions that could raise the standards for issuing a death verdict.

The state public defender’s office praised Thursday’s ruling.

“Because erroneous eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions, the court’s decision to revisit the state’s instructions on eyewitness identification is important to ensure the integrity of criminal convictions in the state,” said Kathleen Scheidel, the office’s assistant chief counsel.

Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office also said it was pleased with the ruling.

The case involved an assault at a motel in Santa Ana in July 2014. The victim said a man in a doorway beat and kicked her, knocked her unconscious, and stole her purse and cell phone. That night, while under anesthesia in a local hospital, she identified the defendant, Charles Henry Rudd, in a photo lineup. Three months later, she again picked Rudd’s photo from a lineup presented by police.

At Rudd’s trial, the woman expressed confidence in her identification, and the judge gave jurors the standard instruction about factors to consider in evaluating her testimony, including the witness’ level of certainty. Rudd was convicted of assault and robbery, and sentenced to six years in prison, a term he has now completed.

The court left Rudd’s conviction intact Thursday, saying he had a fair opportunity to challenge the witness’ account at his trial, but ordered the jury instructions changed statewide. In the 7-0 ruling, Justice Joshua Groban noted that Kansas and Georgia have barred the level-of-certainty jury instruction in their courts, New Jersey and Massachusetts have modified their instructions, and the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice recommended re-evaluation of the state’s jury instruction in 2008, but no action had been taken until now.

“We now join other jurisdictions (and the commission) in acknowledging that this form of instruction has the potential to mislead jurors,” Groban said.

The case is People vs. Lemcke, No. S250108.

(source: San Francisco Chronicle)

USA:

Our country is plagued with rising incidents of anti-Semitism, hate crime attacks against Jews and synagogues, and outrageous Holocaust denial from some of our elected officials, many of whom are slow to condemn it or who even refuse to do so.

It is easy to disregard or even care about a recent decision in Arizona, which, according to an article in The Guardian, recently spent $1.5 million to refurbish its gas chamber, and spent more than $2,000 in procuring the ingredients to make hydrogen cyanide, the very same gas that was used to kill more than a million people at Auschwitz. Arizona, like many states, cannot obtain the drugs used in lethal injections.

Whatever one’s views are about the death penalty in this country, using Nazi methods of killing people is outrageous and should be deeply troubling. Lethal injection itself was devised by Hitler’s personal physician to kill 10,000 ‘defective” children starting in 1939.

Are lethal injections and cyanide gas the best responses that America can offer in 2021? If yes, why can’t we be better than this?

If no, then why are we doing it? Who ARE we as a nation? Where is our moral outrage? This barbarism has no place in our country.

(source: Rick Halperin; Letter to the Editor, Dallas Morning News)

IRAN—-executions

Woman and Former Husband Executed on Drug-related Charges in Qazvin—-She is the 6th woman to be executed this year and the 158th woman to be executed since 2010

A woman and her former husband have been executed on drug-related charges in Qazvin Central Prison. She is the 6th woman to be executed this year.

According to Iran Human Rights, a couple who had been married at the time of their arrest and also cousins, were executed on drug-related charges in Qazvin Central Prison on May 30.

His identity has been established as Yousef Pirostovan and his ex-wife Shamsi Pirostovan. She is the first woman to be executed since the 2017 amendments to the Anti-Narcotics laws.

An informed source told IHR: “The couple were arrested and sentenced to death for possession of 380 kilograms of drugs (unknown type).”

“They were arrested on the Qazvin-Karaj motorway around seven or eight years ago and sentenced to death in the 1st court hearing. In 2018, Ms Pirostovan had divorced Yousef through the judicial authorities at her family’s insistence while she was in prison,” the source added.

She is the 6th woman to be executed this year and the 158th woman to be executed since 2010.

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. However, at least 37 people have so far been executed on drug-related charges in 2021, the majority of whom have been Baluch minorities.

On May 3, IHR published a report on the death penalty in the first 4 months of 2021 expressing concern at the significant increase in the number of drug-related executions and continues to warn of the continuation of this trend.

(source: iranhr.net)

CHINA/AUSTRALIA:

Man urges Chinese judge to reject torture-tainted evidence

A Chinese Australian writer tried in Beijing for alleged espionage said he pleaded to a judge to reject evidence of what he had said while being tortured by interrogators.

Yang Hengjun faced a closed trial last Thursday and the court deferred its verdict to a later date.

The Australian government on Friday labeled his incarceration since he arrived in China in January 2019 arbitrary detention.

The Associated Press on Monday saw the crime novelist and blogger’s account of the legal proceedings circulated among his supporters over the weekend.

Yang said he had a meeting with his trial judge three days before his one-day trial. The judge refused his request to submit evidence and call witnesses during the trial, but agreed to include almost 100 pages of defense documents in his case file.

“I made a plea to the judge to exclude my interrogation records from the court proceedings,” Yang said.

“It’s illegal. Torture. They had hidden camera records,” Yang added.

Yang does not say how the judge responded to his request.

Chinese Criminal Procedure Law prohibits confessions forced by torture or threats.

The prosecution case, “according to legal facts, is groundless,” Yang said.

Yang said he was “tired and confused” during the hearing and “didn’t have the sprit to speak enough.”

He estimated he spoke for less than 5 minutes in his own defense, but said the hearing “gave me a sense that things are OK.”

“The interrogations I had been subjected to, where I was told I had to confess, and the treatment I received for the first one-and-a-half years was (sic) much worse,” Yang said.

Chinese authorities have not released any details of the charges against Yang, who reportedly formerly worked for China’s Ministry of State Security as an intelligence agent.

Yang told his supporters at the weekend: “I served China when I was young, even secretly.”

Yang has denied the accusation against him, and while a conviction is virtually certain, it isn’t clear when the verdict will be handed down. The espionage charge carries penalties ranging from 3 years in prison to the death penalty.

The trial comes at a time of deteriorating relations between the countries, brought on by Chinese retaliation against Australian legislation against foreign involvement in its domestic politics, the exclusion of telecommunications giant Huawei from its 5G phone network, and calls for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus that was 1st detected in China in late 2019.

(source: Associated Press)

MALAYSIA:

Nepalese man hanged himself in prison, say police

Investigations into the incident revealed that the prisoner had appealed several times against his death sentence, but was unsuccessful.

PETALING JAYA: There has been yet another death in custody but a Nepalese prisoner in Kluang prison had killed himself and there are no criminal elements, said Johor criminal investigation department head, Md Yusof Ahmad.

Speaking to FMT, Yusof confirmed receipt of a report from Kluang prison yesterday regarding the death of a Nepalese prisoner in his 30s.

He said investigations into the prisoner’s death revealed that he had been convicted under section 302 of the Penal Code, which carries the death penalty, for a case which occurred in either 2016 or 2017.

“This prisoner had appealed several times against his sentence, but it was dismissed. He did not die in a police lock-up, but the case took place in the (Kluang) prison,” he said when contacted.

Yusof said the police confirmed that the prisoner had hanged himself using a blanket, and that the case was classified as sudden death.

Today, Eliminating Deaths and Abuse in Custody Together (EDICT) said it had received information on another case of a death in custody that occurred at the Kluang Prison.

EDICT said the case this time involved a Nepalese man in his 30s and the body was now at Kluang Hospital for autopsy.

“EDICT would like to reiterate that deaths in custody are not appropriate. Prison officers must always be sensitive to detainees’ health as well as to practise integrity and ensure that detainees receive humane treatment,” it said in a statement. (source: freemalaysiatoday.com)

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

Cannabis can mean death in Malaysia. For one dad, it also meant life for his daughter.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

Drops of cannabis oil fell onto Ira’s small tongue as she lay motionless on a mattress, her heart beating slower than normal.

The earthy scent of the medicinal oil filled her home in rural Janda Baik, Pahang, as her father Pokleh, 36, carefully fed the 1-year-old with the illicit substance secretly bought from a supplier in Thailand – a risky move that could see him jailed in Malaysia.

But his love for his child, who was fighting for her life after being paralyzed by brain tumors, was greater than his fear of state punishment. Pokleh and his wife asked that their real names not be used for fear of prosecution. But he wanted to share his story because of the dramatic recovery he says cannabis made possible for his daughter – and could provide other children.

Two Novembers ago, Ira suffered a high fever that lasted about a week, leaving her unconscious. Anxious, Pokleh and his wife Anna, 34, rushed their daughter to the hospital, where doctors found lesions in the baby girl’s brain known as cavernoma – a rare condition in which blood vessels form abnormally. There were no answers to what had caused it. Ira neither had a history of seizures nor family members with brain-related illnesses.

“I thought it was just a normal fever,” Pokleh said. “I thought she’d be okay after a while. It’s my fault for not getting medical attention sooner.”

Ira spent 3 weeks in the intensive care unit of an urban government hospital, while doctors treated her symptoms – seizures and muscle spasms – with generic drugs used to treat neurological disorders. Pokleh objected to surgery because Ira’s chance of survival was low, medical documents showed. For nearly a month, Pokleh watched as his daughter lay paralyzed on the hospital bed. His wife was already conceding the reality that her daughter may never be able to walk or talk again.

“Why us?” Pokleh, an IT consultant, said as his voice cracked in a recent interview. “Only God knows how we managed to stay strong when the doctor diagnosed Ira with a brain tumor. My wife was five months pregnant at that time, I needed to be strong for her too.”,P> Tears rolled down Ira’s cheeks as she glanced from her mom to her dad, and the cartoon on the hospital’s television screen, he recounted.

“I could not accept my daughter’s condition,” Pokleh said. “Before this, she could run, she could do everything. I felt so helpless. I needed to do something about it. I just had to. There has to be another way.”

I first spoke to Pokleh in March. At that point, Ira’s condition was in remission and she had regained full use of her body, an improvement Pokleh credits to one thing – cannabis. He agreed to discuss his experience in hope that other parents might benefit, but asked that we not show Ira’s face.

Discovering cannabis oil

Soon after Ira was admitted to the hospital, Pokleh concluded that modern medicine could not improve his daughter’s condition. So he looked for alternatives, trawling through hundreds of books, articles and documentaries before discovering Weed The People on Netflix.

The show followed several parents in the United States on a quest to treat their cancer-stricken children with cannabis. The show was meant to “entertain and inform” and not serve as medical advice. But Pokleh decided to take it up – even though it remained illegal in Malaysia despite calls for reforms.

Tania Scivetti, a member of the Malaysian bar who has defended people accused of drug offenses, said the government’s view of cannabis as “hard drugs” could be why it is reluctant to decriminalize it, adding that Malaysia “should take the cue from other countries with successful cannabis policies.”

Getting ahold of cannabis oil was easier than Pokleh expected. All it took was ordering it from a Thai supplier on Facebook, and it arrived within 3 days, just in time for Ira’s return from three bedridden weeks in the hospital. One palm-sized bottle was enough for 50 servings, the label said.

Little has been studied about cannabis oil in Malaysia, while research done elsewhere in the world has not been conclusive. Cancer Research UK says that cannabis oil comes from the flowers, leaves, and stalks of the cannabis plant. Unlike CBD or cannabidiol oil, it also contains the psychoactive compound that gives people a high called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

“Cannabis is a safe medicine for people with seizures,” said medical marijuana advocate Sathivel Ras Thaman, 38, who has been practicing medicine for 12 years and runs the Medira group of clinics here.

“Cannabis oil would be derived from the cannabis plant, while CBD oil is extracted alone, without other properties like THC,” he said in a May interview. “Most CBD oils in the market are derived from industrial hemp, which has a naturally low THC content (below 3%). If the cannabis oil has THC, it comes with a caution that it will make [the user] high.”

Pokleh stopped the medication that was prescribed by the doctor to avoid mixing them with the cannabis oil. After bringing her home from the hospital a month later, he kept up a routine of feeding Ira five drops of the oil each day, prying open his daughter’s mouth to give her the daily dose.

As days turned into weeks, Ira started making subtle movements. She clenched her fists, lifted her legs, and slowly turned her little body while lying on the mattress. Eventually, the toddler was able to crawl again.

“Before we started on cannabis oil, she just lay down, motionless. No reflexes. It felt slow, but day by day, she was getting better,” Pokleh said. “From what I’ve read and watched online, a major side effect would be sleepiness … But nothing harmful.”

Proud of his daughter’s fighting spirit and determination to keep “trying every day, patiently,” Pokleh’s eyes sparkled with joy as he said: “Our little Ira is back.”

“If she couldn’t lift her legs one day, she would keep trying until she succeeded,” he said. “Soon, she could walk, run, and play with our pet cat. She could also eat normally, even though there was a tube attached to her nose.”

Meeting the doctor again

It was 3 weeks after Ira started on cannabis oil, just before the first COVID-19 cases had reached the nation, when it was time for her to see the doctor again. But how would Pokleh explain her recovery? Mentioning cannabis oil was out of the question. On the other side of the country, a military retiree was facing the gallows for cultivating cannabis for sale to terminally ill patients. The risk of capital punishment is real in Malaysia, where the substance is classified as an illegal drug under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952. Depending on the weight of the drug, penalties range from a fine to imprisonment, caning, and even death.

At the hospital, the family arrived in high spirits, with Ira wandering about on her feet and chattering merrily with strangers — a completely different patient from the one who had been discharged. When they met the doctor, Ira played with a calculator and stethoscope while the doctor checked her reflexes and later took her for an MRI scan.

Images from the scan showed an impressive improvement in Ira’s condition, according to Pokleh. The lesion in Ira’s brain had shrunk considerably. When questioned about Ira’s recovery, Pokleh commended the doctors and other healthcare workers who helped. The doctor listened in disbelief but never prodded further.

“It’s almost like the doctor did not believe it. We just said it was thanks to the hospital, doctors, and nurses who worked so hard to help Ira heal,” he said.

“I did not feel comfortable disclosing anything because I could be accused of committing a crime, but as a dad, I didn’t have a choice. I wanted to see Ira get well, and be healthy just like other kids,” he added, grateful to have been given a “second chance” to be with his daughter.

Today, a year later, Ira is 3 and seems to have no memory of what she went through. But she still takes at least one drop of cannabis oil every day and will continue to do so as long as the tumor remains in her brain.

“I’ve asked her before and showed her photos from the hospital, ‘Do you remember this? Your ummi (mother) was so heartbroken, she was waiting for you to wake up,’” he said.

Hardly a day goes by without Pokleh worrying that Ira will relapse, especially now that she is slated to start kindergarten.

“I’m only afraid of when she jumps around – she may hit her head, which could potentially reactivate the tumor … I know I can’t always be there to watch her, so when she goes to kindergarten, I hope the teacher can keep an eye on her while she plays with her new friends.”

(source: coconuts.co)

INDONESIA:

Man walks free after being acquitted of drug trafficking charge

A 39-year-old man walked free today after the High Court here discharged and acquitted him of a drug trafficking charge.

High Court Judge Datuk Duncan Sikodol made the ruling after the prosecution failed to establish a prima facie case against Ng Cheng Hui at the end of the prosecution.

Ng, who is from Pujut Padang Kerbau, was charged under Section 39(1)(a) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, which is punishable under Section 39B(2) of the same law.

The section provides for a mandatory death penalty upon conviction.

According to the facts of the case, Ng was alleged to have trafficked 271.65 grammes of Methamphetamine at around 5.15am at a house in Pujut Corner on Sept 19, 2019.

A total of 6 prosecution witnesses were called throughout the trial.

Deputy public prosecutors (DPP) Muhammad Nor Solihin Salleh and Muhammad Hafiz Mohd Noor prosecuted, while the accused was represented by counsel Firdaus Morshidi.

(source: Borneo Post)

MAY 30, 2021:

TEXAS:

Who is Raymond Riles? Inmate on death row for 45 years won’t be killed, Lester Bower wasn’t so lucky—-Doubts on whether Bower’s execution in 2015 was unjust still persist. However, another Texas inmate, Raymond Riles, has had his sentence overturned

The death sentence of Raymond Riles, who was convicted of the 1974 capital murder of a Houston used-car salesman John Henry, has reportedly been overturned by an appeals court. The 70-year-old is said to be Texas’ longest-serving death row inmate. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed the sentence in April saying his mental illness history was not accurately reviewed by jurors.

However, that does not mean Riles is a free man now as his case will now go back to Harris County, where he was initially tried, for a new punishment proceeding. Reportedly, Riles was awarded the death sentence in 1976 after he was found guilty of murdering Henry. When he was on trial, at the time, Texas law did not expect jury members to consider factors like mental illness while deciding if someone should be executed or not. But a change was brought in 1989 when the US Supreme Court ruled that not considering intellectual disability or mental illness or other issues as mitigating evidence in the punishment phase of a capital murder trial is unconstitutional.

However, that ruling also did not help Riles much since according to Jim Marcus, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law and one of Riles’ lawyers, lower courts did not incorporate Supreme Court’s verdict until 2007. Prisoners like Riles are “housed on death row because their judgment is a sentence of death, but it can’t be carried out because they’re too mentally ill. In Texas, that means people are left to languish in the Polunsky Unit (the location of Texas’ death row), where the conditions are basically solitary confinement,” Marcus stated.

Though during Riles’ trial prosecutors repeatedly claimed that he was mentally sound, a number of psychiatrists and psychologists rejected it and said he was psychotic and has schizophrenia. The man’s brother also stated that his “mind is not normal like other people. He is not thinking like other people.” Thea Posel, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law and one of Riles’ lawyers said: “All parties (now) agree that he is mentally ill. The state of Texas has treated him as such for the 45 years he’s been on death row.”

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg told Time magazine, “We are glad Texas’ highest (criminal) court agreed with prosecutors and defense lawyers that jurors must be able to consider a defendant’s mental health history before deciding punishment.” Marcus hinted towards the possibility that his client may now get life imprisonment, before adding, “This would be a very difficult case for Harris County to pursue further because Mr Riles is so mentally ill, that it’s unlikely he would be found competent to stand trial.”

Lester Bower on death row for decades like Raymond Riles but didn’t survive

There are not a lot of similarities between Riles’ case and Lester Bower’s, and some things are common between the 2 men’s cases. Like Riles, Bower was also on death row for a very long time before he was executed. Also, in Riles’ case, serious doubts were there [because of his mental health] whether to execute him or not and if he would have been, it could have been categorized as injustice — much like Bower’s case seemingly was.

Doubts on whether Bower’s execution was unjust

In 2015, Bower at the age of 67 became the oldest prisoner executed by Texas in modern times after his last-day appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court. The Arlington man was put to death with a lethal dose of the sedative pentobarbital after he spent 31 years on death row for the 1983 killing of 4 men at an aircraft hangar near Dallas. The victims were — Bob Tate, Jerry Brown, Philip Good, and Ronald Mayes.

According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, in his final statement, Bower said, “Much has been written about this case, not all of it has been the truth. But the time is over and now it is time to move on. I want to thank my attorneys for all that they have done. They have afforded me the last quarter of a century. I would like to thank my wife, my daughters, family and friends for unwavering support, and all of the letters and well wishes over the years. Now it is time to pass on. I have fought the good fight, I held the faith. I am not going to say goodbye, I will simply say until we meet again. I love you very, very much. Thank you warden.”

Until his last moment, Bower had maintained his innocence. He also claimed that jurors failed to take his earlier faultless character into account during his sentencing. Besides, The Intercept’s Jordan Smith at the time branded his execution “a travesty of justice”. In her June 2015 report, Smith wrote, “The state maintained that he singlehandedly executed 4 men — 2 of them former law enforcement officers — in an effort to steal a $4,500 ultralight aircraft. But serious questions remained about the state’s investigation and prosecution of Bower. Indeed, in 1989, some 5 years after Bower was sentenced to death, the conviction began to unravel. Documents challenging the state’s case surfaced — thanks to the dogged work of Bower’s pro bono attorney team — and a woman came forward to say that she knew who killed the 4 men, and that it wasn’t Bower. She has maintained her story — corroborated by others — for nearly 26 years.”

In another report, Smith added: “In the intervening decades, it has become a potent example of problems that plague the criminal justice system, raising serious questions about death penalty prosecutions in particular. Among them: How much prosecutorial misconduct is acceptable? Is a defendant entitled to a reasoned defense? If a compelling alternative theory of a crime exists, should a defendant be permitted a second chance at trial? And, does three decades behind bars render an execution cruel and unusual punishment?”

(source: meaww.com)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

As South Carolina execution looms, firing squad debated

It’s been more than a decade since Randy Gardner’s brother was the last U.S. inmate executed by firing squad, years the Utah man says have been filled with nightmares about what he describes as his brother’s “gruesome” death. Now, Gardner is among advocates spending time in South Carolina, speaking out about why he feels the method shouldn’t be used here.

Gardner didn’t witness the 2010 execution of his brother, Ronnie Lee Gardner, condemned to die for shooting a man to death during a failed courthouse escape attempt. But Gardner said that Ronnie had chosen to die by firing squad — restrained in a chair as 5 gunmen carried out the sentence, a hood covering his face — in part because of how he had taken another person’s life.

“He knew how gruesome the firing squad would be,” Randy Gardner told The Associated Press on Friday. “But he thought, well, he killed someone with a gun, and he thought he deserved the same treatment.”

Gardner has been part of recent conversations arranged by Death Penalty Action, a national anti-death penalty group that helps local ones organize against capital punishment. A small gathering was planned for Columbia on Friday, with a larger rally scheduled for Saturday in Greenville.

Also included in the events are speakers like the Rev. Sharon Risher, whose mother was among the nine Bible study participants slain in a 2015 racist attack at a Black Charleston church. Risher planned to discuss the wounds she feels are reopened each time the man sentenced to die in that case resurfaces, such as with his recent appeal.

“For me and many people like me, appeals are the worst torture imaginable,” Risher, who wants Dylann Roof’s death sentence overturned, said in a release. “Every time this case is in the news … I am brought right back to that terrible day and the searing pain of the weeks, months and years that have followed.”

The tour comes as a newly scheduled execution looms under South Carolina’s revamped capital punishment law — which now includes a firing squad option, making the state 1 of 4 in the nation to do so.

This month, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law a bill forcing condemned inmates to choose between the electric chair or firing squad, in hopes the state can resume executions after an involuntary 10-year pause due to lack of lethal injection drugs. The law officially retains injection as the primary method but requires prison officials to use the electric chair or firing squad if the state doesn’t have the drugs.

Two inmates who’ve exhausted their appeals immediately sued, saying they can’t be electrocuted or shot since they were sentenced under a prior law making lethal injection the default method.

One of those inmates was Brad Sigmon, convicted in 2002 for a double murder. On Thursday, the South Carolina Supreme Court set June 18 as Sigmon’s execution date, which his attorneys are seeking to block while the lawsuit proceeds.

There are 37 men on South Carolina’s death row. The state’s last execution took place in 2011, and its batch of lethal injection drugs expired two years later.

“It’s actually a bit of surprise to me that it has taken states this long,” Abe Bonowitz, Death Penalty Action’s executive director, told the AP, of jurisdictions’ addition of execution methods, due to drug unavailability. “Our point is that, for 10 years, we’ve not had an execution, and it hasn’t made a difference about whether murderers are caught or held accountable, so what’s the point?”

Even though he didn’t see his brother’s execution, Randy Gardner said he still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder due to the way that Ronnie died, haunted for years by nightmares related to firing squads.

“I think it is cruel and unusual punishment, to someone like Ronnie, but also to his family and the people who loved him,” Gardner said. “You’re becoming no better than the killer. And an eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind.”

During South Carolina’s lengthy debate, Democratic state Sen. Dick Harpootlian — a prosecutor-turned-criminal defense lawyer — introduced the firing squad option, arguing it presented “the least painful” execution method available.

“The death penalty is going to stay the law here for a while,” Harpootlian said. “If we’re going to have it, it ought to be humane.”

(source: Associated Press)

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

S.C.’s electric chair executions are justified for murderers — Some crimes, like first-degree murder, absolutely justify execution by electric chair

What’s humane?

I just read John Blume’s OpEd opposing the return of the electric chair. I couldn’t believe his defense of murderers who object to being electrocuted because there’s no “more humane way” of executing them. Is there a humane way to murder someone? Did they offer their victims a choice of how to be murdered? These murderers have survived for years while working their way through the legal appeals process. While waiting, they’ve been humanely fed, clothed, furnished medical and spiritual care, and given exercise, entertainment and amusement opportunities. Meanwhile, the survivors of the victims have not only suffered loss, but the knowledge that the murderers haven’t been punished as a court ordered.

Execution isn’t intended to be a deterrent. It’s meant to be a punishment. Sometimes a crime is so brutal that it absolutely justifies execution. First-degree murder is such a crime. The murderer displayed no compassion when he killed his victim; why does he deserve compassion when it’s time for him to die? If true justice were to be done, the murderer would die in the same manner his victim died. I fully support the use of the electric chair.

Jessie Sargent, West Columbia

No executions

I would like to take John Blume’s Opinion piece, “There’s no reason for S.C. to execute inmates in the electric chair or by firing squad”, a step further. There’s no reason to execute anyone by any means in the state of South Carolina. The death penalty and public execution is a horrible stain on the face of humanity. It does not right a wrong, balance the scales of justice, nor bring healing to the grieving and the bereaved.

On so many levels, it represents complete hopelessness in the values that we should all hold dear. Mercy, redemption, forgiveness, and the worth of a human being. The argument that mercy was not shown to the victims of crime can be applied to any crime. Do we only weigh the scales of justice heavily in murder and not in other life-altering and traumatic crimes?

It’s all inhumane. Putting a human being to death to right a wrong is barbaric. We either stand against the death penalty, or we don’t. In some things in life, there is no gray area. And this is one.

Jackie Morfesis, Charleston

(source for both: Letters to the Editor, The State)

GEORGIA:

Fulton County DA Files Notice To Seek Death Penalty Against Atlanta Spa Shooting Suspect

The suspect in the shootings that left 8 people dead at 3 Atlanta-area Asian spas, Robert Aaron Long, has been indicted on murder charges, with prosecutors seeking the death penalty for hate crimes targeting the sex and race of the victims, according to a source familiar with the criminal investigation.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis filed notice Tuesday that she plans to seek the death penalty and enhanced hate crimes charges against Long in the 1st test of the hate crime law passed by the Georgia Legislature last year, according to the source.

The law specifies enhanced penalties for crimes where victims were targeted for, among other things, race, gender, and sexual orientation. Seven of the victims killed in the spa shootings were women, and 6 of the victims were women of Asian descent.

Long, 21, of Woodstock, Georgia, is suspected of opening fire at the spas on the afternoon and early evening of March 16, first at a business about 30 miles northwest of Atlanta, followed by 2 more at spas on Piedmont Road in northeastern Atlanta.

Long was indicted for 19 counts total in Fulton County, according to a source familiar with the criminal investigation: 4 charges for malice murder, 4 charges of felony murder, 1 charge for domestic terrorism, 5 charges for aggravated assault, and 5 charges of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, according to the source.

Peter Skandalakis, director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, said the enhanced hate crime penalty for homicide in Georgia is either maximum of life in prison with possibility of parole at 30 years, life without parole, or the death penalty.

Skandalakis said he wasn’t aware of the law being used at all over the last year. His agency’s mission is to provide support to prosecutors.

It will be up to a separate grand jury in Cherokee County to decide on charges for others killed in the shooting in Woodstock, Georgia, that left 4 killed and 1 person wounded.

Authorities in Cherokee County previously said that Long told investigators that the shootings were not racially motivated and told them he has a “sexual addiction.”

Long’s appointed attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.

Long was arrested the night of the shootings about 150 miles south of Atlanta, in a traffic stop on Interstate 75, authorities said.

After his arrest, Long told investigators he believed he had a sex addiction and “an issue with porn,” and claimed to see the spas as “a temptation … that he wanted to eliminate,” Cherokee County sheriff’s Capt. Jay Baker said at the time.

He was initially charged in Cherokee County on 4 counts of murder and 1 count of aggravated assault, according to the sheriff’s office. He also faced 4 counts of murder in Atlanta, according to city police.

Shortly before 5 p.m. on March 16, deputies were called to Young’s Asian Massage between the Georgia cities of Woodstock and Acworth after reports of a shooting, Cherokee County sheriff’s officials said.

That shooting left 4 people dead — 2 Asian, and 2 White — and 1 person injured, Baker said. Two of the victims were pronounced dead at the scene, while the other two died at a hospital.

Killed were Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, of Acworth; Paul Andre Michels, 54, of Atlanta; Xiaojie Tan, 49, of Kennesaw; and Daoyou Feng, 44.

The injured survivor was Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, of Acworth, authorities said.

About an hour later and 30 miles away, Atlanta police received a 911 call after the shooting at Gold Spa on Piedmont Road. During the conversation, the operator asked the caller, “Where is he right now?” The caller responded, “I don’t know, I’m hiding right now.” Police said they found three people dead.

While there, police received another call of shots fired across the street at the Aroma Therapy Spa, where they found one person dead, Bryant said.

The victims were identified as Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; and Yong Ae Yue, 63, according to the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Investigators found surveillance video of a suspect near the Cherokee County scene and published images on social media.

Long’s family saw the images, contacted authorities and helped identify him.

Georgia’s new hate crime law was signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in 2020 following public outrage over the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. The law allows judges to impose sentences to increase punishment against those who target victims based on perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability.

Georgia had been one of four states without a hate crime law.

(source: newsnationusa.com)

OHIO:

Do not repeal capital punishment in Ohio

DEAR EDITOR:

After reading the article on May 23 on Ohio’s death penalty, I am more than ever convinced that our state government is run by idiots. To repeal Ohio’s death penalty with Senate Bill 103 and House Bill 183 is further proof of just how low we have sunk.

It’s no wonder Lady Justice is blindfolded.

I feel sorry for Mrs. Fife, after calling our state legislators and getting no response; how convenient!

I totally disagree with the Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan Jr.’s comment about “moral character” in governing us in our response. “Killing is wrong,” he stated. Inmate Stanley Adams is finally going to get his “due,” as is Danny Lee Hill (hopefully), after making a total mockery of our so-called justice system for 35 years.

Where is the justice here?

ROBERT JOHNSON

Cortland

(source: Letter to the Editor, Warren Tribune Chronicle)

UTAH:

Suspect in killing of Kearns woman says he shouldn’t face death penalty

One of several people charged in the death of a 25-year-old Kearns woman contends there’s no reason he should face the possibility of the death penalty while 2 others accused of similar roles do not.

Defense attorney Neal Hamilton says Orlando Esiesa Tobar, 29, is not the most culpable of those arrested in the kidnapping and murder case of Conzuelo “Nicole” Solorio-Romero.

He wants a judge to reduce the charge that Tobar, of Honduras, faces by one level — from aggravated murder, a capital offense, down to murder, which carries a maximum penalty of up to life in prison.

“This disparate treatment of individuals similarly situated is unconstitutional,” Hamilton wrote in court papers filed this week.

The judge hasn’t made any ruling yet and prosecutors have not yet responded in court filings.

Tobar and another man are charged with kidnapping Solorio-Romero from her home at gunpoint on Feb. 6, driving her to the Wyoming border and bringing her to a West Valley City home that prosecutors say has ties to a Mexican cartel.

While there, she accused them of murdering her late husband. Tobar said “she knew too much, and she was not going to leave that apartment,” moving his head in a gesture before Jorge Rafael Medina-Reyes shot and killed her, court documents allege. Authorities found her body nearly two months later at a different location and Medina-Reyes also faces a charge of aggravated murder.

But a different person, Carolina Marquez, is accused of ordering the kidnapping, telling the men to “kill time” and instructing them to bring Solorio-Romero to the location where she was shot, Hamilton pointed out. He called her his client’s “more culpable co-defendant.”

Court documents say Solorio-Romero owed Marquez money and had told police where they could find a family member of Marquez who was later arrested. Carolina Marquez’s son Fernando Marquez is accused of threatening Solorio-Romero with a gun. Both are charged with murder, a 1st-degree felony.

Hamilton wrote that “discovery (evidence) suggests that she ordered the murder of Ms. Romero,” but didn’t elaborate. He and Marquez’s defense attorney, Stephen McCaughey, declined comment Friday.

In death penalty cases, defense attorneys are required to investigate early on any mitigating factors that ultimately could help their client avoid a death sentence. But doing so in this case requires investigators to visit parts of Guatemala that are currently very dangerous, Hamilton says, making it difficult to track down information about his client’s past, complicating the case immensely.

“We’re being asked to climb Mt. Everest, while the co-defendants are being asked to climb Mt. Timpanogos,” he said Friday in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court.

Prosecutors jail key witness

In another twist to the case, a key witness has been jailed by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office in order to ensure that he’ll show up to court to testify.

A material witness warrant was issued May 17 for Caleb Abisay Vela, 27. He was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail on Thursday.

According to court documents, Vela was an eyewitness to Solorio-Romero’s death, and “his testimony will establish essential elements” in the cases against Orlando Tobar, Jorge Medina-Reyes, Carolina Marquez, Fernando Marquez and Ivan Acosta.

Vela was taken into custody on Feb. 9 on outstanding warrants after police found him hiding in a closet at a residence at 402 N. 1400 West. Police were originally called to the residence because Solorio-Romero’s sister and another man were trying to get into the house to look for her, a search warrant affidavit states.

While Vela was detained by police, he received a message on his phone from Tobar, according to police. After being booked into the Salt Lake County Jail, Vela allegedly made calls to another woman discussing the actions of Acosta, the warrant states.

Vela was convicted of aggravated assault on March 9 for an unrelated incident and was to be turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be deported, court records indicate. And on Tuesday, a federal judge ordered him to be deported to Mexico for illegal reentry into the United States.

The material witness warrant was then issued by the district attorney’s office because Vela would likely not appear on a subpoena if he was released from custody and deported to Mexico, the warrant states.

“Mr. Vela would have nothing to lose by failing to appear for the hearing and giving testimony herein, which testimony is deemed essential to the successful prosecution of (the defendants),” investigators wrote.

Tobar returns to court on June 25.

(source: KSL news)

ARIZONA:

Arizona is planning to execute prisoners with the same deadly gas used by the Nazis at Auschwitz, documents show

The state of Arizona has plans to use hydrogen cyanide, the deadly gas used by the Nazis at Auschwitz and other extermination camps, to kill inmates on death row, documents obtained by The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington say.

The Arizona Department of Corrections spent more than $2,000 in procuring the ingredients for the gas, The Guardian reported, citing the partially-redacted documents.

The ingredients purchased include a solid brick of potassium cyanide, sodium hydroxide pellets, and sulfuric acid, per the documents.

Cyanide is lethal in that it prevents the body from using oxygen. It was used in both World Wars – by French and Austrian troops in World War I, and by Nazi Germany in World War II, according to a 2014 fact sheet by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. The trade name for hydrogen cyanide is Zyklon B.

> The department has also refurbished a gas chamber in Florence, Arizona, built in 1949 but had not been used for 22 years, The Guardian reported.

The chamber was tested for “operational functionality” and “air tightness” last August, and in December, following a refurbishment, officials “verbally indicated that the vessel is operationally ready.”

The documents published by The Guardian also included instructions on how to operate the gas chamber.

In a statement to Insider, the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry said it was “prepared to perform its legal obligation and commence the execution process as part of the legally imposed sentence, regardless of method selected.”

The last person to be executed in the gas chamber in Arizona was the German national Walter LaGrand, an armed robber put to death in 1999. A witness account published in the Tucson Citizen said that it took LaGrand 18 minutes to die. The witness account said he “began coughing violently – 3 or 4 loud hacks – and then, in what appeared to be his last moments of consciousness, he made a gagging sound before falling forward at about 9:15 p.m.”

Arizona law says that anyone who was sentenced to death before November 1992 can choose whether to be executed by lethal injection or lethal gas.

However, there have been no executions for seven years following the botched death penalty of the murderer Joseph Wood in 2014, according to The Guardian. Woods took 2 hours to die following 15 injections as he lay gasping and gulping on a gurney.

In April, The Guardian reported that the state had spent $1.5 million on execution drugs, including one thousand 1-gram vials of pentobarbital sodium salt.

Pentobarbital is a sedative often used in vet clinics or physician-assisted suicides in Europe, The New York Times reported in 2011 and is also used in Arizona in 5-gram doses to cause a fatal overdose, according to The Guardian.

(source: Yahoo News)

CALIFORNIA:

It’s too easy to sentence Black people to death in California. Time to make it harder

On June 2, the California Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in a case that raises serious questions about the constitutionality of how California’s death penalty has been applied. In the case People v. McDaniel, the court has asked whether a jury must unanimously agree on the aggravating factors and find that a death sentence is appropriate beyond a reasonable doubt.

As elected prosecutors in California, we believe that these bedrock procedural protections — that apply in all criminal trials — must also apply to the most consequential decision that juries are asked to undertake. The stakes for our legal system could not be higher.

California’s decades-long failure to impose adequate limits on who receives a death sentence has contributed to a bloated, racially biased and expensive system as well as the largest death row population in the country. Death penalty cases consume an inordinate amount of staff and financial resources at both the state and local level, expenses that go well beyond the cost of pursuing either a life or life without parole sentence. These are resources we simply can’t afford to waste, now more than ever.

By failing to narrow the number of cases eligible for the death penalty, our state has spent more than $4 billion pursuing executions over the last 43 years. Yet no executions have been carried out since 2006. Given Gov. Newsom’s moratorium on executions, none are likely to be carried out any time in the near future. It is worth noting that the state could immediately save upwards of $184 million per year by ending the death penalty.

We are also deeply troubled by persistent racial bias in the administration of capital punishment at all stages of the process. Black residents are disproportionately sentenced to death in this state (36% of individuals on death row are Black — six times their percentage in California’s population — and 67% of individuals on death row are people of color).

Moreover, the race of the victim continues to inappropriately influence who is condemned to die. One recent study of San Diego cases found that prosecutors sought the death penalty far more frequently in cases involving white victims than in cases involving Black or Latino victims, with the most substantial disparities occurring in cases with Black defendants and white victims.

These problems are exacerbated by the failure to require juries to unanimously decide on aggravating factors in capital cases because it is much easier for a minority perspective to be ignored when decisions related to the appropriate penalty do not have to be made unanimously. Studies have shown that Black jurors are more likely to seriously consider mitigating evidence and weigh it against aggravating evidence.

There are many other reasons to harbor concerns about the fairness of the death penalty as it is currently applied, including the very real risk of wrongful conviction. There have been at least 5 individuals — all men of color — who were wrongly sentenced to death in California and were subsequently released, the most recent just 3 years ago. Even with the adoption of reforms aimed at reducing this risk and the creation of Conviction Integrity Units in many DA offices, including some of our own, we can never be sure that an innocent person won’t be executed.

A study published by the National Academy of Sciences in 2014 estimated that approximately 4.1% of the men and women currently on death row could be innocent. In California, that would mean approximately 30 people on death row are innocent. A wrongful conviction can be reversed, but an execution cannot.

By failing to ensure that minority viewpoints on juries are scrupulously respected, and by allowing death sentences where some jurors believe an execution to be inappropriate, California has created a glut of death penalty cases that end up being reversed at high rates on appeal. This long, complicated process can have the unintended impact of harming many victims’ families by subjecting them to years of protracted litigation and uncertainty.

In light of the California Supreme Court’s attention to this issue, we feel it is time to raise these concerns together. We hope that the Court takes a long, hard look at these issues and concludes that life-and-death decisions demand the most important protections our criminal jury system provides: unanimity and proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

(source: Opinion; Chesa Boudin is the elected District Attorney of San Francisco. Diana Becton is the elected District Attorney of Contra Costa County. George Gascón is the elected District Attorney of Los Angeles—-Sacramento Bee)

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

A Black death row inmate claims police framed him in quadruple murder. A probe will now reexamine his case.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed an executive order Friday calling for an independent investigation into the case of Kevin Cooper, a Black death row inmate who has proclaimed his innocence for decades in a high-profile quadruple-murder conviction that’s been met with scrutiny and questions, even allegations that it was 3 White men who did it.

Newsom, who had previously ordered new DNA testing for evidence in the case, said the international law firm of Morrison and Foerster will examine Cooper’s “claims of innocence” and application for clemency by reviewing his trial, his appeals and “the facts underlying the conviction.” Cooper, 63, was sentenced to death for the brutal 1983 slayings of a married couple, their 10-year-old daughter and an unrelated 11-year-old boy in a home in Chino Hills, Calif.

In his 3-page executive order, the governor wrote that the investigation was taking place in part because of the contrasting conclusions drawn by Cooper’s attorneys and the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office on the results of the additional DNA evidence.

“The parties have starkly different views regarding how the results should be interpreted and the reliability and integrity of certain evidence,” wrote Newsom, who has said he “takes no position” in Cooper’s case.

Norm Hile, an attorney representing Cooper, told The Washington Post that Cooper’s legal team, which has been pushing for outside counsel to investigate the case since the death row inmate filed for clemency in 2016, is “gratified” by Newsom’s decision.

“We are confident that a thorough review will demonstrate that Kevin is innocent and should be released from prison,” Hile said in a statement to The Post. “It is long overdue.”

San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson did not immediately return a request for comment Saturday. Anderson told the Los Angeles Times that the new DNA evidence, which includes testing on hairs collected from one of the victims, blood and fingernail scrapings, confirms Cooper is guilty. The district attorney also slammed Newsom for ignoring “the findings of 38 years of decision-making within the judicial branch.”

“It’s snake eyes for him and yet here we go down another road,” Anderson said of Cooper to the San Jose Mercury News.

Newsom’s executive order is the latest development in a case in which Cooper has long claimed he was framed by investigators and that witness statements could have exonerated him but were ignored by law enforcement. Cooper, who has been on death row since 1985, has lost more than a dozen appeals in court.

A spokesman with Newsom’s office did not immediately return a request for comment Saturday.

On June 5, 1983, Bill Hughes went to go pick up his 11-year-old son, Christopher, from a sleepover at the home of Doug and Peggy Ryen in Chino Hills, an affluent area 35 miles east of Los Angeles. But when he arrived around noon, Hughes went inside the home and discovered that his son, the Ryens and the family’s daughter, Jessica, had been stabbed to death. The Ryens’ 8-year-old son, Joshua, had his throat slashed and skull fractured but survived. Investigators found that the victims were stabbed 143 times with an ice pick, knife and hatchet.

Joshua Ryen gave statements to a sheriff’s deputy and a social worker that “3 White men” were responsible for the stabbings, and investigators found blond or brown hairs in the victims’ hands, according to a 2018 investigative column from the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof. (The boy later said the men were Latino.) A woman had also reportedly called police to say she believed her boyfriend, a convicted murderer, was involved in the slayings after finding his bloody coveralls and noticing a missing hatchet.

But San Bernardino County prosecutors turned their attention to Cooper after evidence indicated he was inside the Ryens’ home.

Cooper, then 25, had escaped from prison a couple of days before, serving a sentence for burglary charges. Prosecutors said they found evidence such as cigarette butts in the Ryens’ station wagon, a button from a prison uniform and blood consistent with that of Cooper and one of the victims by the scene of the murders that confirmed him as a suspect. He had also spent 2 days at a house near the Ryens’ following his escape from prison, authorities said.

Police arrested Cooper about seven weeks later. When Cooper was detained by authorities, Joshua Ryen allegedly told a deputy that he was not the killer, according to the Los Angeles Times. But the lone survivor later put out a recorded statement for the trial, saying he saw only one man in his home, a change in the previous statements given by the boy.

The trial was marred by racism, with crowd members at a hearing reportedly holding up a sign with the n-word and a stuffed gorilla with a noose around its neck.

Throughout the trial, Cooper claimed that sheriff’s deputies had planted his blood on a T-shirt at the scene, and his attorneys argued that the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department had destroyed evidence pointing to the perpetrators being three White men. Cooper says the trial evidence was “manufactured, mishandled, planted, tampered with, or otherwise tainted by law enforcement,” according to Newsom’s order.

Cooper was found guilty and charged with 4 counts of 1st-degree murder and 1 count of attempted murder with the intentional infliction of great bodily injury. He was sent to death row in 1985.

Despite Cooper’s appeals being denied and the California Supreme Court upholding his conviction in 1991, his supporters have said that other evidence, such as untested hair samples, would show there were multiple killers who were either White or Latino, the Associated Press reported.

The case has gained much attention in recent years, including from Kim Kardashian, who met Cooper to assist with his situation. Around the time Cooper’s execution was stayed, judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit questioned whether the evidence the state had on Cooper was planted.

“The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man,” they wrote in a 2009 dissent.

The push by Cooper’s attorneys for essential DNA testing was initially denied by the office of Kamala D. Harris, then the California attorney general. After Kristof’s column was published in 2018, Harris, years before becoming vice president, told New York Times, “I feel awful about this,” and said she hoped Cooper would be granted the DNA testing. The decision during Harris’s time as state attorney general later came up in a tense moment during a Democratic presidential debate in 2019.

The executive order Friday was celebrated by the NAACP, which has pushed for an investigation of Cooper’s case for months. The organization’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund wrote in a March letter that the case against Cooper “was doubtful from the beginning.”

“Mr. Cooper is a Black man who has served over 35 years on death row, notwithstanding serious concerns about the integrity of the state’s case and the risk that it was marred by racial discrimination,” the group wrote. “The grave doubts about Mr. Cooper’s guilt have only worsened over time.”

(source: Washington Post)

USA:

Biden Should Build Bipartisan Support For Law Abolishing Federal Death Penalty – Group

If US president Joe Biden seeks to put an end to capital punishment in the country, he must try to build a bipartisan consensus to back the law abolishing it and if such a move is obstructed by the Republicans, he can commute the death sentences of everyone on Federal death row, Robert Dunham, Executive Director from the Death Penalty Information Center, which focuses on disseminating reports related to the death penalty, told Sputnik.

According to recently released documents of the US District Court for the District of Columbia, the Biden administration is now reviewing Donald Trump’s move to bring back federal execution after a 17-year hiatus, Although Biden has publicly opposed the death penalty, he has not taken any action toward abolishing it forever, which would preclude future American presidents from resuming the practice.

“If the Biden administration wants to end the death penalty, it can work to try to build a bipartisan consensus in support of legislation to abolish the federal death penalty, and if the Republicans in Congress obstruct those efforts, he can commute the death sentences of everyone currently on federal death row,” Dunham said.

He added that Biden could also direct the Justice Department not to pursue the death penalty in future cases and to drop capital punishment in cases in which it was approved by Trump.

“The Biden administration has already changed the federal government policy on the death penalty by not continuing the prior administration’s execution spree,” he stated, recalling that the new authorities also asked a federal court to return a prisoners’ appeal of the Trump-era ruling which limited Arizona death-row prisoners access to federal judicial review of their capital appeals, so the Justice Department can do more factfinding.

Dunham admitted that even “doing nothing” is already a major change from the high rate of executions carried out during the Trump administration, “which had no parallel in either the 20th or 21st centuries.”

“However, that would simply create the same situation we saw in the last administration, in which a future administration that had little regard for the law would have the opportunity to carry out large numbers of executions,” he said.

After the Trump administration resumed federal executions in July 2020, 13 death row sentences were implemented. The 13th inmate was executed in January this year, roughly 2 weeks before Trump’s presidential term expired.

Increased discussions of the death penalty comes after the US Supreme Court agreed to review a lower court’s decision to toss out the death sentence for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 1 of 2 brothers convicted in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Reacting to the measure, the White House said that Joe Biden has strong concerns whether the death penalty as currently practiced fits with American values. However, during his election campaign, Biden promised to try to abolish all federal death sentences.

(source: urdupoint.com)

NORTH KOREA—-execution

Kim Jong-Un Executes Man; Wife, Son and Daughter Forced to Watch Death By Firing Squad

In another horrifying episode of cruelty, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un executed a man accused of selling CDs of South Korean movies in front of his family. The man, an engineer with a state-owned farming company, was killed by firing squad even as his wife, son and daughter who were forced to stand on the front row of the execution collapsed in shock and grief.

The man, whose last name was Lee, was accused of secretly selling CDs and USB sticks loaded with South Korean films, music and videos.

According to the DailyNK, Lee confessed to his crimes before the execution and admitted to making $5 to $12 from each sale.

Bloodcurdling Details

The execution, the bloodcurdling details of which have come into the open, took place in late April 2021.

The communist tyrant reportedly ordered around 500 people watch the execution of the man. He was found guilty of anti-socialist element’ after he was tried under the “anti-reactionary thought law”.

What is Anti-Reactionary Thought Law?

A note released by the authorities in Gangwon Province said Lee’s was the 1st execution under the law introduced last year. The note also explains why people found guilt of engaging in ‘anti-socialist acts’ under the anti-reactionary thought law are getting death penalty. “In the past, [people like Lee] were sent to labor or re-education camps. It would be a grave error to believe that you will receive light punishment [for anti-socialist acts]. Such reactionary behavior helps people who are attempting to destroy our socialism. Reactionaries should not be allowed to live without fear in our society,” the note said.

It was exactly to instill fear in society that a crowd of 500 people were asked to watch the execution. But in the process, the hapless family of the executed man was forced to witness him dying in a hail of bullets.

Family Members Collapse

“Lee’s wife, son, and daughter collapsed where they were standing in the front row of the execution area. While everyone watched, Ministry of State Security officials picked them up and loaded them into a cargo truck with barred windows for transport to a political prisoner camp,” the dailyNK reported.

The dead man’s body was then thrown into a straw sack and taken to an unknown place. His family members were also bundled and loaded into cargo van and taken to a prison.

“Nowadays, if you are caught watching a South Korean video, you receive a sentence of either life in prison or death, so nobody knows who will be executed next,” a source told DailyNK.

(source: ibtimes.sg)

IRAN—-execution

ISIS executed Kurdish hostage, family confirms

A Kurdish policeman from the Kurdistan Region’s Garmiyan administration was executed by the Islamic State (ISIS), a family member confirmed to Rudaw English on Sunday.

Jalal Baban, a policeman from a village near Qara Tapa in Diyala province, was kidnapped by ISIS in November 2019 while cultivating farmland with his cousin Hassan Bali, who was later released after his family paid $57,500.

ISIS released a video of Baban’s execution on Saturday. His cousin Ziyad Faiaq confirmed his death, but said the video is said to be 6 or 7 months old, according to information from the police.

He also refuted a statement given to Rudaw from Garmiyan’s police force on Saturday, claiming Baban was executed after his family failed to meet demands from the terror group.

“My uncle had kissed his [ISIS gunman] hand and told him ‘I will give you $10,000’ but they refused to give him back, then he said ‘I will give you $100,000,’ but they told him ‘we will not give him back even if you fill the face of earth with money’ because he is a policeman,” Faiaq told Rudaw English on Sunday.

“They had no other demands. They told us they will release him in exchange for that woman, but they lied to us,” said Faiaq.

10 months into his captivity, Baban was forces to send voice messages to his family.

In one message, he called on them to persuade authorities to release the wife of an ISIS leader in custody of the Erbil authorities, saying the exchange was his only chance of survival.

“We didn’t hear from him after that,” Faiaq said. “We had no contact with him.”

The woman ISIS was fighting to free was a Yazidi woman forced to marry an ISIS leader, the group reportedly told his family.

Hela Mahlo, from Gir Ozer in Shingal, was one of thousands of Yazidi women taken captive by ISIS militants in August 2014 when the terror group overran the area, launching genocide against the small ethno-religious community.

In 2019, she was arrested by Kurdish security forces in Kirkuk and held for 1 year and 7 months in an Erbil prison. Authorities said they did not know she was Yazidi. Her case rose to prominence and she was released in August 2020 to reunite with her family.

Kurdish authorities have consistently said they do not negotiate with terrorists and that no prisoner exchange has taken place between the Region and ISIS or any other similar extremist group.

(source: rudaw.net)

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

French detainee faces death penalty as Iran confirms spying charges

Iranian prosecutors have confirmed a French national held in the Islamic republic will be tried for espionage, his lawyer said Sunday, days after the detainee’s sister appealed to France’s president to intervene.

Benjamin Briere, born in 1985, was arrested in Iran in May 2020, allegedly while flying a drone and taking photographs in a prohibited area.

A conviction of espionage is punishable by death in Iran. Briere has also been charged with “propaganda against the system”, which can incur a prison sentence of three months to one year.

Lawyer Said Dehghan, who also represents another French national held in the country, told AFP the investigation had been completed and the prosecution had confirmed the charges.

“The prosecutor is preparing the indictment and sending it to the revolutionary court for the continuation of the judicial process,” Dehghan said.

Briere, who is being held in the city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran, also faced accusations of “corruption on earth” — one of the most severe charges under Iranian law — and drinking alcohol, punishable by flogging, but they were dismissed after the investigation.

The announcement came days after an open letter from Briere’s sister, Blandine Briere, was published by French weekly Le Point, in which she appealed to French President Emmanuel Macron to push for her brother’s release.

She said the charges were “baseless” and that Briere had become a “negotiating tool”.

Briere’s lawyer in France said in a statement there has yet to be a response from Macron or the foreign ministry.

Prisoner exchanges

In March, a French foreign ministry spokesman said Briere was benefitting from consular support and that Paris’ embassy in Tehran was in “regular contact” with him.

Arrests of foreigners in Iran — especially dual nationals, who are often accused of espionage — have multiplied since former US president Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the United States from a nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed harsh sanctions against Tehran.

Arms deal and sanctions trap British-Iranian mother in Tehran’s ‘hostage diplomacy’

World powers have been engaged in negotiations with Iran in Vienna since April to try and revive the deal.

The goal is to return Washington to the agreement and lift sanctions on Tehran, while also bringing Iran back into compliance with nuclear commitments it waived in response to US sanctions.

Iran’s negotiators have said during the talks that Tehran is open to exchanging prisoners.

Over the past two years, Iran has conducted several exchanges of foreign prisoners with countries holding Iranian nationals.

(source: france24.com)

MAY 29, 2021:

TEXAS—-female faces death sentence

Autopsy findings discussed in case of pregnant mother and unborn child

Autopsy findings were discussed Friday at a pretrial hearing for a woman accused of killing a pregnant friend and taking her unborn child last year. Taylor Rene Parker, aka Taylor Morton, 28, is currently under indictment for 2 counts of capital murder and a count of kidnapping in the Oct. 9 deaths of Reagan Hancock and her daughter, Braxlynn Sage Hancock. Parker has pleaded not guilty to the charges and the state has announced that it is seeking the death penalty.

Parker appeared Friday with Texarkana lawyer Jeff Harrelson and Mount Pleasant lawyer Mac Cobb before 202nd District Judge John Tidwell at the Bowie County Courthouse in New Boston. First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp said she filed a motion Friday to amend the indictment charging Parker with capital murder in Reagan Hancock’s death based on newly received findings from the medical examiner.

The indictment currently alleges Parker murdered Reagan Hancock by slashing and/or cutting her abdomen and body with a knife and/or scalpel and by beating and/or striking her in the head and body with a blunt object. Crisp said that she and Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards recently met with the medical examiner to discuss autopsy results and have determined that additional language should be added in light of those findings.

Crisp’s motion seeks to include allegations that strangulation was a factor in Reagan Hancock’s death in addition to slashing, cutting, beating and striking.

“They included information that there is a component of strangulation,” Crisp said, noting that she provided a copy of the autopsy report to the defense.

Crisp also addressed the matter of expert witnesses who may be hired by the defense. Under Texas law, each side has to give notice to the other regarding the substance of expert testimony at least 20 days in advance of trial.

Crisp said she worries that 20 days may not give the state the time it will need to respond as the allegations against Parker are unique. Fetal abductions are extremely rare and there is little if any scientific literature on such occurrences.

“These experts are going to be difficult to come by,” Crisp said. “We’re not dealing with typical criminal behavior. This is unusual, I think we’d all agree.”

Tidwell asked the lawyers to file briefs on the matter prior to Parker’s next pretrial hearing in late July.

Parker’s trial is scheduled to begin in mid-September 2022 with weeks of jury selection to occur the month before. Because the state has announced it does intend to seek the death penalty for Parker, jury selection will differ from a trial where a prison term is sought. Jurors will report individually to answer questions from the defense and prosecution.

At an earlier pretrial hearing, Crisp said the state intends to first try Parker on the charge of capital murder involving Reagan Hancock. Parker faces death by lethal injection or life without parole if convicted.

Parker allegedly attacked 21-year-old Reagan Hancock the morning of Oct. 9 at her home in New Boston, according to a probable cause affidavit. A Texas state trooper pulled Parker over in De Kalb, Texas, not far from the Oklahoma border, just after 9:30 a.m. Parker was allegedly performing CPR on the infant girl in her lap and the umbilical cord appeared to be coming from her pants.

An ambulance transported Parker and the baby to McCurtain Memorial Hospital in Idabel, Oklahoma, where the baby was pronounced dead and doctors determined Parker had not given birth.

The Texas trooper first made contact with Parker at 9:37 a.m. Oct. 9. Approximately 10:20 a.m. the same morning, Hancock’s mother discovered her daughter’s body in the living room of the home Hancock shared with her husband and 3-year-old daughter in New Boston.

When LifeNet personnel turned Hancock over, a large cut across her abdomen was revealed and it was determined the baby had been removed.

A small scalpel, which had not been visible to investigators at the crime scene, was found lodged in Hancock’s neck during an autopsy by a Dallas medical examiner.

Parker and Reagan Hancock were friends. Reagan Hancock posted a sonogram photo on a social media site with an early November due date in the months before her murder.

Parker allegedly convinced her boyfriend she was pregnant and often made social media posts supporting her claim. The boyfriend reported that he expected to meet Parker at a hospital in Idabel at noon Oct. 9 for a planned, induced labor and delivery.

Parker is currently being held in the Bowie County jail.

(source: Texarkana Gazette)

NEW HAMPSHIRE:

I appreciate Dale Pregent’s efforts to repeal death penalty, by Charlie Gibson

2 years ago on May 30, New Hampshire became the 21st state in the nation to abolish the death penalty (overriding Governor Sununu’s 2nd veto attempt). The passage of the bill ended 22 years of efforts by the N.H. House and aligned New Hampshire, at last, with all the other New England states.

Shortly after the election of 2017, House Democrats filed yet another bill to repeal the death penalty. Dale Pregent (our former mayor, recently deceased) had a long-standing dedication to the repeal and was on the board of the N.H. Coalition for the Defeat of the Death Penalty. Dale then took it upon himself to rent space in the Keene Public Library to gather people of like mind to work to repeal the death penalty. We met for several months. At these meetings, folks were able to learn what could be done to help win passage of the bill. We connected with other people in New Hampshire working on the same issue. From then on, folks from Keene were present at demonstrations at the State House on every occasion during which the bill was discussed, either in the House or the Senate. Many of us testified before these bodies.

I am deeply appreciative, as are many others, of Dale’s initiative to bring people together. We were able to focus our individual indignation, to act with others to repeal the death penalty.

CHARLIE GIBSON, Marlborough

(source: Letter to the Editor, Keene Sentinel)

PENNSYLVANIA:

Man faces death penalty in double homicide at Whitehall Walmart custody exchange

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for a Whitehall Township man accused of fatally shooting 2 people during a child custody exchange outside Walmart in February.

Edward Joel Rosario-Jimenez, 23, was arraigned Friday by Lehigh County Judge Robert L. Steinberg. Prosecutors filed 2 aggravating factors, which is a legal requirement to elevate a homicide to a capital case.

The factors are that the alleged homicide caused a great risk of death to others, and that Rosario-Jimenez has a prior homicide conviction. The second factor will only come into play if he’s found guilty at trial of killing both victims.

Rosario-Jimenez is charged with two counts of criminal homicide in the deaths of 20-year-old Nicolette Law and Jonathan Martinez, 22. Both victims were from Allentown.

He is also charged with carrying a firearm without a license.

Whitehall Township police responded to the Walmart in the 2600 block of MacArthur Road just before 7 p.m. on Feb. 26 after receiving reports of gunshots. Officers found the victims near a running vehicle in the parking lot.

Investigators obtained video surveillance footage from the store that showed the victims’ vehicle parking in the merchandise pickup lot. Within a few minutes, a black sport utility vehicle parked directly in front of the vehicle.

A witness told police she had gone to the parking lot to pick up her child, who is also Martinez’s child. She told police she arrived in the SUV with Rosario-Jimenez and two other people, including his sister, and that Rosario-Jimenez got into an argument with one of the victims.

As the 2 groups exchanged words, Rosario-Jimenez saw Law grab his sister’s arm and he became agitated. He pulled a handgun out of his pocket and shot Law twice, Kevin Mriss, a detective with the Lehigh County District Attorney’s office, testified in April. When Martinez refused to give him the baby, Rosario-Jimenez shot him, too, he said.

“He lost his patience,” Mriss testified.

The woman said she heard gunshots and left in the SUV, but Rosario-Jimenez stayed behind in the parking lot.

Another witness told police they saw Rosario-Jimenez fire several gunshots at the victims. Police later found a handgun hidden in a snowbank nearby.

Rosario-Jimenez, who is being held in the county jail without bail, did not speak in court Friday. His trial date has been tentatively set for Feb. 7.

In March, more than 40 people gathered in the Walmart parking lot to decry the senseless violence and remember Law, an innocent bystander who had aspirations to become a nurse, friends and relatives said.

Gov. Tom Wolf in 2015 imposed a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty. No one has been executed in Pennsylvania since 1999.

According to a 2019 Morning Call analysis, just over 1/2 of the death penalty cases brought over the last 14 years in Lehigh County were resolved through a plea to a lower charge of homicide.

(source: The Morning Call)

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Philly lawyer works to empty death row. His new book reveals an absurd, broken system.—-“A Descending Spiral: Exposing the Death Penalty in 12 Essays” by Marc Bookman

From the very first death-penalty appeal he worked on, Marc Bookman came to understand how crucial writing can be in life-and-death matters. The verdict form was missing a single “s” — an error that changed the meaning of the verdict enough to overturn the sentence.

The case also left him with a sense that the entire system of capital punishment can be arbitrary and even absurd, a view that was cemented when he became part of the first team of lawyers handling homicide cases for the Defender Association of Philadelphia. In 2010, he co-founded the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, a nonprofit death-penalty resource center.

Over the years, he’s applied his writing skills to pieces published in The Atlantic, Slate, and Mother Jones, among others.

His first book, “A Descending Spiral: Exposing the Death Penalty in 12 Essays,” published by The New Press, was released this month. The essays — some dealing with cases he worked on, most cases researched through public records — circumvent the moral arguments for and against the death penalty and reveal the foibles of the system in practice.

Bookman spoke about his book and life’s work. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Why did you want to write this book?

At a personal level, the death penalty has become a very important issue to me over 40 years. When you work closely in the system from the defense side, you see how outrageous the death penalty is.

There are moral arguments on both sides. But there’s a reason the prosecution tries to limit how much the jury knows about the person who is accused, because if the jury spent 30 minutes just talking to the guy — whether he is severely mentally ill, low functioning, or just did an absolutely terrible thing — the jury would never vote to execute him. The jurors would immediately see the humanity in the person, however that manifested itself.

I would like to think that this book sheds some light on just how hypocritical our system of capital punishment is. It’s a public policy. I feel like the more people know about how the system of capital punishment really works, the less support they will have for that policy.

Was there a case that first gave you the sense this is a dysfunctional system?

Percy St. George was one of my very first capital cases — a case that was withdrawn after it came out that detectives had fabricated statements, and the detectives then pleaded the Fifth. I had another case that was incredibly early in my career where a guy got very drunk, shot his wife, called the police, and was holding a bottle of whiskey in his hand when they came to arrest him. But in the discovery there is no evidence of any alcohol. We keep filing motions asking, ‘Where is the alcohol?’ They keep denying that there’s alcohol. Finally, right before the trial, the crime scene person starts getting nervous and turns over discovery. It turns out they took a lot of pictures of the alcohol, but they didn’t develop any.

That case and Percy St. George were among my first five homicide cases. So what’s a normal person to think? They’re going out of their way to convict on the highest charge no matter what. When did I realize how much corruption went into these cases? Early, really early.

How did you select the cases in the book?

First, it’s important to say: These cases seem absolutely absurd — but people should not come away thinking these are 12 outrageous, crazy, beyond-the-pale cases. What’s important about these is they are typical of capital cases.

I would take a topic: There are sleeping lawyers, racist lawyers, drug-addicted lawyers. There are lawyers that are about to be disbarred. I just looked for an example. Every one of these stories, when I get into it, is a better story than I realized, and every one is just the tip of the iceberg. Often, you’re talking about a level of advocacy that is so low it’s remarkable — and lives are at stake.

For instance, a lot of times when a lawyer will give a jury an example of a reasonable doubt, he’ll give a hypothetical. So this one defense lawyer said, “A reasonable doubt is a hesitation that you would have in a serious matter in your own life. So say, for example, you want to buy a car, it’s reasonably priced, and then you look under the hood and you see rust. This makes you think. Then you look a little more and you realize the rust is not all that significant. So you buy the car.” This is a lawyer that doesn’t even understand his own hypothetical! The whole hypothetical is the rust is supposed to give you a reasonable doubt about the car. He tells the jury he bought the car.

Dozens accused a detective of fabrication and abuse. Many cases he built remain intact.

You include a chapter on Terrance Williams, a Philadelphia teen who was convicted of 2 murders, and sentenced to death in the 1980s. (He has since been resentenced to life without parole, and has ongoing appeals.) Why focus on that case?

The Terry Williams story encapsulates virtually everything that’s wrong with the death penalty. He’s a kid who older men have been preying on since he was 13 years old. I think most people would say if you’re sexually abused and you kill your abuser, you’re not the worst of the worst. So you would think the reasonable prosecutor, even if they believe in the death penalty, might not seek it in that case.

Instead, the prosecutor does everything possible to get that death sentence. His 1st case involves this sexual abuse — and the jury comes back with 3rd-degree murder. That conviction has since been dismissed.

And then, in the 2nd trial, after the prosecutor doesn’t get first-degree murder in the first case, she then approaches the second case by keeping out all the evidence about sexual abuse. (The prosecutor in the case has denied that any evidence was withheld.) Then, there’s a defense attorney who doesn’t look to find the evidence he needs, who meets the client only one day before trial. And you have a case that never should have been capital in the first place.

That story captures everything: bad lawyering, and a Commonwealth that is refusing to look at the facts of the case. And he’s just a kid. What more do you need?

(source: yoursun.com)

NORTH CAROLINA:

In New Round of Racial Justice Act Litigation, North Carolina Judge Orders Prosecutors to Disclose Data on Decades of Jury Strikes

In the first Racial Justice Act case to reach a hearing since the North Carolina Supreme Court struck down the state legislature’s attempt to retroactively repeal the landmark law, a North Carolina judge has ordered state prosecutors to produce decades of data on jury selection in capital cases. On May 20, 2021, Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons granted a request from the legal team representing death-row prisoner Hasson Bacote that prosecutors produce records related to prosecutorial training and communications regarding jury selection, including jury selection notes, since 1980.

The Racial Justice Act requires that a prisoner’s death sentence be changed to life imprisonment if racial bias or discrimination was a significant factor in the decision to seek or impose the death penalty in his or her case. Bacote, who is a Black, was sentenced to death in Johnston County, North Carolina in 2009. His lawyers have presented evidence that prosecutors in his case struck Black jurors at nearly triple the rate that they struck white jurors.

“I don’t know that there’s a weaker case for the death penalty than Mr. Bacote,” Gretchen Engel, executive director of The Center for Death Penalty Litigation, said. “This case, with all of the other evidence we have, [shows] that racism permeates the death penalty in our state and nationwide.”

Bacote is one of more than 140 death-row prisoners who filed claims under the 2009 law, which was repealed in 2013 when Republican legislators took control of the state house and senate. The bill attempted to apply the repeal retroactively to claims prisoners had already filed under the act, and trial judges across the state dismissed the Racial Justice Act cases that were pending before them.

The death sentences of 4 prisoners had already been overturned prior to the repeal, but subsequent state court rulings reinstated those death sentences. Prisoners whose cases had not yet been heard appealed the retroactive repeal of the law, and in 2020, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in their favor. The court said that “the retroactive application of the RJA Repeal violates the prohibition against ex post facto laws under the United States and North Carolina Constitutions” and remanded the cases to trial court to conduct hearings. The court subsequently issued rulings restoring the Racial Justice Act decisions that had taken Marcus Robinson, Christina Walters, Quintel Augustine, and Tilmon Golphin off of death row.

Bacote’s case is the 1st to be heard since that 2020 ruling. His lawyers from the ACLU and the Center for Death Penalty Litigation asked that the state produce records dating back to 1980, when North Carolina reinstated the death penalty. Judge Sermons ordered the North Carolina Department of Justice to gather and submit that evidence, which includes data on training of prosecutors as well as the racial demographics of all prosecutors and staff in district attorney’s offices. ACLU Capital Punishment Project lawyer Henderson Hill, one of the members of Bacote’s defense team, said Bacote sought the information because of the long tenures and outsized influence of some prosecutors. “If you went to a Joe Freeman Britt training,” Hill said, referring to a longtime Robeson County District Attorney with a reputation for being “tough on crime,” “what he said influenced lawyers and the state prosecutors in the state for 20, 30 years.”

The evidence already submitted by Bacote’s attorneys demonstrates significant racial disparities in jury selection. “The rate at which the prosecution excluded Black citizens from his jury was shocking,” Engle said. In addition to the case-specific evidence of disproportionate jury strikes, Bacote’s petition presented evidence from a study conducted by Michigan State University researchers, who examined data from 1500 North Carolina cases between 1990 and 2009. That study revealed that, with remarkable consistency both over time and in counties across the state, prosecutors had struck prospective Black jurors from serving in capital cases at 2.5 times the rate of other jurors. An extensive regression analysis of hundreds of factors that could potentially explain the strikes found that the huge disparity in strike rates was attributable to race. Studies also showed that 20% of North Carolina death-row prisoners had been sentenced by all-white juries, and another quarter had been convicted by juries with only a single person of color. In a case with white victims, the defendant was nearly three times more likely to be sentenced to death.

Bacote’s case is considered a bellwether. A ruling in his favor could portend relief for much of the state’s death row. “The Racial Justice Act is really a unique law,” Engel said. “[T]here aren’t very many states that have the courage to enact something like [it] that’s really going to take a hard look at our criminal punishment system in our most serious cases and deal with the history of racism and the death penalty.”

“Is [the death penalty] biased? I think most people would answer yes,” Hill said. “I think the question is, what do we do about it? How do we undo 300, 400 years of race discrimination?” The answer, he said, is “Let’s get it right. Let’s fix it. And I think that’s what is so promising about this piece of litigation.”

Judge Sermons did not take evidence or hear argument on the merits of Bacote’s case at the hearing. He scheduled a conference on the status of the records in 90 days.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

SOUTH CAROLINA—-impending execution

Greenville man on death row suing state prison system after execution date set

A Greenville man convicted of murder, scheduled for execution after Gov. Henry McMaster signed a law requiring death row inmates to choose either death by firing squad or electrocution, is suing the state to argue against the execution methods.

Brad Sigmon, 63, is scheduled for an execution on June 18, according to a South Carolina Supreme Court execution notice signed Thursday.

Sigmon and another death row inmate, Freddie Eugene Owens, also of Greenville County, filed a lawsuit against the South Carolina Department of Corrections and SCDC Director Bryan Stirling on May 17.

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The men argue in their lawsuit that they both were sentenced prior to the current execution law. At the time of their sentencings, it was determined their death sentences would be carried out through lethal injection. That was unless the inmates selected electrocution as their preferred method, and neither man did, the lawsuit states.

The Supreme Court first stayed both inmates’ executions earlier this year after the South Carolina Department of Corrections notified the Supreme Court their executions could not be carried out via lethal injection.

Sigmon was charged with killing both of his girlfriend’s parents in 2001. He was placed on death row in July 2002, according to the South Carolina Department of Corrections’ death row list. Sigmon and Owens are 2 of 37 people on South Carolina’s death row list.

(source: msn.com)

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Scheduled Executions—-Brad Sigmon, South Carolina

Brad Keith Sigmon is scheduled to be executed on Friday, June 18, 2021, at the Broad River Capital Punishment Facility, at the Broad River Correctional Institute, in Columbia, South Carolina. 63-year-old Brad is convicted of murdering David and Gladys Larke, in their home in 2002. Brad has been on death row in South Carolina for the last 18 years.

Brad did not have an easy childhood, as he was often neglected. Brad has an extensive history of drugs use. Brad also suffered from a recurrent major depressive disorder and a chemical dependency disorder.

Brad Sigmon and Rebecca Larke began dating in 1999. Their relationship became intimate and by 2002, they were living together in a trailer, next to the trailer of David and Gladys Larke, Rebecca’s parents. In 2002, Rebecca informed Sigmon that she did not want to see him anymore and asked him to move out. David also served Sigmon with eviction papers.

Approximately 1 week after Sigmon was asked to leave, he was smoking crack cocaine and drinking with his friend Eugene Strube, in Rebecca’s trailer. While doing drugs and drinking, Sigmon made a plan to tie up Rebecca’s parents and kidnap Rebecca.

The following day, after Rebecca left the trailer, Sigmon and Strube left Rebecca’s trailer, however on the way to her parents’ trailer, Strube decided he no longer wanted to participate and left. Sigmon grabbed a baseball bat and entered the trailer belonging to David and Gladys.

Upon seeing Sigmon, David told Gladys to grab his gun. Before she could do so, Sigmon hit David over the head with the baseball bat several times. Sigmon then ran after Gladys, hitting her several times. Sigmon returned to where David lay, and hit him several more times because he was still moving. Sigmon then checked on Gladys, saw she was still moving, and hit her several more times.

Sigmon took David’s gun and waited for Rebecca to return home. He forced her into a vehicle, planning to drive the 2 of them to North Carolina. However, Rebecca managed to jump out of the car. Sigmon shot at her, but fled when he read out of bullets. Rebecca was injured, but was able to contact the police and tell them what happened. Police went to check on her parents and discovered that both had died from their injuries.

Sigmon was later arrested in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where he was located after he called his mother, who agreed to help the police. After his arrest, Sigmon confessed to the murders of David and Gladys. He also admitted to intending to murder Rebecca and then commit suicide. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to death.

This is not Sigmon’s first execution. He was scheduled to be executed in February of this year, however his execution was stayed because South Carolina did not have execution drugs. The state still does not have execution drugs, however a new law has recently passed, allowing for execution by firing squad or electric chair, with the electric chair now being the default option. Sigmon, along with fellow death row inmate, is currently suing the state, arguing that they cannot be executed by firing squad or electric chair, as they were sentenced to death under a law that made lethal injection the default method of execution. South Carolina has not carried out an execution by lethal injection since 2011. They have struggled to find a source for their execution drugs, as the state does not have a secrecy law that would protect the identity of the supplier from becoming public knowledge.

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

(source: theforgivenessfoundation.org)

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Families tied together by loss unite to put a stop to executions in SC

On the heels of Governor Henry McMaster signing off on bringing back a newly formed firing squad as a form of execution – a group tied together by unspeakable loss united together inside of a private home in Columbia as a 1st step in putting a stop to executions all together.

“Execution is not the solution:” That’s the message Randy Gardner and Reverend Sharon Risher wanted to send to the public.

“That person killed your person – you’re going to kill them, it ain’t bringing nobody back,” said Risher.

Risher’s mother, Ethel Lance, was killed in the Charleston church shooting in 2015. The shooter, Dylann Roof – who was 21 at the time – opened fire on church members inside – killing 9 African-Americans including Risher’s mother.

Roof was sentenced to death and earlier this week lawyers focused on appealing his death sentence.

Risher mentioned despite the irreparable damage Roof caused – Risher said she forgives him – and the constant back and forth of the case just adds salt to the wound.

“People have to be punished for their crimes but that kind of punishment doesn’t help anybody,” said Risher.

Gardner echoed the same sentiment adding execution adds more harm than good.

“We shouldn’t be in the business of killing anybody and it really does make murderers out of all of us,” said Gardner.

In 2010, Gardner’s brother Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed in Utah.

Gardner said his brother was in and out of prison most of his life since the age of 10 and was put on death row for killing a man in 1985.

He was executed by a firing squad – a method recently brought back in South Carolina.

Gardner’s brother was the last person in the country to be executed using that method.

“I can’t imagine what my brother was feeling walking down there to be tied to chair and shot. You know my brother, I don’t condone what he did but who are we to make that decision,” said Gardner.

Gardner and Risher hope their message rewrites a narrative of the death penalty and this is just the 1st step on their mission.

“it’s not going to bring your family member back, but if you have to go through these appeals over and over that wound is open – those feelings of anger and wanting revenge pops up because you’re human but abolishing the death penalty will mean that family members won’t have to continue to go through appeals process for decades.”

Earlier this month Governor Henry McMaster signed a legislation allowing inmates to choose between the electric chair or a newly formed firing squad.

The last execution in the state was 10 years ago.

The next execution is expected to happen in June under the new law.

(source: WACH news)

ALABAMA:

Criminal Justice —- Eugene Clemons May Be Ineligible for the Death Penalty. A Rigid Clinton-Era Law Could Force Him to Be Executed Anyway. His lawyers presented no defense at trial. Then a clerk’s office misplaced a plea for his civil rights behind a file cabinet. Now, it’s almost impossible for the federal courts to address the problems with his case.

In the spring of 2000, James S. Christie Jr. left his law firm in Birmingham, Alabama, for a short drive to the Shelby County Clerk’s office. He was going to clear up some confusion, a seemingly small technical error that had been bothering him for months. The clerk’s office kept claiming that it had no record of a document Christie said he had filed at the end of the previous December. That document, and its timing, were exceedingly important. It alleged, among other things, that the trial attorneys for a man on death row had defended him so badly, neglecting to call even a single witness to convince the jury to vote against execution, that the man’s right to a fair trial had been compromised.

Christie knew Shelby County should have had proof of the document’s existence. A few months earlier, on December 27, 1999, Christie’s courier had delivered the filing to the clerk’s office and been handed back a copy, stamped at the top in red and blue with the words “received & filed,” along with the date and the clerk’s name. Christie had that copy of the document right there in his hand.

The 41-page petition contained critical information — claims no court had yet considered — about a man named Eugene Clemons. It described how his lawyers, when it came time to argue that his life should be spared for killing a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, completely ignored the long history of abuse Clemons had suffered. They’d also failed to point out that Clemons had well-documented mental disabilities: As a 1st grader, he was described by school officials as “educably mentally retarded.” If jurors had been made aware of Clemons’ history, of the life he had lived before he was arrested at age 20, perhaps they would have voted against his death sentence.

Christie and his colleagues had been careful to file the document a month in advance of a crucial federal deadline that had been imposed several years earlier by a controversial criminal justice law. They hoped and expected that the filing would allow Clemons’ appeal to leave Alabama courts and enter federal court, for what’s called a habeas corpus hearing. Habeas corpus, which in Latin means “you have the body” (and translates, colloquially, to “in the flesh”), can provide a vital final check against unlawful or arbitrary punishment.

The concept, which dates back hundreds of years and was established in U.S. law in 1789, intends to protect the incarcerated by guaranteeing that they can formally contest, in person and before the proper authorities, potentially unjust imprisonment. For state prisoners, the so-called “Great Writ” has, in egregious cases, been a mechanism to appeal for reason from a federal court. The lawyers in Clemons’ case hoped a federal judge would grant him a new trial, one during which jurors would hear about Clemons’ life and his many struggles, before deciding whether he should die. It was a long shot, but it wasn’t impossible.

Now, standing inside the Shelby County courthouse, Christie showed a clerk’s office employee his stamped copy of the filing. She acknowledged that the document in his hand was real, but still, the office staff could find no record of the original. Christie set about trying to find it.

He would later recall that a woman in a small side office pointed him toward a filing cabinet that was pushed against a far wall. On top sat a rectangular filing tray, where the employee told Christie she would throw pleadings before later depositing them in the filing cabinet. Christie could see that behind the tray there was a gap between the cabinet and the wall. He began tilting the cabinet to one side and then the other until it was far enough from the wall that he could peer behind it. Sitting on the floor were 3 court filings. One of them was Eugene Clemons’ missing document.

Christie drove back to Birmingham. The confusion, he thought, had been cleared up.

It hadn’t.

Though the state of Alabama later acknowledged that the filing was “misplaced and was never docketed,” the Alabama Attorney General said that the court should not honor the original stamped date because Christie never paid a $140 filing fee. Christie and his assistant at his law firm said that he had called ahead and that a clerk’s office employee had told him no filing fee would be needed. That made sense to Christie, because Clemons had been deemed too poor to afford an attorney in his criminal trial. (The clerk, Mary H. Harris, told ProPublica that she could not recall the incident: “I don’t even remember what you’re talking about.”)

But under Alabama law, for the fee to be waived Christie was supposed to file a form along with the petition, confirming that Clemons couldn’t afford the $140. Because the document had been lost, nobody in the county clerk’s office was able to ask Christie to correct the error by paying the fee or filing the form. Christie later filed an amended petition with the form, but it was too late. By refusing to certify the earlier filing on the date the clerk had initially stamped it, the state of Alabama was ensuring Clemons would never get his claims heard by a federal court.

Twenty-one years later, Clemons’ long appeals process is reaching its end: A final petition for federal review is now sitting with the U.S. Supreme Court. The Justices could decide as soon as June 3 whether to hear his argument. Christie has not had any active role in the case for at least a decade, yet he said he’s been unable to forget the lost petition and the unpaid fee: “I have got a lot of this on my mind from years ago.” Christie, who in 2018 ran unsuccessfully for attorney general of Alabama as a Democrat, has never before spoken openly about his misgivings surrounding the Clemons case. The confusion at the county clerk’s office, he said, “may result in someone losing their life.”

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office would not reply to questions about the case and instead sent a copy of its reply to Clemons’ petition. The state has asked the Supreme Court not to accept the case, arguing, among other things, that missing the filing deadline made it ineligible for the court’s review.

“The circuit clerk and her employees were not responsible” for making sure that Clemons’ petition was properly filed, the Alabama Attorney General’s filing said. “That was his counsel’s responsibility, and it was only because of their negligence that his petition was not properly filed.”

The misplaced document, whether Christie’s fault or the clerk’s or both, would not have caused any trouble before April 1996. A rigid 1-year deadline for filing federal habeas petitions was imposed that year by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The law, a frenzied anti-crime response to the Oklahoma City bombing the previous year, is widely considered to contain the most significant curtailment of habeas rights in 150 years.

President Bill Clinton explained in a statement that accompanied the law the day it was signed that it was meant “to streamline federal appeals for convicted criminals sentenced to the death penalty,” even as it preserved the “independent review of federal legal claims.” In many ways, it has done neither. Death penalty habeas claims still take decades to reach an end. And for people in prisons across the country, AEDPA has imposed impassable obstacles to getting a hearing in federal court: not just shorter, more restrictive deadlines but impediments at nearly every stage of the appeals process. With few exceptions, federal courts could no longer intervene to correct alleged miscarriages of justice in state convictions. Rather than fix a broken system, the law put the Great Writ in a straitjacket.

“As a result of AEDPA, federal courts can no longer care about enforcing federal rights,” said Eve Brensike Primus, a law professor at the University of Michigan. “We’ve lost sight of the actual underlying questions, which are: ‘Were your rights violated?’ ‘Did you have a fair trial?’”

The legislation passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, one in a series of law-and-order reforms in the zero-tolerance era. Then-Senator Joe Biden had championed the most sweeping of those laws, the 1994 Crime Bill. But two years later, he had reservations about AEDPA’s threats to habeas. Biden tried to introduce an amendment to remove the 1-year deadline that would later plague Clemons. He argued that the bill should not strip fundamental rights from people in state prison systems. He failed to push the amendment through and, joining 90 of his colleagues, voted for AEDPA anyway. Dozens of people under death sentences and, experts say, thousands of other state prisoners have missed the 1-year deadline since the law passed in 1996.

In addition to imposing the deadline, AEDPA has made it more difficult for federal judges to reverse questionable decisions of state courts. In the last decade, the Supreme Court has repeatedly interpreted AEDPA to limit the kinds of cases federal judges can reconsider to those that exhibit “extreme malfunction,” a standard that remains murkily defined. Ultimately, even when federal judges believe that state courts are wrong, there’s very little they can do about it. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Alabama, has been particularly inflexible in its interpretation of AEDPA.

There are some judges and prosecutors who have found AEDPA to be a necessary measure to stop federal courts from “rehashing old battles that should have already been resolved,” according to Joseph Colquitt, who served as an Alabama circuit court judge for 20 years until the early 1990s, when he began teaching law at the University of Alabama. In the period leading up to the passage of AEDPA, Colquitt said, “federal habeas was basically a ticket into court at any time, any place, any reason.”

Colquitt said that the interminable cycle of habeas petitions “was defeating the process of punishment.” AEDPA, he said, was a clear attempt to streamline the habeas process.

AEDPA’s supporters in Congress expected the legislation would “end the charade of endless habeas proceedings,” as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Henry Hyde, said in the lead-up to the bill’s passage. Lawmakers of both parties agreed that habeas appeals should move more quickly. Those who supported the law had done so with the presumption that state courts would, in general, ensure fairness, and that federal courts could still intervene when those state courts drew “unreasonable” conclusions.

But that is not the legal order AEDPA has built. Instead, as one federal judge, a Reagan appointee, wrote in 2015, “We now regularly have to stand by in impotent silence.” In 2020, referring to Clemons’ case, a judge on the 11th Circuit likened the legal threshold for winning a federal habeas appeal to “crossing the ocean into the abyss of unreasonableness.”

The impact of the law has outpaced even the dire predictions of AEDPA’s most strident opponents. In the 22 years prior to the law’s passage, 40% of death row defendants who had habeas petitions heard by federal courts succeeded in getting their verdict or their sentence overturned, according to data compiled by the legal scholars David Dow and Eric Freedman. From 2000 to 2006, AEDPA had reduced that rate to about 10%. More recent data has not been compiled, but habeas and death penalty scholars say it’s only become harder to get a federal court to consider death penalty appeals. This, they say, almost certainly means that people whose death sentences would have been overturned are still on death row, or have been executed, as a result of AEDPA.

Clemons is 49 years old and has spent the last 25 years in Alabama’s Holman Prison. His lawyers are now requesting that the Supreme Court reckon with whether Clemons, as a person with intellectual disabilities, should be protected from the death penalty. And they have asked the Supreme Court to step past the late filing and consider Clemons’ allegation that his legal defense in Alabama was, as one habeas scholar called it, “effectively nonexistent.”

No Defense

On September 25, 1994, before an all-white jury, Shelby County District Attorney Robby Owens described the killing of a man named George Douglas Althouse, “an all-American guy.” Late one night 2 years earlier, Althouse, a 28-year-old DEA agent from Pennsylvania working undercover in Alabama, was sitting in the passenger seat of a Camaro Z/28 parked at a Chevron station, while the car’s driver, a sheriff’s deputy who was Althouse’s roommate, was inside looking up a phone number. A man got in the Camaro, pulled a gun, and made clear his intention to steal the car. As Althouse reached for his own gun, the thief shot him, twice. Althouse pushed himself out of the car and kneeled on the concrete, firing several shots as the assailant took off in the Camaro. When his colleague rushed outside, he found Althouse lying on the ground, bleeding profusely.

Eugene Clemons, who was 20 at the time, was arrested just over a week later in Cleveland, Ohio, where he’d grown up and where he’d traveled immediately after the shooting. Because Althouse was a federal agent, Clemons, along with another man who’d been involved in the heist, initially were prosecuted by federal authorities. In federal court, Clemons was promptly convicted; his lawyers had raised a failed alibi defense. He was sentenced to life in federal prison, where there is no possibility of parole. The federal death penalty did not apply to the crime at the time.

Days after Clemons was found guilty in federal court, Alabama was ready with charges of its own. The state wanted more than life in prison. “If ever there’s a case for the death penalty, this is it,” Owens, the district attorney, told the jury. “Mr. Doug Althouse never did anything in this world except try to make it a better place to live. It’s an honor for me to represent him here.”

Since Clemons had already been sentenced to life in prison, his attorneys’ primary objective was to keep their client alive. Mickey Johnson, an experienced Alabama attorney then in his mid-40s, was 1 of the 2 attorneys appointed by Judge D. Al Crowson to Clemons’ case. He addressed the judge before the trial began.

“Your Honor, I know this type of interruption is highly irregular,” Johnson said, speaking to the judge out of earshot of the jury, “but in all honesty, I’m fixing to stand up and give an argument, and I’m not even sure yet what my defense is. I’m trying to save a man’s life and I don’t know how to do it.” Johnson’s difficulty, he later explained, was that Clemons was now claiming he was innocent, but Johnson was certain an innocence defense would not work; Clemons’ attorneys representing him in the federal case had already tried that and failed.

Sitting beside Johnson was his law partner, Rodger Bass, a young attorney who had been admitted to the Alabama bar just 9 months before.

Clemons didn’t testify in his own defense, but during the trial, the transcript shows, he was becoming distraught. “These folks are trying to kill me, man,” Clemons said in open court to the judge. “I fire these lawyers.” Crowson told Clemons to stop talking. Clemons continued to protest, and then addressed Douglas Althouse’s mother, who was sitting in the courtroom: “I’m sorry y’all got to go back through this, Mrs. Althouse.”

“I’m going to go ahead and bound and gag you,” Crowson said, and then sent Clemons to a holding cell.

In an excerpt from the trial transcript, Clemons, labeled “the defendant,” says, “I don’t want these lawyers representing me” before he is sent out of the courtroom.

After the prosecution spent 4 days making its case, Johnson and Bass did not call any witnesses. Rather, they told the jury in their closing argument that there was no evidence that Clemons had intended to murder Althouse before the car heist and that they should convict him not of capital murder but felony murder, which is not eligible for a death sentence.

“Let me tell the attorneys I appreciate the splendid job they’ve done on representing their respective sides of this cause,” Crowson said after closing arguments.

The jury found Clemons guilty of capital murder.

Clemons’ hope now rested on the sentencing stage of the trial: The jury would decide whether Clemons would be sentenced (again) to life in prison, this time at the state level, or would be executed.

The state called just 1 witness: Arlene Althouse, the victim’s mother. She catalogued her loss. “The hardest thing I think for me is not to be able to pick up the phone and call him,” she said. “I miss his hugs, his laughter. You could never stay mad at him, because he always … he always had a way of making you laugh.”

It was now the defense team’s opportunity to present mitigating evidence, to humanize Clemons in an attempt to spare his life. During sentencing proceedings, defense attorneys typically call on their clients’ relatives, teachers or friends, or others who can help shed light on factors that might have contributed to the defendants’ actions. It is a time to describe mental illness or trauma, childhood abuse or mental disability. Many people who knew Clemons were able to provide such testimony. He had a history of all of those things.

“Any witnesses for the defendant?” Crowson asked.

“No,” Johnson replied.

When Johnson stood to give closing arguments in the sentencing phase of the trial, he didn’t have much to offer: “I honestly don’t really know what to say. I don’t have anything prepared to say. I just don’t know how to do it.”

Before the jury sentenced Clemons to die, Johnson made one final statement.

“I guess the fact that I don’t have anyone sitting over here to come up here and talk to you about what Eugene Clemons was like as a kid or anything else, maybe it’s not even important to anybody, maybe there is not anybody that it’s that important to that they are willing to come up here,” he said. “I really don’t know.”

“If They’d Ever Asked Us”

There were, in fact, more than a few people willing to testify on behalf of Eugene Clemons. Standing outside the courtroom for most of the trial were Clemons’ mother, aunts and cousins. The women had been placed under subpoena, not by Clemons’ defense attorneys but by the state. Yet they were never called by either side.

Nearly 3 decades after the trial, in May 2021, Johnson told ProPublica that rather than call Clemons’ family into court, he had decided he would instead try to appeal to the jury’s conscience by claiming that Clemons’ family had abandoned him at this crucial time.

He said he’d found the family “very unpleasant,” that “they had their own ideas of how to defend him,” and that he did not think any of Clemons’ relatives “would make a compelling witness about his life.”

In a deposition conducted by Clemons’ pro bono appellate lawyers in 2001, Johnson explained that he’d tried the day before the sentencing hearing to reach Clemons’ grandmother, who’d been his legal guardian as a teenager in Alabama, to ask her to testify. But Johnson had not been able to get her on the phone. He said he had not tried again, nor had he asked the judge to postpone the hearing. Johnson admitted then, and again in 2021, that he made no effort to find others to testify.

How, he wondered in 2021, could he have engendered compassion for a man whose “whole lifestyle was, I don’t know, for lack of a better word, gangster type.” Clemons had already been in trouble by the time he was arrested for murder. He’d served 11 months in Alabama prison for a previous armed car robbery. He got out on March 6, 1992, and according to testimony in the murder trials, played a key role in 3 more armed carjackings before he shot and killed Althouse. All of that presented what Johnson called “an insurmountable hurdle” to build compassion with the jury.

He wound up telling the jury, “In my own mind there is some redeeming social value in the fact that … his history of crime that we heard about didn’t leave a trail of dead bodies.”

Kim Samuels, one of the relatives who stood outside the courtroom in 1994, is now 57 years old. She lives in a large brick house on a quiet, manicured cul-de-sac in Chesapeake, Virginia. She and her husband Guillermo settled down to raise their children there after years of moving around the world following Guillermo’s naval deployments. In all that time, Samuels, who has built a career as a business consultant, has been exceedingly quiet about the fear she feels most days, wondering “when they will execute Gene.”

2 generations of Samuels’ family have been born knowing only indirectly of Gene, her baby cousin, for whom she had served as babysitter and guide. Samuels was 31 years old, nearly half a life ago, when she traveled to meet her aunts in hopes of sitting in on the Alabama trial to provide some moral support to her cousin. But they had not been allowed into the courtroom.

During the trial, Judge Crowson had heard knocking on the courthouse door. He told the jury to leave, then ordered the door to be opened. Four women walked in. One, who identified herself as Clemons’ aunt, told Crowson that this was “a mock trial.” Crowson threatened to send the women to the county jail if they did not remain outside.

In her Chesapeake home, Samuels laid a pile of decades-old photographs on the dining room table. Samuels’ 9-year-old granddaughter, who spends days at the house attending her remote school classes, asked about one fading image: “Is that him as a kid? Is that his father?” The photo had been taken in Cleveland at Samuels’ grandparents’ house, where Samuels had helped teach Gene and the other younger cousins to ride bikes, Kool & The Gang blaring on the radio. In the photo, Gene sits on a bench, squeezed between his parents, wearing a red sweater and a collared white shirt. His mother, in a knee-length dress, smiles at the camera. His father, Eugene Clemons Sr., stares blankly vacant to the side.

“That’s how he always looked,” Samuels remembered of Clemons’ father. “He was a messed-up guy.”

Samuels cannot recall a time before the abuse. She said that as far back as she can remember, Clemons’ father beat and tormented his son, inflicting bruises and fear. (Through a relative, Clemons’ father declined to speak with ProPublica; his mother died in the late 1990s.) Samuels remembered sitting with Eugene’s mother in the living room and begging her aunt to leave her husband. But, Samuels said, Clemons’ mother felt trapped; she depended on her husband’s income to get by.

Clemons’ sister, Raquel Scott, younger than him by 4 years, said in a recent interview, “Our father was abusive towards my brother and my mother.” She said she could not bear to speak of the details. Others have recounted some of them. There is the story that Clemons’ paternal grandmother, Katherine Clemons, shared during an appeal in state court in 2001, also held before Judge Crowson. She testified that years earlier, she had visited her son’s house outside of Cleveland and heard a noise coming from inside the diaper pail. “I forced myself to take the lid off, because I knew something was in there,” she said. When she opened the pail, she found baby Gene, no older than 2, stuck inside, soaking wet from diapers. Her son had closed him in the pail to punish him.

“Eugene was slow,” Samuels said, a description Scott confirmed. He was 6 when his school administered tests to figure out why he was struggling to learn and assigned him to special education. Samuels remembered that when their grandparents would take all of the children to church, Clemons could not repeat short passages of scripture that younger kids could rattle off with ease. The other children, at school and at church, would harass him for his slow, slurred speech.

Scott isn’t sure if it was the abuse, brain damage or an intellectual disability from birth that was the reason her brother “did not thrive.” When Clemons was a teenager, he moved with his grandparents to a split-level home in Bessemer, Alabama. His mother had granted her own parents custody of her son. The last time Samuels saw Clemons before he was first arrested, she spent a week visiting her grandparents before she departed for a job overseas as a software developer. “I told him to be careful who you spend time with,” she recalled. Clemons was failing high school and eventually, after repeating the 10th grade, dropped out.

A little over a year after Samuels’ visit, Clemons was arrested for murder.

Samuels said that she would certainly have shared what she knew about her cousin with the jury: “If they’d ever asked us, we would have told them everything. We’d have told them.” In her testimony before the appeals court years later, Katherine Clemons said she too had wanted to travel to Alabama for the trial, and would gladly have offered her observations about her grandchild to the jury, if only she’d been asked. “I really wanted to come,” she said. “I definitely would have been there.” In an interview, Scott said the same: “I would do anything to help my brother.”

No Zealous Advocate

27 years after Clemons’ trial, Mickey Johnson said he believed he should have done more to try to protect his client. When asked if he had provided Clemons with adequate representation at the sentencing stage, Johnson, who still practices law outside of Birmingham, said, “Probably not.”

Johnson said, “In today’s world, yes, I think that would be viewed as absolute ineffective assistance.”

Back in 1994, Johnson said, defense attorneys didn’t always mount the same intensive effort to humanize their clients as they would today. But the Supreme Court, in a series of cases in the 2000s, said that attorneys had been obligated at least as far back as the 1980s to conduct thorough investigations into their death penalty clients’ history, in order to present a defense that could build empathy with the jury.

In an excerpt from the trial transcript, Clemons’ attorney Mickey Johnson tells the judge, “I’m trying to save a man’s life and I don’t know how to do it.”

6 years after Clemons’ trial, Johnson and his partner, Bass, were appointed by Judge Crowson to defend a man named Alan Eugene Miller, who was charged with triple murder. The same prosecutor who’d tried Clemons, District Attorney Robby Owens, also tried that case. Again, Johnson opted against calling anyone from his client’s family, or anyone else who knew him. And before the trial, Johnson told The Birmingham News that, much like in his earlier defense of Clemons, he was struggling with his legal strategy: “How do you defend somebody who shot 3 people and left eyewitnesses who knew who they were looking at? I wish you’d tell me.” At trial, Johnson told jurors, “I think Mr. Owens pretty much got it right.” Miller was convicted of murder.

But this time, the jury was split on the question of death. Alabama was then one of a few states to allow judges to impose the death sentence when 1 or 2 jurors dissent; it is now the only remaining one. Crowson obliged the majority of the jurors, even as he called his decision “the most difficult sentence that I’ve ever had to consider.” It was 1 of at least 3 cases in which Crowson handed down a death sentence following a split jury.

The work of representing people on death row is not easy. And attorneys appointed to take those cases in Alabama at the time of the Clemons case were paid a pittance. In the mid-1990s, the state had set a cap on how much court-appointed defense attorneys could be paid: $40 an hour for court time and $20 an hour for out-of-court work, rates that were common among Southern states. That meant that many attorneys refused to do capital work. Johnson put in a bill for $6,625 for the Clemons case, an amount he acknowledged did not begin to cover his time. Bass billed for $7,101. (Bass died in 2002.)

When asked whether he thought he should have accepted clients he did not believe he could defend, Johnson said he didn’t think he had much of a choice: The judge had appointed him to the cases, and refusing might risk upsetting a judge whose goodwill he would need to depend on for other cases.

After Clemons was sentenced to die, Judge Crowson appointed an attorney, William Felix Mathews, to handle an appeal before the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. Mathews, like Johnson, also admitted that he should have done more for Clemons. In a 2001 deposition conducted by the pro bono lawyers who later represented Clemons, Mathews said he “was very stressed out” and overworked while conducting Clemons’ appeal. He was having marital problems. He was losing focus. He was mixing antidepressants with alcohol, which affected his ability to practice law. He said he’d done little to investigate Clemons’ background or hire an investigator to do it for him.

“Do you believe you were a zealous advocate?” one of Clemons’ lawyers asked Mathews during the deposition. “No,” he said. 3 years after he handled Clemons’ appeal, Mathews was disbarred for reasons unrelated to the Clemons case. Mathews could not be reached for comment.

Alabama only provides lawyers to death penalty defendants at trial and for their 1st appeal. It is the only state that does not pay for lawyers to handle the next appeal. In 2001, the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit legal advocacy group, filed a lawsuit to try to force Alabama to pay. Clemons was one of the plaintiffs. They lost.

To fill the gap, nonprofit organizations and well-resourced law firms have stepped in with pro bono support. That’s how John Christie entered the case, as local counsel for a large international law firm called Winston & Strawn. The firm estimates that between 1999 and today, its attorneys have committed the equivalent of $6.3 million worth of pro bono time to defending Clemons during the appeals process. But because of AEDPA and the missed filing deadline, that massive investment has not been enough to overcome the mistake of failing to pay a $140 fee.

Adopted Verbatim

In June 2002, a decade after Clemons was arrested for murder and 2 1/2 years after Christie’s courier delivered the doomed filing to the Shelby County clerk, a ray of hope emerged in the form of a Supreme Court decision.

“In the light of our ‘evolving standards of decency,’” the court wrote in the decision, Atkins v. Virginia, states cannot execute people with intellectual disabilities. The decision applied retroactively. Since Atkins, at least 136 people have been removed from death row on account of their intellectual disabilities.

Even though AEDPA’s rigid deadline had excluded Clemons’ claims, including those about ineffective trial defense, the Atkins decision meant that his lawyers could challenge his death sentence on new grounds. If they could show that he fit the clinical standards for intellectual disability, Alabama would not be allowed to kill him.

First, Clemons’ lawyers would have to make the argument before Judge Crowson. In 2004, Crowson held a lengthy evidentiary hearing on Clemons’ mental capabilities.

At the time, clinical standards for diagnosing intellectual disability required evidence of three things: an IQ below 70 or, accounting for the margin of error, 75; proof of struggles with “adaptive functioning,” how well a person can handle common demands in life; and evidence of both in childhood. Clemons as a first grader had been diagnosed by his school as “educably mentally retarded,” and his school records were replete with teacher notes about his impairments, his slowness, his “great difficulty” to learn. He’d been held back twice, still got failing grades, and eventually dropped out. Since then, he’d undergone a series of IQ tests that, his lawyers said, put him just within the range to be considered disabled. When combined with evidence that Clemons had struggled to function in everyday life during the few years he lived as an adult before his arrest — his supervisor at a Domino’s Pizza, for instance, told the court that Clemons “was just unable to do the job despite all his efforts” — Clemons, his lawyers argued, was exactly the kind of person the Supreme Court had been seeking to protect with its Atkins decision.

The attorney for the state argued that Clemons had been faking his impairment during some of his IQ tests. And in a filing to the court, the state said that Clemons’ IQ was too high for him to be eligible for Atkins relief. The state then pointed to all the ways that Clemons had been able to function, suggesting that his inability to keep a job derived from laziness, not disability, and that his ability to board a bus when he left Alabama for Ohio after the murder belied the possibility of disability.

After the hearings, as is often the case, Judge Crowson asked both sides to draft proposed orders and send them to him, to elaborate on their positions. A month later, in October 2004, Crowson returned his order. “This Court finds that Clemons is not mentally retarded,” it said.

Clemons’ attorneys were not surprised: Alabama courts almost never reverse death sentences. But what struck them was that Crowson’s order was a near exact copy of the proposed order that the Alabama Attorney General’s office had sent him. The final order even contains the Attorney General’s original typos, including misspelling Eugene as “EUGUNE,” in all caps. The judge made a few cosmetic changes here and there, but the decision otherwise appeared to be the work of the Alabama attorney general.

The final order signed by Judge D. Al Crowson misspells Clemons’ name “EUGUNE,” a typo that had appeared in the Alabama Attorney General’s proposed order.

In a recent phone interview, Judge Crowson, who retired in 2005, said that the order he signed reflected his opinion: “I heard both sides argue, and then I adopted it.” The state’s order, he said, “was the same I was thinking, and I based it on the law.” Crowson declined to comment further on the Clemons case.

Clemons’ team was ready to appeal the judge’s ruling to federal court — and this time there was no AEDPA deadline standing in their way.

The habeas petition Clemons’ attorneys filed on his behalf argued that Judge Crowson’s order did not take into account their claims and that it was a mere rubber stamp of the state’s proposed order: “As one might expect from an order drafted by the Attorney General, the substance of the order is shockingly biased,” the lawyers wrote in a brief. Crowson’s order cites 5 IQ tests in which Clemons scored between 51 and 84. (The highest score was from a short test that experts said is not a reliable measure of intelligence.) The order downplays the lowest of the scores and states that Clemons had been faking impairment every time he scored below 70. And even though the attorney general’s office had said at the outset that it would follow the 3-pronged clinical analysis for intellectual disability, the order fails to mention evidence about one of those prongs: Clemons’ adaptive deficits.

To Clemons’ legal team, the problems with the order seemed to be just the kind of shortcomings that a federal court would want to review. But they were about to learn the extent to which AEDPA had crippled the ability for a higher court to intervene.

AEDPA requires that federal courts mostly defer to the decisions of state courts, rather than review any legal arguments anew. The language of the law does allow federal judges to wade back into a case, but only under the strictest circumstances: when they can prove that a state court’s decision was “unreasonable.” And the Supreme Court has repeatedly narrowed what “unreasonable” means.

As a result, the prosecutors’ version of the story can become gospel. A federal public defender in Alabama, where verbatim adoption of prosecutors’ orders is common, described what happens after orders are signed by judges as a recurring nightmare for the defense: “It keeps coming back and coming back.” In Clemons’ case, the order that Crowson adopted had advanced through three courts by the beginning of 2020.

In July 2020, Clemons’ attorney, Eric Bloom, then with Winston & Strawn, was finally able to argue the case before a 3-judge panel of the 11th Circuit. “This court is not bound to defer to unreasonably found facts or to the legal conclusions that flow from them,” he said.

The judges seemed receptive to what Bloom was saying: that they were not looking at the judge’s own words but, rather, were being asked to accept a document prepared by one side.

“It’s really hard to understand how the court took all of these scores into consideration,” Judge Charles R. Wilson said during oral arguments, referring to Clemons’ IQ tests, “when it adopted the state’s proposed order verbatim, including typographical errors and misspellings.”

Wilson pressed Alabama’s solicitor general, Edmund G. LaCour Jr., to explain the exclusion of the evidence regarding Clemons’ adaptive deficits from the order that Judge Crowson signed. “None of this is in the decision though, right?” Judge Wilson asked.

“No, your honor,” LaCour said, acknowledging the omissions. “But, this is AEDPA.”

“For purposes of AEDPA review,” LaCour countered, “The federal courts are not in the business of checking the state’s homework.”

It was not the first time an 11th Circuit judge had bristled at having to adhere to AEDPA’s strict deference requirement when confronted with an order they knew a judge had not written. In the case of a defendant named Doyle Hamm, an Alabama judge in 1999 had signed an exact copy of the Attorney General’s 89-page proposed order — one business day after the state delivered it to him. He had not so much as removed the word “proposed” from the top.

“I don’t believe for a second that that judge went through 89 pages in a day and then filed that as his own,” said 11th Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan. Even so, Jordan joined his colleagues in deferring to that order. “I know what AEDPA deference requires me to do,” he said.

The judges knew what they had to do in Clemons’ case, too. In July 2020, the 11th Circuit issued its decision: “Because Clemons filed his federal habeas petition after April 24, 1996, this case is governed by AEDPA,” Judge Stanley Marcus wrote, citing the date the law was signed. The court denied Clemons’ habeas petition.

Final Chance or No Chance

On Thursday, the Supreme Court justices will hold a conference to decide which cases they will take up in their next term. Eugene Clemons’ habeas petition is among the 145 cases up for consideration that day. The justices are likely to take only a handful of them. Nearly 3 decades after he was arrested for the murder of Douglas Althouse, this is the last stop in Clemons’ habeas fight.

“The various wrongs converge in a shocking way,” Clemons’ petition reads. His lawyers’ position, laid out in the document, is simple: Clemons is intellectually disabled and should not be executed, and the errors with the 1999 filing should not have prevented him from making the case before a federal judge that his trial counsel failed him.

Charting the Long-Term Impact of Trump’s Judicial Appointments

The petition was accompanied by four amicus briefs, statements of support from experts or organizations. One, from the National Association of Social Workers, claims that beyond any clinical doubt Clemons is a person with intellectual disabilities. “The state court’s failure to adhere to the clinical standards … was egregious,” the brief said. “That the sentencing jury never heard any evidence of Mr. Clemons’s cognitive impairment … renders the case tragic.”

A libertarian group called the R Street Institute filed an amicus brief describing the “Kafkaesque series of misstatements and missteps by court officials” in Shelby County, which “led Mr. Clemons’ counsel to believe that Mr. Clemons’ petition had been properly and timely filed.”

Habeas and death penalty experts say Clemons’ case is a prime example of the type of lower-court missteps that the federal courts should be able to remedy. “This is a clear injustice,” said John Blume, a leading habeas scholar and law professor at Cornell University, who coauthored another amicus brief in the case. “Because of a series of mistakes, he got no review on anything but his intellectual disability claim, which was just adopted by the state judge without inspection.”

Last year, in response to the 11th Circuit decision rejecting Clemons’ petition, Marshall, the current Alabama attorney general, said in a statement: “For 28 years, Clemons has evaded his just fate. I applaud yesterday’s decision by the 11th Circuit, which moves us a step closer to ensuring that justice will be done for Special Agent Althouse and those he left behind.”

In its reply to Clemons’ Supreme Court petition, Alabama said that 31 of the 32 claims in his habeas petition are moot because of that late filing fee: “His counsel’s failure to properly file [the petition] before AEDPA’s limitations period expired was the result of their negligence.” Regarding the 32nd claim, about intellectual disability, it says that even if Clemons would be considered disabled by today’s standards — the Supreme Court in the years since Atkins has imposed a unified standard — Alabama courts had been free all those years before to determine themselves how to evaluate disability.

No amicus briefs were filed in support of Alabama’s position.

Several habeas and death penalty experts said in recent interviews that it is exceedingly unlikely that the Supreme Court will agree to hear Clemons’ case. The court in recent decades has moved only to fortify AEDPA’s barriers, not to loosen them, fashioning the law into something even more restrictive than even Congress had intended.

Opponents of AEDPA say that any possible reform — and any restoration of habeas rights — likely will have to start in Congress.

Biden has said that he will back legislation to end the federal death penalty and press states to follow. (Many states, including Alabama, are extremely unlikely to do so.) But as president, he has said nothing about AEDPA, nor has any member of Congress floated any legislation to change it.

“Congress has written a statute that keeps courts from doing what they are supposed to do,” said Eric Freedman, a leading habeas scholar at Hofstra University’s law school. “They could reform it.”

“The right to habeas corpus is critical to rectifying injustices and government misconduct,” said former Senator Russ Feingold, who at the time of the law’s passage was 1 of just 8 senators to vote against it. “I feared that AEDPA would do what it has, which is to limit access to the courts for people on death row.”

(source: propublica.org)

ARKANSAS:

Circuit Judge Cindy Thyer to seek Arkansas Court of Appeals seat

A longtime Northeast Arkansas circuit judge announced plans Friday to seek a seat on the Arkansas Court of Appeals.

Circuit Judge Cindy Thyer of Jonesboro said she is running for the District 1, Position 2 seat on the 12-member court.

The incumbent, Judge Phillip Whiteaker, announced earlier this year that he would not seek another term in office in the May 24, 2022 judicial election.

The district includes Craighead, Clay, Crittenden, Mississippi, Poinsett, Greene, Woodruff, White, Monroe, Lonoke, Cross and Prairie counties.

In her announcement, Thyer cited her experience on the bench as positives for voters to consider.

“It has been an honor and privilege to serve the citizens of the Second Judicial District as a circuit judge for the last 15 years. During that time, I have managed a large, diverse docket that has included every court division – civil, criminal, probate, domestic relations, and juvenile. I have presided over more than 40 civil and criminal jury trials, including a death penalty trial,” Thyer said. “I have chaired the Arkansas Judicial Council’s Trial Judges Committee, Bar Liaison, and Trial Court Employee Committees and have served on the Juvenile, Specialty Court, and Supreme Court Liaison Committees. Last year I was recognized as being the first female in the state of Arkansas to have obtained a Master’s degree in Judicial Studies.”

Judge Thyer said she has worked with the Arkansas Bar Association and other groups on law-related issues.

“I have also been active in the Arkansas Bar Association having served as Chair of the Board of Governors, Parliamentarian, Chair of the Young Lawyers Section and am a tenured delegate to the House of Delegates. I am also an active member of the American Law Institute, currently serving as an Advisor on the Children and the Law Project. I am also presently serving as a panel member on the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, and in June I will finish my year as President of the Arkansas Bar Foundation,” Thyer said.

Thyer also cited her work as a circuit judge in the announcement.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as a circuit judge working with a wonderful group of colleagues, attorneys, and court staff, and I look forward to continuing to serve the citizens of the Second Judicial District throughout my candidacy. I believe my broad experience as a circuit judge and an active member of organizations serving the bar, the judiciary, and the public have prepared me to take on this important role as a judge on the Arkansas Court of Appeals,” Thyer said.

Thyer was nominated by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee to serve as a circuit judge in Nov. 2005 and was reappointed to serve in 2007 by then-Gov. Mike Beebe.

(source: KAIT news)

OKLAHOMA:

Another Innocent Man — Julius Jones merits commutation, for starters

Julius Jones is innocent. He must never be executed.

He merits not only commutation in the short term, but a finding of actual innocence in the long run.

His hearing before the Pardon and Parole (P&P) Board is set for Sept. 13 at 10 a.m. Some dramatics connected with the efforts of former Attorney General Mike Hunter and Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater (who is not seeking reelection) must not detract from the strong case for actual innocence in the case of Julius Jones.

Last year, state Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, laid out the case for permanent reforms in Oklahoma’s death penalty provisions.

He contributed wisdom in supporting an Interim Study that included serious examination of recommendations first made in the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission’s historic report.

In the course of that Interim Study, McDugle made a strong case for the actual innocence of Richard Glossip.

Somehow, I had missed his March 3 letter to Governor Kevin Stitt and members of the Pardon and Parole Board. He strongly encouraged commutation of the death sentence facing Julius Jones. McDugle wrote that with commutation Oklahoma could “avoid a grave miscarriage of justice.”

He reflected, “I have often said that, if Oklahoma is going to carry out executions, it must do them right. At a minimum, that means ensuring that every prisoner on death row has received a fair trial and that no compelling evidence exists to call into question their guilt.”

Rep. McDugle’s well-sustained argument is worth quoting at length:

“In the case of Julius Jones, I believe we are falling short of that threshold on both fronts. Regarding his trial, an under-prepared and overwhelmed defense team failed to present Mr. Jones’ alibi and failed to show the jury photographs that indicate Mr. Jones did not fit the eyewitness description of the shooter. Meanwhile, the jury was never told that the prosecution’s star witness, co-defendant Christopher Jordan, was being offered a reduced sentence to testify against Mr. Jones. Each one of these developments may have offered the ‘reasonable doubt’ Mr. Jones needed to avoid conviction if they had been presented to a jury.

“Furthermore, new evidence uncovered by Mr. Jones’ defense team and documented by both ‘The Frontier’ and the ‘Washington Post’ supports the possibility that Mr. Jones is innocent and has been wrongfully imprisoned by the state for nearly two decades. The fact that multiple men, with no knowledge of each other and no ties to Mr. Jones, have individually come forward to disclose that Christopher Jordan has openly bragged about killing Paul Howell and framing his co-defendant, is a revelation that cannot be ignored. However, one feels about the death penalty, it seems impossible to support the execution of one man for murder when another man has confessed on multiple occasions to committing that same murder.

“For all these reasons, I urge you to conduct a serious and fair-minded review of Mr. Jones’ case. Having reviewed the evidence available in the public record, I am confident that you will see fit to commute his sentence and avoid a grave miscarriage of justice.”

The McDugle letter should be studied by those who still support Oklahoma executions, but particularly by those who consider the Jones case “Exhibit A” in the case against the process as practiced in Oklahoma.

Dale Baich and his colleague Amanda Bass have battled long and hard for Jones.

In a May 11 letter to Tom Bates, now the executive director at the P&P Board, Baich argued against Hunter’s attempt to intervene against Jones. (Engaging in reasonable speculation, it would not be surprising if Jones’ lawyers move to strike a protest letter Hunter, now former A.G., entered in the Jones commutation process.

Baich vigorously opposes a plan to prevent Julius Jones from addressing the P&P Board on September 13, explicitly confronting the assertion Jones had two “misconducts”.

Baich relates that in 2020, “we sent a letter to Scott Crowe, Director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections explaining why the allegations of misconduct are unfounded. …

[T]he 2 incidents concerned the alleged possession of a cell phone charger and an alleged unauthorized conference call.”

From Baich: “March 6, 2020: Mr. Jones was strip-searched and placed semi-naked in a shower while his property was confiscated, and his cell searched. He was written up for allegedly having a cell phone charger in his possession (but no cell phone). The phone charger was never shown to Mr. Jones despite his request. Instead, he was shown a grainy photocopy of a photograph of the alleged cell phone charger that is completely indiscernible. We requested all documentation pertaining to this incident, including a video of the search. Our request was essentially ignored. We were given only another copy of the same undecipherable photocopy, and the video of the search was not provided to us. Under the circumstances, we do not believe there is any evidence or basis to characterize this unsupported allegation as a misconduct.”

Continuing, for April 22, 2020: “Mr. Jones was written up for allegedly participating in an ‘unauthorized conference call on February 28, 2020 (with no explanation as to why the write-up happened almost two months later). That assertion is not true. To the contrary, Mr. Jones had an authorized call with his sister, during which she put him on speaker phone so he could be heard by other people who were in the room with Mr. Jones’ sister.”

Baich asserts – and I agree – neither asserted event “is based on any actual evidence. The timing, lack of transparency, and the Department of Corrections’ refusal to respond to our reasonable requests is troubling. If those alleged misconducts are going to be considered by the Board, it should only be based on a full consideration of all alleged evidence, which, to date, has been withheld from us.”

(Corrections has also asserted Jones had bad results in a drug screening – but the case for that is so weak it merits mere mention, not serious consideration.)

Baich expressed – and I agree – “that these alleged misconducts were not issued as a pretext to retaliate against Mr. Jones and prejudice his ability to get a full and fair hearing before the Board.” Further, he challenged an assertion that Corrections can keep Jones from the commutation hearing because of where he is serving his sentence: “There is no provision in the Code, nor are we aware of any authority, that would allow Mr. Jones to be excluded from appearing merely because he is housed in a maximum-security prison.”

In his letter to Bates, Baich (no shrinking violet, for which I am grateful) reports, “You note that an investigator is currently working on a report on Mr. Jones case for the Board. If the investigator needs any additional information from Mr. Jones, please have the investigator reach out directly to us as counsel, rather than going through prison staff.

Denied access to prosecution files (once promised by Prater), Baich notes that the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission recommended, “All Oklahoma district attorneys’ offices and the Office of the Attorney General should be required to allow open-file discovery at all stages of a capital case, including during the direct appeal, state post-conviction review, federal habeas corpus review, and any clemency proceedings.”

Baich’s letter was copied to Kyle Counts, General Counsel for the P&P board, Adam Luck, Board Chair, and members C. Alien McCall, Larry Morris, Kelley Doyle, and Scott Williams.

Originally set for June, the long-anticipated hearing has already slipped into the fall. Pressures on the board (including announced investigations of members) smack of inappropriate pressure.

Some wonder if D.A. Prater is following the 2013 playbook develop in a previous round of pressure on the board.

The unwillingness to surrender files promised in the past raises many questions.

If the withheld evidence is a slam dunk, if they are so sure of the contents, why not share the information with defense lawyers and the general public?

There are some who wait on federal courts to show up, like Deus Ex Machina from ancient Greek plays, to rescue the state from the worst abuses of the death penalty process. But that is not the job of the judiciary.

Elected representatives and public officials would best serve the state by ending the discredited system of capital punishment as actually practiced.

Short of that, responsible players in our state government should at least work through the process to take the worst cases off the table – right now, or at least this year.

(source: Patrick McGuigan, Editor, The City Sentinel)

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

24 years later: Accused serial killer found guilty of Oklahoma teen’s 1997 murder

After 8 days of testimony, more than 20 witnesses, and over 100 items of evidence at the Oklahoma County Courthouse, a jury found William Lewis Reece guilty of 1st degree murder for 19-year-old Tiffany Johnston’s 1997 murder. During the nearly 2-week trial, the jury listened and watched dozens of recorded interviews and confessions of Reece recounting what led up to Johnston’s death and the murders of 3 other young women in Texas.

Family and friends sat on the front row, learning what their loved ones went through.

“She was always the tough one,” said friend Jenni McEachern.

“I’ve had moments where you just felt yourself trembling inside,” said Johnston’s cousin and best friend Misty Witt.

During the confessions, Reece said on July 26th, 1997 an oil filter came loose in his white dually pickup and sprayed grease all over his truck and horse trailer.

The 61-year-old said he pulled into the Sunshine Carwash in Bethany near Northwest 23rd and Council.

Reece said while he was spraying down the vehicle and trailer, Johnston confronted him accusing him of spraying her with water.

Insults led into a physical fight in which Reece threw Johnston in his truck, unsnapped her cutoff jean overalls, and raped her.

When he turned to leave, Reece said Johnston grabbed a horse shoe and hit him in the back of the head.

Reece said that sent him over the edge and he strangled her with his hands then a rope used to lead horses.

He then drove to a Canadian County and dumped her body face down in a field of tall grass. Johnston’s body was found the next day.

The Medical Examiner testified she believed Johnston had been raped and strangled. DNA was taken and sealed into evidence.

Prosecutors present DNA evidence they say link accused serial killer to Oklahoma teen’s 1997 death

Later, Reece confessed he learned Johnston was his mother’s best friend’s daughter that he never met, despite knowing her mother, father, and older sister.

After a lengthy search for a suspect came to a dead end, the case went cold.

The OSBI testified investigators tested the DNA found at the scene, but pieces of the DNA puzzle decayed over the years. Later, Reece voluntarily gave a Texas Ranger a swab of his DNA to test while he was serving a 60-year sentence for kidnapping and assaulting another woman.

Calling card evidence later obtained also placed Reece near the area of her body around the time she vanished.

On Friday, the jury was asked to decide if the state proved Reece killed Johnston unlawfully and caused by malice and forethought.

To come to that conclusion, the state asked the jury to consider his multiple previous rape and assault convictions prior to Johnston’s death, the three other murders Reece is linked to in Texas, and his taped confessions.

Prosecutors highlight 3 past homicides that accused serial killer is linked to during Oklahoma death penalty trial Prosecutors explained to the jury, the confessions alone would not do the job. Jurors needed to thing about the numerous evidence presented during the trial backing up Reece’s confessions.

Reece’s defense attorneys told the jury to decide if their client was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. They argued key witness testimonies may’ve been influenced by pictures on the news or influenced by line-ups by investigators.

The defense also pointed out the DNA found on Johnston not perfectly matching with Reece’s sample.

DNA analysts previously testified the DNA found on Johnston deteriorated over the years. Key pieces of the DNA puzzle that were still intact matched with Reece’s sample.

The victim’s family heard the verdict after years of waiting for justice.

“For me personally, I can’t carry that heavy load of hate,” said Witt. “So [Reece is] there because he is the suspect in this. Again, I won’t let it faze me. He won’t see it faze me.”

Because this is a death-penalty trial, even more testimony lies ahead for the jury to decide of Reece will live or die for these crimes. Phase two of the trial starts back up June 1st at 9 a.m.

(source: KFOR news)

ARIZONA:

Arizona Revamps Gas Chambers With Hydrogen Cyanide

The state of Arizona is preparing to kill death row inmates using hydrogen cyanide, the same lethal gas that was deployed at Auschwitz, reports The Guardian. Arizona’s department of corrections has spent more than $2,000 in procuring the ingredients to make cyanide gas. The gas chamber itself, built in 1949 and disused for 22 years, has been dusted off and, according to the department, “refurbished”. Over the past few months the Republican-controlled state has moved aggressively to restart its deeply flawed execution system. The death penalty has been in abeyance in Arizona for 7 years following the gruesomely botched lethal injection of Joseph Wood in 2014.

A series of tests were conducted last August to appraise its “operability”. Some of the techniques used to test the safety of the chamber were astonishingly primitive, with prison officials checking for gas seepages with a candle. The preparation of cyanide gas executions presents Arizona death row inmates with a Hobson’s choice between 2 questionable ways to die: gas chamber or lethal injection. In 1982, the last Arizona inmate to be killed in the gas chamber took 18 minutes to die while in 2014. Arizona has selected 2 inmates as likely candidates to go first out of a current death row population of 115 people. They are Frank Atwood, 65, sentenced to death for killing an 8-year-old girl, Vicki Lynne Hoskinson, in 1984; and Clarence Dixon, 65, convicted of the 1978 murder of a college student, Deana Bowdoin.

(source: thecrimereport.org)

CALIFORNIA:

DA won’t seek new death sentence against Scott Peterson

A California district attorney said in a court filing Friday that she won’t seek a new death sentence against Scott Peterson, convicted in 2005 of murdering his pregnant wife.

The Stanislaus County district attorney’s office said it would drop efforts to restore the penalty thrown out last year by the state Supreme Court. The DA said the decision was made in consultation with Laci Peterson’s family.

The California justices ruled the death sentence couldn’t stand because potential jurors were excluded after saying they disagreed with the death penalty.

The family has “no doubt” Peterson killed his wife and unborn son Conner and deserves the death penalty but doesn’t want to pursue that punishment because “this process is simply too painful to endure once again,” District Attorney Birgit Fladager said her filing in San Mateo Superior Court.

Peterson was convicted in the San Mateo court after his trial was moved from Stanislaus County due to the massive pre-trial publicity that followed the Christmas Eve 2002 disappearance of 27-year-old Laci, who was 8 months pregnant.

Investigators say Peterson took the bodies from their Modesto home and dumped them from his fishing boat into San Francisco Bay, where they surfaced months later.

Peterson maintains his innocence and a judge is considering whether to grant a new trial because of juror misconduct. If no new trial is granted, he will be sentenced to life imprisonment.

One of Peterson’s attorneys said the announcement is not a precursor to a plea deal and that his client will seek a new trial if a judge decides his first one was tainted by juror misconduct.

Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo said she hopes to make a decision this year whether Peterson merits a new trial.

It’s not clear if prosecutors could again seek the death penalty if there is a new trial and he was again convicted, said defense attorney Pat Harris, who is handling the death sentence portion of the case.

A different attorney, Andras Farkas, is representing Peterson on the issue of whether he gets a new trial. Farkas did not respond to an email requesting comment.

“It’s not clear to me that they’re saying no matter what, we’re taking the death penalty off the table … or they’re saying if we go back to trial we’re reserving the right to put the death penalty back up again,” Harris said. “It sounds like they’re kind of holding back that if the judge orders a new trial, they could put the death penalty back on the table.”

That could be cleared up at what was supposed to be procedural hearing on Tuesday, he said.

The district attorney’s office did not comment.

Harris noted that prosecutors had earlier said the family supported again seeking the death penalty, and contended that their new motion is a gambit to avoid a new airing of the case.

“The truth of the matter is they have determined … that the handwriting is on the wall and if we go back to trial we’re going to prove Scott’s innocence,” he said.

He said he can prove that there was a nearby burglary the day Peterson disappeared, aiding the defense’s contention that someone else killed her when she stumbled upon the crime.

If prosecutors were to proceed with a new penalty phase, they would essentially have to retry the entire case before a new jury — so that new evidence would come out even if jurors could not acquit him and could only recommend a sentence of death or life in prison, he said.

“The truth will have come out. Bottom line is people will know what happened” even if he doesn’t receive a new trial on his guilt or innocence, Harris said.

(source: Associated Press)

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

Laci Peterson case: D.A. won’t pursue new death penalty trial against husband convicted of murder

A Northern California district attorney said in a court filing Friday that she won’t seek a new death sentence against Scott Peterson, convicted in 2005 of murdering his pregnant wife.

The Stanislaus County district attorney’s office said it would drop efforts to restore the death penalty thrown out last year by the state Supreme Court. The D.A. said the decision was made in consultation with Laci Peterson’s family.

The state justices ruled the death sentence couldn’t stand because potential jurors were excluded after saying they disagreed with the death penalty.

The family has “no doubt” Peterson killed his wife and unborn son, Conner, and deserves the death penalty but doesn’t want to pursue that punishment because “this process is simply too painful to endure once again,” Dist. Atty. Birgit Fladager said in her filing in San Mateo Superior Court.

Peterson, now 48, was convicted in San Mateo court after his trial was moved from Stanislaus County because of the massive pre-trial publicity that followed the Christmas Eve 2002 disappearance of 27-year-old Laci, who was 8 months pregnant.

Investigators say Peterson took the bodies from their Modesto home and dumped them from his fishing boat into San Francisco Bay, where they surfaced months later.

Peterson maintains his innocence and a judge is considering whether to grant a new trial because a juror failed to disclose that she had sought a restraining order in 2000 against her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. She said in seeking the order that she feared for her unborn child. The judge must decide if that amounted to juror misconduct, and if so, whether it was so prejudicial that a new trial is warranted.

If no new trial is granted, Peterson will be sentenced to life imprisonment.

One of Peterson’s attorneys said the announcement is not a precursor to a plea deal and that his client will seek a new trial if a judge decides his first one was tainted by juror misconduct.

Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo said she hopes to make a decision this year whether Peterson merits a new trial.

It’s not clear if prosecutors could again seek the death penalty if there is a new trial and he is again convicted, said defense attorney Pat Harris, who is handling the death sentence portion of the case.

A different attorney, Andras Farkas, is representing Peterson on the issue of whether he receives a new trial. Farkas did not respond to an email requesting comment.

“It’s not clear to me that they’re saying no matter what, we’re taking the death penalty off the table or they’re saying if we go back to trial we’re reserving the right to put the death penalty back up again,” Harris said. “It sounds like they’re kind of holding back that if the judge orders a new trial, they could put the death penalty back on the table.”

That could be cleared up at what was supposed to be a procedural hearing on Tuesday, he said.

The district attorney’s office declined to comment.

Harris noted that prosecutors had earlier said the family supported again seeking the death penalty, and contended that their new motion is a gambit to avoid a new airing of the case.

“The truth of the matter is they have determined that the handwriting is on the wall and if we go back to trial we’re going to prove Scott’s innocence,” he said.

Harris said he can prove that there was a nearby burglary the day Laci Peterson disappeared, aiding the defense’s contention that someone else killed her when she stumbled upon the crime.

If prosecutors were to proceed with a new penalty phase, they would essentially have to retry the entire case before a new jury — so that new evidence would come out even if jurors could not acquit Scott Peterson and could only recommend a sentence of death or life in prison, he said.

“The truth will have come out. Bottom line is people will know what happened” even if he doesn’t receive a new trial on his guilt or innocence, Harris said.

Scott Peterson’s family and supporters made a similar argument in a Facebook post, that Harris’ request last week for evidence in the hands of prosecutors triggered their decision.

“We are grateful that Stanislaus County is no longer seeking to put Scott to death, but it’s (hashtag)Time4aNewTrial,” the post said.

(source: Los Angeles Times)

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

California to review infamous case of death row inmate

California will launch a new probe into the high-profile case of a death row inmate convicted of the murder of 4 people who has maintained for decades that he was framed by police, Governor Gavin Newsom said Friday.

Kevin Cooper was found guilty of the 1983 slayings in a suburb outside Los Angeles and was hours away from execution in 2004, when public figures from Reverend Jesse Jackson to Denzel Washington lobbied then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for clemency.

Schwarzenegger denied those calls but Cooper’s execution was called off at the last minute by an appeals court.

Subsequent governors have ordered new DNA testing of evidence using the latest technologies.

On Friday, Newsom ordered a “full review” of Cooper’s trial and subsequent appeals, as well as the original case and evidence including the recently conducted DNA tests, in order to decide on the convict’s clemency petition.

Cooper had escaped from prison shortly before Douglas and Peggy Ryen, both 41, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica and her 11-year-old friend Christopher Hughes were found stabbed and slashed to death at the Ryens’ home in Chino Hills, California.

Multiple witnesses reported seeing 3 white men in bloodied clothes driving a car stolen from the Ryens’ home on the night of the murders.

A woman who believed her boyfriend was involved came forward to police, having found blood on his clothes and a hatchet similar to one used at the scene missing from his tool rack.

But police arrested Cooper, who is Black, and he was found guilty by a jury in 1985.

Cooper, now 63, and his defense team allege that police planted evidence linking him to the scene and destroyed or tampered with evidence pointing to other suspects as the case grew in infamy and pressure for a conviction increased.

While Cooper’s execution was blocked, judges refused him the right to appeal, leading to five judges writing in a dissent that: “The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, during her time as California’s attorney general, has been drawn into the case, accused by her critics of blocking new DNA testing.

In his executive order Friday, Newsom wrote that “questions about the evidence introduced at trial against Mr. Cooper have come to light” and that he has reviewed the latest DNA test results.

Under the order — which does not take a position on Cooper’s guilt or innocence — a law firm will be employed to assist California’s parole board in investigating the case and presenting its review.

The last execution in California occurred in 2006, and Newsom has already pledged no executions will take place while he is governor.

(source: Agence France-Presse)

IRAN—-executions

8 Executions in Iran Within 2 Days

In only 2 days, May 24 and 25, authorities in Iran hanged at least 8 inmates in the prisons of Isfahan and Birjand, human rights defender association No to Prison – No to Execution reported.

2 Executions in Isfahan Prison

At dawn on Monday, May 24, authorities quietly executed 2 prisoners on drug-related charges in Isfahan Central Prison. Activists identified them Kianoush Ali-Moradi, 50, and Ahmad-Ali Qodrati. Mr. Ali-Moradi was married and had several children.

The official media have yet to report these executions as of this report. The Iranian government continues to implement death sentences against inmates who have been convicted on drug-related charges while relevant officials have frankly admitted that the executions are fruitless. They say that not only are these executions ineffective in combatting drug smuggling, but they have brought reverse effect.

Furthermore, it was supposed that the issuance of death penalty be limited based on new reforms in the Islamic Republic’s constitution applied in 2017. Judges were expected to consider one degree alleviation in drug-related cases. Nevertheless, authorities still hang inmates for insignificant charges.

Execution of 6 Baluch Inmates

At dawn on Tuesday, May 25, Iranian authorities mass executed 6 Baluch inmates in Birjand Prison on drug-related charges. They were from Zabol city, in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan. However, the judiciary had exiled them to Birjand Prison, in the northeastern province of South Khorasan.

Activists identified 1 executed inmate as 34-year-old Javad Nakhaei, the son of Ali. There is no further information about the other executed persons. Their families had reportedly been banned from a last visit with their loved ones. These executions were also implemented silently, and state media avoided covering the news.

However, an 8-second video obtained from a morgue shows the lifeless bodies of the executed inmates. Meanwhile, at dawn on May 19, authorities had hanged 2 other Baluch inmates identified Younes Totazehi and Abdollah Totazehi based on similar allegations in the same prison.

In this respect, since the beginning of the new Persian year on March 21, at least 40 prisoners have been hanged in Iran. Human rights organization reported most of executions are carried out in secret meaning that the actual number of executions is far higher.

According to Amnesty International’s 2020 report, rights organization and activists registered the implementation of at least 283 death sentences across the globe, aside from China. Out of this number, at least 246 cases were implemented in Iran indicating that well over 1/2 of worldwide executions were applied in the country. The Islamic Republic is also the record-holder of executions per capita, based on official stats.

In such circumstances, Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi is running in the Presidential election scheduled for June 18, which forecasts much more human rights violations to come in Iran.

(source: iranfocus.com)

MAY 28, 2021:

TEXAS:

A Man on Death Row Has Waited Years for GitHub to Provide Key Evidence. Here’s Why It Refuses.

For at least the 2nd time in recent memory, a person’s life potentially hinges on critical information that is being withheld by a social platform. Joseph Colone, a man accused of murder and sentenced to death in Texas in 2017, is seeking code stored on GitHub, which could show that key evidence in his case was flawed. The company has declined to share it. After years of winding through the courts, Colone’s last hope rests on the U.S. Supreme Court, if it decides to hear his case.

Colone, who was indicted in 2010, hopes to investigate a program used to analyze DNA presented as evidence of guilt. In 2017, an expert witness for the prosecution testified that a victim’s blood was found in Colone’s car, as well as a mixture of Colone’s and the victim’s DNA on a glove near the crime scene. As Colone’s Supreme Court petition notes, the prosecution depended on a probabilistic genotyping program, STRmix, because examiners were unable to make a determination using traditional techniques. It also notes that, though this was the first time STRmix was used in a Texas death penalty trial, Colone’s attorneys neglected to examine the underlying technology.

Following the sentencing, the Texas court granted Colone an out-of-state subpoena to obtain the program’s source code from GitHub, headquartered in California. The company refused to provide it, and California courts refused to enforce it.

Colone’s attorneys were unable to speak with Gizmodo due to ongoing litigation. When asked for comment a GitHub spokesperson told us: “This is a difficult case for all involved, but federal law prohibits platforms like GitHub from handing over customer content. We again urge Mr. Colone’s advisers to come to an agreement directly with the software owner for review of the code in this case.”

Colone’s defense team did ask STRmix’s attorneys for access to the source code. But email records show that the two teams clashed over the terms of a strict NDA protecting STRmix’s intellectual property, which Colone’s team argued made “unfair and unreasonable” demands that constricted them from properly reviewing the code and producing evidence. The defense expert refused to sign the NDA, and a Texas judge also refused to sign off on STRmix’s protective order because it barred the court from oversight of the review.

It makes sense that GitHub wouldn’t comply with the subpoena against STRmix’s wishes. Losing the faith of a large company by sharing intellectual property is bad for business.

Both GitHub and California courts are sticking by tech companies’ traditional hardline interpretation of an arcane 1986 privacy law the Stored Communications Act (SCA). While the SCA makes a provision for government entities, like the police, to demand electronic communications, it doesn’t make the same exception for civilians—giving prosecutors a leg up while kneecapping defense teams.

Arguably, GitHub’s interpretation of the SCA infringes on a defendant’s rights as repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court itself. As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a 2020 decision about Trump’s attempts to evade subpoenas: “In our judicial system, the public has a right to every man’s evidence.”

In response to the denial, Colone argued that the omission shouldn’t matter because the SCA doesn’t specifically create an evidentiary privilege, the right to refuse to testify or disclose information. It’s unclear whether lawmakers in 1986 intentionally excluded that right for civilians or simply didn’t foresee a world in which a deleted Instagram post would contain potentially life-saving information.

As a result of the law enforcement exception, Facebook alone honors hundreds of thousands of government requests for user data annually—roughly 296,000 in 2020. Meanwhile, social media companies have spent years fending off defendants’ court-approved subpoenas, even when they’re aware that the consequence could be a death sentence. In 2019, a Superior Court judge who approved one such subpoena in a murder trial excoriated the companies. “Facebook and Twitter appear to be misusing their immense resources to manipulate the judicial system in a manner that deprives two indigent young men facing life sentences of their constitutional right to defend themselves at trial,” Judge Charles Crompton wrote. “Facebook and Twitter have made it clear that they are unwilling to alter their behavior, regardless of the harm to others — or the rulings of this court.” Crompton found them in contempt of court for disobeying a lawful order, and the companies simply ate the maximum $1,000 fines, a penalty that was likely cheaper than paying their lawyers to do another hour of work.

If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case and rules in Colone’s favor, it could stand to not only potentially save Colone’s life but spare countless underprivileged people years of unjust incarceration.

Elizabeth Daniel Vasquez, a special forensic science counsel at Brooklyn Defender Services, told Gizmodo that it is “the rare case” when information stored by Facebook or in iCloud or similar data isn’t requested, collected, and brought up in discovery by prosecutors. Resource-strapped public defenders, on the other hand, know Facebook and others’ elite legal teams will deplete their time which could otherwise be spent making progress on other cases. “Often the feeling is if there’s information stored in a social media account, it’s lost,” Daniel Vasquez said.

“It’s hard to look someone in the eye and say, ‘I want you to sit here in jail for 6, 8, 12 months while I try to maybe get these records,’ knowing that I probably am going to end up in a position where a court could say that I’m not entitled to them,” Vasquez said. During that indefinite lag, the client might be offered a limited-time plea deal. “And when you go into that balance, you’re going to choose the thing that makes the most sense in your life and that gets you out of detention faster.”

Digital evidence could be useful in definitively proving that someone else committed the crime (which was precisely the case for Iraqi refugee Omar Ameen) or determining that a victim posed an immediate violent threat (in the case of a drive-by shooting). It could also help identify biases and impeach witness credibility. Jeffrey Stein, a civil rights attorney and former public defender, pointed Gizmodo to a case years ago in which the defense team found racist statements in a police officer’s public Facebook posts. The proof of bias cast doubt on the officer’s credibility, which was central to the case against the accused, who was Black. If the officer had simply made the page private (as, Stein pointed out, is far more common now amongst police officers), they most likely would have gone without critical evidence.

If it sounds a little like asking Facebook for information as broad as attitudes (even racist ones) could lead to widespread user privacy breaches, Stein emphasized that subpoenas are not new, and they are limited.

“You can’t just run around serving subpoenas,” he said. “The law requires you to present articulable facts to the judge, to establish that it’s not just a Hail Mary and that you have a reason to believe that there will be relevant evidence.” That would necessarily mean that you’d have to ask for details about a specific incident in a narrow timeframe, he added. The recipient can argue that it’s overbroad and move to narrow or quash it. If the information is delivered, he further noted, the judge reviews it to decide whether it’s relevant. If it’s not, the judge can withhold the content from the defense.

In other words, no, a defense attorney can’t poke around in your entire social media history. But even if a subpoena were a blank check, would you want prosecutors to be the only people who have that power?

Blase Schmid-Kearney, senior trial attorney at the Neighborhood Defender Service, said that after years of fighting social media companies’ hardline stance on the SCA, he sees a little progress. He pointed to the high-profile extradition case of Omar Ameen, who was framed for the murder of an Iraqi police officer, despite obtaining a printout (but not the digital imprint) of a Facebook post showing others taking credit for the killing. “There were a lot of people litigating it, raising awareness, and keeping a sharp eye on what our Bill of Rights says,” Schmid-Kearney told Gizmodo. “People who are accused of crimes have a right to a trial. We shouldn’t accept a wholesale denial from a big company based on something that seems to be wrong and flatly contradicted by the Sixth Amendment.”

Yet again, public defenders, and their clients, will have to hope and wait. The Supreme Court is set to discuss whether to hear Colone’s case on June 10th; if they do, it would move forward in the next session beginning in October. The court selects roughly 1 in 100 cases before it each term.

(source: gizmodo.com)

SOUTH CAROLINA—-new and impending execution date

SC scheduled to hold 1st execution since 2011 with only electric chair available

An inmate who has been on South Carolina’s death row since 2002 has been issued an execution notice, the 1st ordered since the state Legislature’s recent change to the law making the electric chair the default mode of execution.

The S.C. Supreme Court issued the notice Thursday, directing the state Department of Corrections to execute Brad Sigmon, 63.

The execution must take place on the 4th Friday after the court gives notice, which is June 18. A Corrections spokesperson confirmed the execution date.

The department recently notified the state Supreme Court that it is ready to carry out executions using the electric chair, according to a May 21 letter filed with the court.

Sigmon was 1 of 3 inmates who has received stays of execution in recent years because for years, South Carolina was unable to obtain the necessary drugs to carry on a lethal injection. Under former state law, the lethal injection was the default mode of execution, and unless an inmate specifically chose to die in the electric chair, the state could only execute them using the lethal drug cocktail.

Lawmakers voted to change the law during the last legislative session so the state would have the ability to carry out executions for the 1st time in about a decade. S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster signed the bill, which makes the default mode of execution the electric chair, into law earlier this month.

Under the new law, inmates also have the choice to die by firing squad, but South Carolina currently does not have the infrastructure in place to perform an execution using that mode, according to Corrections.

S.C. Sen. Dick Harpootlian, who fought to get the firing squad included as a method of execution in the new law, said he doesn’t understand why the Department of Corrections couldn’t work to have that as a viable option by Sigmon’s execution date.

Harpootlian, a former solicitor who tried death row cases, including South Carolina serial killer Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins, pushed to add the firing squad as a method of execution because he believes it’s much more humane than the electric chair. Harpootlian has called the electric chair “tortuous” and a “horrible, horrible thing to do to another human being.”

“He should have a less traumatic way to end his life,” the Richland Democrat said.

Thursday’s notice means that Sigmon will likely die in the electric chair, the 1st person to do so in South Carolina since June 20, 2008, when the state put convicted murderer James Earl Reed to death.

Though his execution date is set by the court and state law, there is a chance that it could again be postponed.

Sigmon and fellow death row inmate Freddie Owens filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections over the change in the execution law last week.

Sigmon and Owens asked a Richland County court to weigh in on whether the retroactive nature of the new law — a section that would make it apply to current death row inmates, not just people sentenced to death after its passage — is constitutional.

In their lawsuit, Sigmon and Owens argue that when they received their respective death sentences, South Carolina law said their death sentences would be carried out by lethal injection unless they specifically chose death by electric chair. Neither inmate selected the electric chair, so they argue that it would be a violation of their constitutional rights to make them die in the chair.

According to a letter filed in the state Supreme Court Tuesday, arguments in that case are scheduled for a hearing June 7. In an earlier letter to the Supreme Court, Sigmon’s lawyer asked that his execution be stayed while that case is still pending.

A call to Sigmon’s criminal case attorney Megan Barnes was not immediately returned.

Sigmon was convicted of two murders in 2002 for the killing of his ex-girlfriend’s parents in Greenville County. According to court records and news reports, Sigmon killed the pair of them with a baseball bat and tried to kidnap his ex-girlfriend, but she ultimately got away. He led police on a multi-day manhunt before being captured.

(source: Yahoo News)

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

Execution date set for June 18 for inmate suing state over its new firing squad law

The South Carolina Supreme Court on Thursday set an execution date for 1 of 2 death row prisoners suing the state over a new law forcing inmates to choose between dying by firing squad or electric chair.

Brad Sigmon’s execution is scheduled for June 18, according to court documents. Sigmon and another man on death row, Freddie Owens, both sued the state earlier this month, arguing that they can’t be electrocuted or shot since they were sentenced under a prior law that made lethal injection the default execution method.

Their attorneys are seeking to block upcoming executions as the lawsuit works its way through the courts.

The state Corrections Department has said the electric chair is ready to use, but no firing squad has yet been established, with officials researching how other states carry out executions with firing squads.

South Carolina is 1 of only 9 states to still use the electric chair and the fourth to allow a firing squad. The other 3 states that allow a firing squad are Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The execution notice comes less than 2 weeks after Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law a bill aimed at restarting executions after an involuntary 10-year pause, when the state ran out of lethal injection drugs. That law would require inmates to pick either death by gunshot or electrocution if lethal injection is not an available option.

The court last scheduled Sigmon to die Feb. 12. He declined to choose between lethal injection and electrocution at the time, and the execution was later stayed due to the lack of lethal injection drugs.

Sigmon, 63, was convicted in 2002 for the double murder of his ex-girlfriend’s parents in Greenville County. He is among 37 inmates, all men, currently on South Carolina’s death row.

South Carolina’s last execution took place in May 2011, and its batch of lethal injection drugs expired in 2013.

(source: Sumter Item)

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

Brother of Last Man Executed by Firing Squad to Speak —- Victim Family Member Says Appeals Re-Open Wounds

Just as the 1st execution date in South Carolina in more than a decade has been set for June 18th, speakers with direct experience with the aftermath of murder and the death penalty will join with South Carolinians to call for a halt to executions in the state at events in Columbia and Greenvile on Friday and Saturday this week. Randy Gardner, the brother of Ronnie Lee Gardner (executed by firing squad in Utah on June 18, 2010), will share his families’ experience as their loved one was shot to death.

Among other speakers at the events is Rev. Sharon Risher, whose mother was among those killed in the 2015 massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. The case was in the news again this week as the shooter’s attorneys argued his first appeal.

“At first I didn’t understand exactly why I was feeling so awful, but now I do,” says Risher. For me and many people like me, appeals are the worst torture imaginable. Every time this case is in the news, and especially at a moment like this week when there is another court hearing, I am brought right back to that terrible day and the searing pain of the weeks, months and years that have followed. It is awful. I do want his death sentence overturned. Not for him, but for me.”

Speakers are available for advance interviews and one on ones in Columbia on Friday and in Greenville on Saturday. These events are organized in conjunction with Democrats for Life of South Carolina and other local partners.

What: Speakers with direct experience with the death penalty

Who:

• Rev. Sharon Risher, whose mother was among those killed in the Mother Emanuel Church massacre in Charleston.

• Randy Gardner, whose brother is the last person executed by firing squad in the U.S.

• Charles Keith, a man who has lost 1 brother to murder and another to wrongful conviction and a death sentence. Charles is still working to free his innocent brother from an Ohio prison.

• Shane Claiborne, founder of Red Letter Christians and author of Executing Grace: How the death penalty killed Jesus and why it’s killing us.

• Abraham Bonowitz, Co-Founder & Director of Death Penalty Action

When/Where FRIDAY in Columbia: May 28 in Columbia. Columbia event is at 7pm. Event is being hosted at a private home. The public and media are welcome – address provided with RSVP at http://bit.ly/ColumbiaMay28 or by calling 561-371-5204.

When/Where Saturday in Greenville: May 29 in Greenville: 11am to 1pm rally at the Peace Center, 300 S. Main St in downtown Greenville

(source: Death Penalty Action)

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

What We Know: Death penalty case, stay of execution of Spartanburg County’s Richard Moore

The S.C. Supreme Court continues to review the death penalty case of Richard Moore of Spartanburg. Moore was found guilty of murder in 2001 in connection to the fatal shooting of a store clerk at the Nikki’s Speedy Mart in the Whitney community in September 1999.

Moore’s attorneys may request Gov.. Henry McMaster to grant clemency if the S.C. Supreme Court does not find Moore’s death penalty sentence disproportionate to the crime Moore was scheduled for execution on Dec. 4 until his death sentence was stayed.

Here is what we know so far:

•Attorney Lindsey Vann’s comments on firing squad option for death penalty inmates: “Really, right now we are focused on the case in S.C. Supreme Court and there is other litigation going on addressing the bill ( firing squad). So, I think once the S.C. Supreme Court makes a decision in Richard’s case, we will have to look at where things stand on that before knowing how it will impact his case going forward.”

•South Carolina lawmakers pushed to add firing squad as an option for death penalty inmates to allow the state to resume executions after failing to get drugs needed for lethal injection. The bill signed into law by Gov. Henry McMaster on May 14 requires death penalty inmates to choose either being shot or electrocuted if lethal drugs aren’t available.

•South Carolina is 1 of 9 states to still use the electric chair and the fourth to allow firing squad.

•On May 5, Moore’s case was presented to S.C. Supreme Court to determine if the death penalty sentence was disproportionate to the crime. If the court vacates his death penalty, Moore will be taking off death row. If the court rules against Moore, his attorneys may request executive clemency from Gov. Henry McMaster.

•On Nov. 30, Moore’s execution scheduled for Dec. 4 at Broad River Correctional Institution in Columbia was stayed.

•On Nov. 20, Moore’s legal team told the state that Moore would not choose between lethal injection and the electric chair as his mode of execution.

•South Carolina has not had the drugs for lethal injection since 2013 because it is not one of the 14 states with shield laws protecting the drug companies from lawsuits if the drugs are used in an execution.

•Moore is among 37 death penalty inmates in South Carolina.

•Moore received the death penalty on Oct. 22, 2001, after a jury convicted him of murder for fatally shooting 42-year-old James Mahoney after 3 a.m. Sept. 16, 1999, at Nikki’s Speedy Mart in the Whitney Community. Mahoney was working as the store’s clerk that day.

(source: Herald-Journal)

OHIO:

Man who confessed to Morrow County murders asks judge for death penalty—-Brian Lee is charged with 2 counts of murder. Leann Kinder is charged with 2 counts of complicity to murder.

The man charged in connection to 2 shooting deaths in Morrow County continued his request on Thursday to die for the crimes he says he committed.

Brian Lee, 39, appeared via video conference along with Leeann Kinder, 27, for their initial court hearings on Thursday.

Lee has been charged with 2 counts of murder in the deaths of Linda Vannatta and Brandon Petty. Kinder has been charged with 2 counts of complicity to murder.

Sheriff John Hinton said the shootings happened on Monday around 4:25 a.m. in Harmony Township. 2 other people were injured.

Law enforcement agencies from multiple counties searched for Lee on Monday until he was arrested in a backyard in Columbus Monday night.

Morrow County Municipal Court Judge Jenifer Murphy Burnaugh told Lee and Kinder they could not enter a plea on the charges Thursday as the cases will be moved to Morrow County Common Pleas Court.

The prosecution asked for a $1 million bond per count for Lee. Judge Burnaugh said Lee will be held without bond until that hearing.

Lee waived his right to counsel and to a preliminary hearing.

“I made a mistake, I protected myself, however I’m willing to pay for it, I’m willing to pay for it,” said Lee.

Morrow County Prosecutor Tom Smith called Lee’s request unusual, saying it may complicate the case if it goes to trial.

In an exclusive interview with 10TV’s Kevin Landers on Wednesday, Lee said he wants to die for his crimes and that the killings were in self-defense and that he was threatened.

Lee told 10TV he didn’t expect Brandon Petty to be at the home on the day of the shooting. Lee said Petty drew his gun on him and Lee shot him in return. He then said he killed Vannata, who he claimed also had a gun.

Kinder declined to be interviewed by 10TV.

In court, Kinder asked for counsel and a preliminary hearing was scheduled for June 4.

Kinder was being held without bond but the judge granted the prosecution’s request for a $250,000 bond on each count. If Kinder posts bond, the judge ordered she not have contact with Lee.

(source: 10tv.com)

***

Jailed suspect in Morrow County homicides says he wants death penalty

A Morrow County man charged with 2 counts of murder in the Monday shooting deaths of a man and woman confessed to a local television station, saying that the shootings were in self-defense.

Brian Lee, 39, of Marengo, a village in Morrow County about 38 miles north of Columbus, told WBNS-10TV that there was a dispute over a pickup truck and that he feared for his life.

Lee has been in the Delaware County Jail on a $500,00 bond. A Morrow County Municipal Court Judge ruled that Lee be held without bond.

Leeann N. Kinder, 27, also of Marengo, a companion of Lee, has been charged with two counts of complicity to murder and is being held in Delaware on a combined $500,000 cash bond.

According to Morrow County Sheriff John L. Hinton, Linda Vannatta and Brandon Petty, were fatally shot at about 4:25 a.m. in Harmony Township. Two other shooting victims survived. Neither a motive nor the names of surviving victims has been released.

Kinder was a passenger in the car that hit a pole after Lee jumped out after exiting the freeway at East North Broadway Street on the North Side.

Lee, who was wanted on a failure to appear charge in Columbus, told the TV station from jail that he wants to die.

“If they let me do the death penalty, I’ll plead 100%. I don’t want to be in jail. I don’t even want to be on this planet.”

Tom Smith, Morrow County prosecutor, said that Lee’s confession will have no bearing on his case.

“We will still collect all the evidence and present it to a grand jury for indictment,” he said.

Jails typically require inmates to sign a release form waiving their rights to an attorney before they can speak to the media.

“It’s pretty unusual for any felon to admit their offense,” Smith said.

Lee faces additional charges in Delaware County of felony fleeing and receiving stolen property. Kinder faces an additional count of receiving stolen property.

(source: The Columbus Dispatch)

OKLAHOMA:

Details of suspected serial killer’s grisly murders revealed during death penalty trial in Oklahoma County

On the final day of testimony in the death penalty trial for William Lewis Reece, jurors heard a taped interview uncovering a crucial detail in Tiffany Johnston’s 1997 death.

In the video, Reece can be heard telling Texas Ranger Jim Holland he used the Sunshine Carwash in Bethany on July 26, 1997, after a loose oil filter sprayed grease all over his truck and horse trailer.

While spraying his white dually pickup truck and trailer, Reece said 19-year-old Johnston confronted him, accusing him of spraying her with water.

Reece said harsh words were thrown back and forth and led to a full-on fight.

During the struggle, Reece confessed to throwing Johnston in the trailer, snapping off her cut-off jean overalls and raping her.

In the taped interview, Reece said when he turned to walk away, Johnston grabbed a horseshoe and hit him in the back of the head.

Reece said he became enraged and strangled Johnston with his hands then with a rope used to lead horses.

To get rid of her body, Reece said he drove to a Canadian County field and laid her in the tall grass to be discovered the next day.

Up until this part of the trial, Reece denied the rape.

When Johnston’s unsolved case was reopened in 2015, DNA found on Johnston’s body was linked back to Reece.

Reece is also accused of killing Laura Smither, Jessica Cain and Kelli Cox in Texas around the time Johnston was killed.

Earlier in the week, the jury heard another taped confession in which Reece detailed Kelli Cox’s murder.

Reece said he bumped into Cox at a gas station in Denton, Texas.

When the two collided, Cox spilled her soda on both of them. Reece confessed insults were thrown back and forth, he slapped her then strangled her in the gas station parking lot.

In the taped confession, Reece also explained a new detail in Laura Smither’s death in Friendswood, Texas.

Previously, Reece told investigators he was driving his truck on a rainy day. When he tried to fix his windshield wipers he felt a thud on his side mirror. He got out to assess the damage and saw the girl lying dead in the street with her head nearly turned backwards.

Today he changed the story.

Reece said when he got out of the truck he found her screaming in a ditch. He went over to her, grabbed her face to get her attention and felt a pop in her neck. She was dead.

Reece said he quickly put the girl in his truck, drove to a retention pond, took off her clothes and dumped her body.

The Texas Ranger also explained how Kelli Cox’s remains were recovered in a Texas rice field and how Jessica Cain’s bones were found in a field near a Houston bar.

At the end of the day on Thursday, the prosecution rested.

The defense said it does not plan to call any witnesses to the stand.

Closing arguments begin Friday morning at 9 a.m.

(source: KFOR news)

ARIZONA:

Arizona ‘refurbishes’ its gas chamber to prepare for executions, documents reveal

The state of Arizona is preparing to kill death row inmates using hydrogen cyanide, the same lethal gas that was deployed at Auschwitz.

Documents obtained by the Guardian reveal that Arizona’s department of corrections has spent more than $2,000 in procuring the ingredients to make cyanide gas. The department bought a solid brick of potassium cyanide in December for $1,530.

It also purchased sodium hydroxide pellets and sulfuric acid which are intended to be used to generate the deadly gas. The gas chamber itself, built in 1949 and disused for 22 years, has been dusted off and, according to the department, “refurbished”.

Over the past few months the Republican-controlled state has moved aggressively to restart its deeply flawed execution system. The death penalty has been in abeyance in Arizona for 7 years following the gruesomely botched lethal injection of Joseph Wood in 2014.

Last month, the Guardian revealed that Arizona spent a jaw-dropping $1.5m on a batch of pentobarbital in October, a sedative which it now hopes to use as its main lethal injection method.

The Guardian’s documents, obtained through public records requests, show that officials have also gone to considerable lengths to revive the state’s mothballed gas chamber, housed at ASPC-Florence. A series of tests were conducted last August to appraise its “operability”.

Seals on windows and the door were checked to ensure airtightness, and drains cleared of blockage. Water was used in the tests in place of the deadly chemicals, with a smoke grenade ignited to simulate the gas.

Some of the techniques used to test the safety of the chamber were astonishingly primitive, the documents reveal. Prison officials checked for gas seepages with a candle.

The flame of the candle was held up to the sealed windows and door and if its flame remained steady and did not flicker the chamber was deemed to be airtight. In December staff declared the vessel “operationally ready”.

The preparation of cyanide gas executions presents Arizona death row inmates with a Hobson’s choice between 2 questionable ways to die. Should they opt for the gas chamber, they should be mindful of the last time anybody was gassed by the state.

Walter LaGrand, a German national, was sentenced to death for a 1982 bungled armed bank robbery in which a man was killed. The Tucson Citizen published an eyewitness account of his 1999 execution in which he displayed “agonizing choking and gagging” and took 18 minutes to die.

“The witness room fell silent as a mist of gas rose, much like steam in a shower, and Walter LaGrand became enveloped in a cloud of cyanide vapor,” the Citizen reported. “He began coughing violently – three or four loud hacks – and made a gagging sound before falling forward.” The newspaper recorded that over many minutes the inmate’s head and arms twitched, and his hands were “red and clenched”.

Should an inmate choose death by lethal injection – the method widely deployed among death penalty states as the supposedly scientific and humane alternative to gas, electric chair or firing squad – they will also find the last time it was used in Arizona it was anything but humane.

Joseph Wood took almost two hours to die when Arizona experimented on him with 15 doses of a then little-used concoction of lethal injection drugs. An eye witness told the Guardian that he counted Wood gasp and gulp 660 times.

In its current rush to restart executions, Arizona has selected 2 inmates as likely candidates to go first out of a current death row population of 115 people. They are Frank Atwood, 65, sentenced to death for killing an 8-year-old girl, Vicki Lynne Hoskinson, in 1984; and Clarence Dixon, 65, convicted of the 1978 murder of a college student, Deana Bowdoin.

A member of Atwood’s legal team, Joseph Perkovich of Phillips Black, told the Guardian that it was improper for the state to be hurrying towards setting an execution date when the pandemic had impeded investigation into his client’s possible innocence for more than a year. As for Atwood’s choice between lethal injection or gas, Perkovich said: “Neither option is tenable.”

The attorney pointed out that there is a discrepancy between the potassium cyanide that has been obtained by the corrections department and the state’s execution protocol which stipulates that sodium cyanide must be used. “This is not a small detail – the specific compound is vitally important,” he said.

Perkovich added that “Frank Atwood is prepared to die. He is a man of Greek Orthodox faith and is preparing for this moment. But he does not want to be tortured and subjected to a botched execution.”

Inmates who choose the gas chamber are strapped into a chair in the centre of the vessel. Coloured levers are then used to drop the sodium cyanide into a pot of sulfuric acid under the chair, releasing the deadly hydrogen cyanide into the air.

Once the prisoner is dead, the gas is neutralized with ammonia until the chamber is safe to enter. “As a precautionary method,” the death chamber protocol says, “it is recommended that the team removing the body wear gas masks and rubber gloves and that the hair of the deceased inmate be ruffled in order to allow any residually trapped gas to escape.”

The documents record how prison staff engaged in role play during last year’s tests. Guards acted out as inmates who resisted going to their death, screaming: “This is murder”, “I’m innocent”, “You’re putting me down like an animal”, and “This is against everything America stands for”.

Despite Arizona’s best efforts to present its gas chamber as a reputable institution, the horrors of the past hang heavily over it. The Nazis used hydrogen cyanide under the trade name Zyklon B to kill more than 1 million people in gas chambers in Auschwitz and other extermination camps.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said: “You have to wonder what Arizona was thinking in believing that in 2021 it is acceptable to execute people in a gas chamber with cyanide gas. Did they have anybody study the history of the Holocaust?”

(source: Yahoo News)

NEVADA:

Nevada high court overturns death sentence for 2nd time

A 3-time convicted killer on Nevada’s death row for nearly 4 decades in a case that marked a cornerstone of state criminal procedure had his sentence overturned for the 2nd time.

In a 4-2 decision, the Nevada Supreme Court found last week that a mistake on a verdict form in the 2nd sentencing of Tracy Petrocelli in 2019 could have affected the jury’s decision.

Petrocelli, now 69, was first sentenced to die in 1982 for the shooting of James Wilson, a Reno used-car salesman. Petrocelli shot Wilson after he fled Washington state, where 5 months earlier he had killed his 18-year-old fiancee, Melanie Barker.

In 2017, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Petrocelli’s conviction in that case but ordered a new sentencing after finding in part that his penalty relied on testimony from a psychiatrist who examined Petrocelli without informing him of his Miranda rights.

He appealed his second sentence, arguing that the verdict forms contained a mistake in the wording as it required a finding “that any mitigating circumstance or circumstances are not sufficient to outweigh the aggravating circumstance found.”

To impose death, jurors must find at least 1 aggravating circumstance and decide that no mitigating circumstances outweigh the aggravating factors. Jurors considered 3 possible sentences: capital punishment, life in prison without parole or life in prison with parole.

“We conclude that the error affected Petrocelli’s substantial rights and he is entitled to a new sentencing hearing,” wrote Justices James Hardesty, Lidia Stiglich, Elissa Cadish and Abbi Silver. “Accordingly, we conclude Petrocelli has demonstrated plain error.”

Washoe County Deputy Public Defender John Petty argued that the verdict forms confused jurors and rendered their verdict unreliable.

“The relief we asked for is what we got,” Petty said Thursday. “So we’re happy with the decision.”

Nevada has not executed a prisoner since 2006.

Petrocelli’s initial appeal of the Wilson murder conviction led the Nevada Supreme Court to establish a three-prong test for whether a defendant’s “prior bad acts” can be included in evidence at trial.

Since the 1st guilty verdict, Petrocelli has been convicted of two other killings that occurred in 1981. One was of Barker, who was killed in October 1981. The other murder, of Dennis Gibson, was not prosecuted until the late 2000s. In that case, Petrocelli pleaded guilty to 2nd-degree murder.

All 3 of his victims were killed within 6 months of one another — from October 1981, when he shot Barker, to March 1982, when he killed Wilson. Petrocelli had not been convicted of murdering Barker when he stood trial for the shooting of Wilson, but the jury still learned of her death through testimony at trial.

In last week’s decision, Justices Douglas Herndon and Ron Parraguirre dissented, while Justice Kristina Pickering did not participate in the decision.

“Even if error could be found, it did not affect Petrocelli’s substantial rights and therefore reversal is not warranted,” the dissent stated.

Prosecutors in Washoe County, tasked with deciding whether to continue to pursue capital punishment for Petrocelli, could not be reached for comment.

(source: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

USA:

Citing Mental Incompetency From Racist Delusions, Appeal Lawyers Argue Trial Court Should Not Have Permitted Dylann Roof to Represent Himself

Lawyers for federal death row prisoner Dylann Roof argued to a federal appeals court that the avowed white supremacist’s convictions and death sentences in his trial for the 2015 murders of 9 Black churchgoers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina should be overturned because the judge presiding over his case unconstitutionally permitted Roof to represent himself while mentally incompetent.

In oral argument on May 25, 2021 before a specially constituted panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Roof’s appeal lawyers said that Roof suffered from racist delusions that prevented him from rationally determining whether to be represented by counsel at trial and in sentencing. Roof was “clearly delusional,” appeal counsel Sapna Mirchandani told the court.

At his 2017 trial, Roof told trial judge Richard Gergel that he would rather be sentenced to death than be labeled autistic or schizophrenic. Mirchandani said Roof believed his crime would spark a race war, that he would be rescued from prison at the end of that war, and that allowing his lawyers to present evidence of his mental illness would “thwart his rescue by white nationalists.” Mirchandani said Roof “emphatically believed he would be rescued after the race war,” but when Roof realized shortly before trial that his lawyers intended to present evidence that he was mentally ill, “at that point he started covering up all the delusions he had previously spoken about.”

Roof’s legal team asked the judges to vacate his death sentence and order a retrospective competency hearing.

One member of the appeal panel asked Mirchandani whether Roof’s beliefs meant he was incompetent to stand trial or just “horribly motivated.” “Is having despicable opinions and forecasts the same thing as incompetency in the legal sense to stand trial?,” the judge asked. “It is not his opinion. It is a delusion,” Mirchandani explained. “A delusion by definition is a fixed false belief that cannot be moved by objective contrary evidence.”

Federal prosecutor Ann O’Connell Adams argued against remanding the case for a new competency hearing, telling the court that there was “ample evidence” that “Roof had a rational and factual understanding of the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him.” “The district court noted his high I.Q., his ability to describe the proceedings in detail and …. understand the proceedings,” she said.

Roof’s lawyers argued that Judge Gergel had committed an “abuse of discretion” by failing to conduct an appropriate inquiry into Roof’s mental status, improperly preventing defense lawyers from presenting mental health evidence they believed would have shown Roof’s incompetence, and forcing Roof to make a false choice between keeping his lawyers and allowing them to present mental health evidence or representing himself to avoid the presentation of that evidence. Defense lawyer Alexandra Yates told to the panel, ”A defendant need not forgo the assistance of experienced attorneys in order to remain master of his own defense, with the right to choose the objective of that defense

The court also heard argument on Roof’s claim that his sentencing jury had been misled that he would present a future danger if sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors insisted to the jury that Roof could incite violence by writing letters while imprisoned. However, Yates told the appeal panel, the jury was never informed that Roof’s mail was screened and no objectional letters would be released from the maximum-security facility in which he was incarcerated.

That omission, Yates said, was prejudicial, pointing out that the jury then submitted two questions to the court, which Judge Gergel declined to answer, regarding whether Roof presented a future danger. “The judge refused to clear away this confusion,” Yates said, “depriv[ing] Mr. Roof of a fair penalty phase.”

Roof was prosecuted in federal district court in South Carolina by then assistant U.S. attorney Julius N. Richardson, whom President Donald Trump appointed in 2018 to serve as an appeals judge on the Fourth Circuit. To avoid any appearance of bias from deciding a case involving a colleague on the court, the entire Fourth Circuit bench recused itself and argument was conducted in front of a 3-judge panel imported from other federal appellate circuits.

In addition to his federal death sentence, Roof was sentenced to nine consecutive sentences of life without parole in South Carolina after pleading guilty in state court.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

ZIMBABWE:

Zimbabwe unveils sculpture of woman hanged for opposing colonial rule

Zimbabwe’s president unveiled a towering bronze statue in the centre of Harare, the capital, honouring a 19th-century black anti-colonialist heroine who was hanged for leading a rebellion against white occupation.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa vowed to press for the return of her skull from Britain.

Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana, more widely known as Mbuya (grandmother in Shona) Nehanda, was hanged in 1898 for leading an anti-colonial rebellion.

She was an influential spirit medium who rallied people to fight against the seizure of their land by colonialists.

After her death, Nehanda became a symbol of resistance and inspiration for the 1970s bush war that brought an end to the white-minority ruled country of Rhodesia and led to majority rule and the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980.

Mr Mnangagwa presided over the unveiling of the statue, more than 3 meters high, at a major intersection in Harare, close to the place where Nehanda was hanged.

The event was held to mark the Africa Day holiday.

The statue of Nehanda “is a declaration that we stand proud of our history and identity”, said Mr Mnangagwa.

Nationalists still say her name to evoke a spirit of patriotism and a major road and the maternity wing of one of the southern African country’s biggest hospitals in the capital, Harare, are named after her.

Zimbabwe, like some other African countries, has been trying to get European museums to return skulls and other items shipped there as part of war trophies during colonialism.

(source: Associated Press)

EGYPT:

Egyptian gets death sentence for slaying brother—-Convict buried the dead body in a house pit; The ruling, which can still be appealed, was issued by a criminal court in the province of Sharqia, north of Cairo, they added.

An Egyptian court had sentenced a local man to death after convicting him of fatally stabbing his younger brother, legal sources said.

The ruling, which can still be appealed, was issued by a criminal court in the province of Sharqia, north of Cairo, they added.

The case dates back to July last year when local police received a report that a 33-year-old wallpainter had mysteriously disappeared. Police interrogated his brother, aged 36, who admitted to having killed him by repeatedly stabbing him with a knife, claiming they often quarrelled and the victim was disobedient.

The self-confessed man said he had disposed of his brother’s dead body by burying him inside a pit in a house under construction.

(source: Gulf News)

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UN experts condemn execution of Coptic Christian

UN human rights experts* condemned the execution this month of Wael Saad Tawdros Mikhil, a member of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, after he was convicted of murder based on an alleged forced confession.

Tawdros was reportedly arbitrarily detained, tried, convicted and sentenced to death on 22 April 2019 for allegedly killing an abbot at a monastery. The conviction was upheld by the Court of Cassation on 1 July 2020. Known as Father Isiah at the time, he was subsequently defrocked by the church.

According to information received, he was executed on 9 May.

In a letter to the Egyptian authorities, UN experts expressed their grave concerns about the allegations of torture and ill-treatment of Father Isiah and his co-defendant. Father Isiah was reportedly detained incommunicado for 27 days, and subjected to ill-treatment and forced to re-enact the alleged crime.

“We are particularly concerned by the apparent violation of due process and the abandonment of the highest international safeguard standards required for the lawfulness of the death penalty,” the experts said. “We strongly condemn the Egyptian Government’s actions, especially after directly appealing to the Government, and regrettably, no response was provided prior to the execution.

“The execution was conducted in secrecy, which is a serious violation of the inherent dignity of the human person and, specifically, violates the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” they said.

The experts also expressed alarm with regards to the timing of the execution, taking place during the holy month of Ramadan, shortly after the celebration of Easter by the Coptic Church, and without duly providing notice to the prisoner or the family.

According to information received, over 50 executions have already taken place this year: 17 people were executed in April, 30 in March, six in February and one in January.

“The death penalty in retentionist states should be reserved for the most serious crimes, and should be imposed only with extreme exception. However, the prevalence with which the death penalty is being executed in Egypt does not demonstrate that it meets the most stringent requirements or moving towards its abolition.”

The experts called on the authorities to end their systematic use of the death penalty, including against religious minorities, and to put into effect a moratorium on pending executions with a view to ensuring that all death sentences are properly reviewed.

(source: miragenews.com)

IRAN:

Mother-of-2 rights activist is sentenced to 80 lashes and 30 months in jail in Iran for criticising the death penalty and accusing prison guards of torture

A prominent Iranian rights activist has been sentenced to 80 lashes and 30 months in prison after she criticised the death penalty and accusing prison officials of ‘torture and harassment’.

Narges Mohammadi, 49, a journalist, was handed the sentence after being found guilty of ‘propaganda against the system’ of the Islamic republic for condemning Iran’s use of capital punishment.

The mother-of-2 was also found guilty of ‘rebellion against the prison authority’ after she accused prison guards of torture.

Her lawyer, Mahmoud Behzadi-Rad, said that Mohammadi does not intend to appeal given the ‘circumstances’, without providing further details.

Meanwhile, the EU said the sentencing is ‘a worrying development’ and urged Iran to review Mohammadi’s case.

Mohammadi, a campaigner against the death penalty, was arrested in May 2015 when she was spokeswoman for the Defenders of Human Rights Centre in Iran, which was founded by lawyer and Nobel Peace price laureate Shirin Ebadi.

At that time, she was handed a 10-year prison sentence for ‘forming and managing an illegal group’, among other charges, but was released last year after her sentence was reduced.

But on Tuesday it was reported by reformist newspaper Etemad that Mohammadi had been tried and found guilty of ‘propaganda against the system’ of the Islamic Republic, as well as ‘defemation’ and ‘rebellion against the prison authority’.

She had been charged with having ‘issued a statement against the death penalty’, of having accused prison officials of ‘torture and harassment’, and of organising a sit-in protest while in prison.

Mohammadi was sentenced to 80 lashes, another 30 months in prison and 2 fines.

While serving her 1st prison sentence, Mohammadi was moved from Tehran’s Evin prison to a prison in Zanjan, in northwestern Iran, according to Reporters Without Borders.

The journalist had ‘lodged a complaint against her immoral and illegal transfer,’ her lawyer said.

She had also claimed she was ‘beaten and harassed’ in Evin Prison, reports Etemad newspaper.

‘Instead of examining her complaint, justice officials opened another case against my client,’ Mr Behzadi-Rad said.

‘Mohammadi has devoted her life to the cause of himan rights,’ an EU spokesperson said in a statement, adding that the sentencing is ‘a worrying development’.

‘The EU calls on Iran to review Mrs Mohammadi’s case in compliance with the applicable international human rights law, and taking into account her deteriorating health condition.’

In 2019, a prominent Iranian lawyer was jailed for 38 years and sentenced to 148 lashes after she defended women who removed their headscarves in public.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, an internationally renowned human rights lawyer jailed in Iran, was handed maximum sentence for all of her 7 convictions.

She represented protesters against the Islamic Republic’s mandatory headscarves for women, many of whom filmed themselves taking off the garment and posing it on social media.

Sotoudeh, who has represented opposition activists, was arrested in June 2018 and charged with spying, spreading propaganda and insulting Iran’s supreme leader, her lawyer said.

Iran, alongside other Middle Eastern countries Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, dominated a list of the world’s top executioners in 2020 with more than 400 executed, Amnesty International revealed last month.

The four countries accounted for 88 per cent of the at least 483 people who were executed.

Iran executed at least 246 people including three people who were under 18 when they committed the crime last year, Amnesty said.

The watchdog added that the death penalty in Iran ‘was increasingly used as a weapon of political repression against dissidents, protesters and members of ethnic minority groups’.

(source: dailymail.co.uk)

TAIWAN:

Court hands down death penalty for roadside murder

The Taipei District Court on Wednesday sentenced to death a 24-year-old man for fatally stabbing a man in New Taipei City’s Sindian District (??) in March last year.

Wang Ping-hua was found guilty of the murder of a man surnamed Lin, who at the time of the murder was sitting on his motorcycle waiting for his sister to finish work.

The incident happened in the wake of an argument over where to eat between Wang and his wife while driving in his vehicle, court documents showed.

Security camera footage showed that Wang stopped the vehicle near the elderly care center where Lin’s sister worked and approached him from behind holding a 20cm kitchen knife, it said.

Wang stabbed Lin in the back before walking back to his vehicle, where his wife was waiting, the filing said, citing the footage.

Dash camera footage from Wang’s vehicle showed him walking back to with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, it added.

Lin was rushed by ambulance to a local hospital, but died of severe blood loss due to the knife puncturing his heart, according to the filing.

The case at the time made headlines, and the video footage shown in news reports sparked an outcry over the seemingly random killing.

In court, Wang said that he often experienced fits of anger, adding that he has several mental and personality disorders, including intermittent explosive disorder, the filing indicated.

He asked the court for forgiveness, saying that he regretted the killing, it showed.

The court in its verdict said that a psychological report said that Wang was in control of his actions.

“The victim suffered much fear and pain,” the verdict said, adding that Wang left Lin bleeding to death at the scene.

Only the death sentence can restore justice to Lin’s family, it said, adding that the ruling would have a deterrent effect. After the verdict, Lin’s mother told reporters that she agrees with the ruling, hoping that it would be upheld in case Wang appeals the decision.

Wang should be executed as soon as possible so that the “nightmare” for her family can end, she said.

(source: Taiwan News)

MAY 27, 2021:

PENNSYLVANIA:

Death penalty trial in 4 West Chester homicides continued until fall 2022

Statements to law enforcement will be permitted in the 2021 trial for a West Chester Twp. man charged with killing 4 members of his family last year.

Butler County Common Pleas Judge Greg Howard filed a written decision this week denying the defense’s motion to suppress statements made by Gurpreet Singh.

Singh, 38, is charged with 4 counts of aggravated murder for the April 28, 2019 homicides. With specifications of using a firearm and killing 2 or more persons, Singh faces the death penalty if convicted.

Singh is accused of killing his wife, Shalinderjit Kaur, 39; his in-laws, Hakikat Singh Pannag, 59, and Parmjit Kaur, 62; and his aunt by marriage, Amarjit Kaur, 58, at their residence on Wyndtree Drive. All died of gunshot wounds.

The hearing for a motion to suppress evidence and statements by Singh filed by the defense team began back on March 6 with a day-long court session. Singh trial originally scheduled for September has been rescheduled for May 3, 2021.

After 2 postponements due to coronavirus concerns, the spring hearing continued in August.

Gurpreet Singh, who is charged with 4 counts of aggravated murder for allegedly killing his wife and other family member, was in Butler County Common Pleas. The defense team of Rittgers and Rittgers argued Singh’s rights were violated when he was questioned while handcuffed outside the scene and at the police station. But prosecutors say Singh was handcuffed for about 10 minutes for officer safety and as a witness when they found him bloody in the stairwell of the apartment building.

Prosecutors point out that Singh was questioned in a “soft interview room” where he was given water and was eventually able to call about his children, then was released and driven home.

At the March hearing, a police body camera video was played showing Singh from the moments after he called 911. Singh is seen wearing a red shirt, jeans and socks. As officers move toward him, blood is visible on his hands, shirt, pants and socks. He cries and says, “please help them.”

The August hearing focused on Sing’s questioning for several hours afterward.

During questioning by Detective Randy Farris, Singh said he spent the day at the apartment and didn’t leave until the afternoon because his back was hurting. Others, including his in-laws and children, left to shop, work and go to church, he said.

Crews searched a pond at the Lakefront at West Chester apartments on April 30, 2019, after the shooting deaths of four family members in an apartment there.

Later in the day, Singh, a truck driver, said he went to where his semi was parked. When he returned home, the door to the apartment was open and his family was dead, he said.

“When I saw my mom I thought she fell on the ground and hit her head,” Singh told the detective.

He referred to his in-laws as mom and dad.

After a couple of hours of questioning, Farris told Singh that his family had been shot and requested to conduct a test on his hands for the presence of gunshot residue. Singh told the detective he did own a gun and had not shot it in years.

Singh became upset when asked to take the gunshot residue test stating and said, “I want to go home right now.” He got up, but the detective told him to sit down and read him his Miranda rights.

When Singh said he wanted a lawyer, detectives didn’t ask additional questions but told Singh he was being detained until they could get a search warrant to swab his hands.

Defense attorney Charlie M. Rittgers argued Singh was not free to leave once placed in a cruiser and detained in the interrogation room. Rittgers said Singh asked more than 30 times to see his children.

Howard said in his ruling no coercive law enforcement tactics were used by police when questioning Singh.

“The defendant was in fact read his Miranda warnings after police obviously became concerned that the defendant may be less than forthcoming about his involvement in these homicides,” Howard wrote in the opinion.

(source: Journal-News)

NORTH CAROLINA:

New Hearings on Reopened Death Penalty Cases Began Last Week. The Outcomes Could Effectively End North Carolina’s Death Penalty.

In February 2007, Hasson Jamaal Bacote was 19 years old when he and another man broke into a home in Selma, North Carolina, in an attempted robbery. Six people were inside, including 18-year-old Anthony Surles, a senior at Smithfield- Selma High School.

Surles was shot and killed.

Surles’ murder wasn’t premeditated, but based on Bacote’s already lengthy teenage criminal rap sheet, Bacote was sentenced to death by lethal injection in 2009.

More than a decade later, Bacote’s case is back in court, thanks to a 2020 ruling from the North Carolina Supreme Court mandating that petitions of more than 100 death row inmates be heard by the courts due to evidence of racial bias in jury selection under the state’s Racial Justice Act. Not only does Bacote’s life depend on the outcome, but so does the future of the death penalty in North Carolina.

“I don’t know that there’s a weaker case for the death penalty than Mr. Bacote,” says Gretchen Engel, executive director of The Center for Death Penalty Litigation. “This case, with all of the other evidence we have, [shows] that racism permeates the death penalty in our state and nationwide.”

North Carolina has not executed anyone since 2006.

In 2009, the state legislature passed the Racial Justice Act, banning the death penalty in cases where race was determined to be a factor in sentencing. The law was retroactive for the 145 inmates on death row at the time; however, it was repealed in 2013 after Republicans seized control of the legislature. A lengthy legal battle has been waged since, ending in the state Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling that all pending petitions under the act had the right to be heard for reevaluation.

Statistical evidence has shown that the state systematically discriminated against Black jurors, as upheld in death row inmate Marcus Robinson’s 2012 appeal against the state, which found that Black jurors were twice as likely to be excluded from selection. 20 % of inmates on North Carolina’s death row had been sentenced by an all-white jury, and about 1/4 of inmates had been convicted by a jury with only a single person of color, studies also showed. In cases with White victims, the defendant was nearly 3 times more likely to be sentenced to death.

The bias was flippant in some cases, with prosecutors shown to have written notes calling jurors “blk wino,” or “blk, high drug.” Training sessions taught prosecutors to be more discreet in their decision-making by giving vague excuses like “body language” or “lack of eye contact” to keep Black jurors from the bench.

Now, it will be the burden of the state to prove that race did not taint the jury selection in Bacote’s trial. According to Duke law professor James Coleman, the court’s decision regarding the statistical findings likely will impact the rest of the hearings.

“If the court finds that evidence shows that race was a factor in Johnston County, then that decision will likely apply to other cases in Johnson County because the state will have had an opportunity to defend it in this case, and it doesn’t get a chance to challenge an issue that has already lost,” Coleman told the INDY. “So some of the evidence found in an individual case might be binding for the state in subsequent cases.”

Bacote’s hearing began Friday when his legal team appeared before Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr. at the Wake County Courthouse to request documents from the state, including jury selection notes and training records. Should his appeal succeed, he will be re-sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Regardless of the outcome, it will likely be appealed to higher courts. The state Supreme Court currently has a liberal majority on the bench, but the case is unlikely to reach it until after the 2022 election.

The hearing came, coincidentally, the same week that a North Carolina jury awarded $75 million—the largest-ever payout in a case of wrongful conviction—to former death row inmates Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, who spent nearly 31 years in prison for the 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl found dead in a soybean field. They were exonerated in 2014 after DNA evidence implicated Roscoe Artis, who was already serving life in prison at the time, for the murder.

The petitions slated to be heard under the Racial Justice Act will also be costly to the state, especially if, after the first few cases play out, Attorney General Josh Stein decides to continue trying each case individually.

“I would be interested in whether the Attorney General is considering looking at some of these early cases as test cases with the idea that after some number, when the evidence is clear, that he will stop defending these cases and go in and confess error,” Coleman says. “I don’t think he would have the courage to do that but if you were a private law firm representing a client in a series of cases like these […] at some point, you would advise your client that it is a waste of time to continue to defend these cases based on the evidence.”

A spokesperson for Stein’s office declined to comment on the specifics of the cases.

“Our office will follow the law as enacted by the legislature and in accordance with applicable court rulings,” they wrote via email.

(source: indyweek.com)

FLORIDA:

Will executions by firing squad force people to face the barbarity of the death penalty?

I watched 7 men get killed while working as a reporter.

Their deaths happened at the execution chamber at Florida State Prison near Starke. From 2006 until 2010, I witnessed most of the executions held there.

Sadly, I had to look up my old stories to figure out the exact number that I had seen. Most of the deaths blended into one another, other than a botched execution that led to an 18-month halt in the state holding executions.

The mundane nature of the proceedings was the point. Florida held some pretty awful executions to witness when the state used an electric chair, known as Old Sparky. Flames shot out of two different prisoner’s heads, before the use of the chair was ended.

The lethal injection process was designed to be less dramatic. In most cases, it just looks like someone getting drugs for an operation and losing consciousness — except for the execution of Ángel Díaz in 2006, which was botched so badly that he writhed in pain and took 30 minutes to die.

Ángel Díaz was convicted of the 1979 murder of a nightclub manager. He died by lethal injection on Dec.13, 2006, in an execution that was botched by the state. Díaz maintained his innocence until his death.

The state made changes to the procedure before resuming executions, but other problems have surfaced with lethal injections. Pharmaceutical companies blocked their drugs from being used in executions, causing some states to turn to alternative methods.

Earlier this month, South Carolina approved allowing a firing squad to be an execution option if lethal injection drugs are unavailable. Even though I oppose the death penalty, I find value in the idea of using firing squads for states continuing to hold executions. Maybe that way, death penalty supporters will be forced to face the barbarity of the act.

Or maybe not. Executions were long a public spectacle no matter how brutal. The last public execution in the U.S. was a hanging in Kentucky in 1936, which attracted more than 20,000 onlookers.

A new book I just finished, “Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty” by Maurice Chammah, connects our country’s dark history of racially motivated lynchings with the death penalty. Black people are over-represented on death row — in fact, while death sentences have decreased in recent years, an even larger proportion of those sentences are now being given to people of color.

The book focuses on Texas, which executes far more people than any other state. Florida ranks 4th, conducting 99 executions since 1976. But Florida leads the country in death-sentence exonerations, with 30 people freed from death row due to wrongful convictions over that period.

The possibility of executing an innocent person should be enough to do away with the death penalty. Or the expense: The Palm Beach Post estimated in 2000 that the death penalty costs Florida taxpayers about $50 million a year more than sentencing all 1st-degree murderers to life in prison.

Yet, while states are slowly getting rid of the death penalty, executions seem entrenched where it remains. Hopefully South Carolina’s shift to a firing squad marks a turning point.

While watching inmates get injected with chemicals is designed to be unmemorable, seeing someone shot to death by the state should be hard to forget.

(source: Nathan Crabbe, Opinion Editor, The Gainesville Sun)

OHIO:

A call to end the death penalty

St. Mary Catholic Church in Defiance has planted 135 red crosses in the lawn in front of the church, as a call to end the death penalty. The 135 crosses, which represent all 135 inmates on death row in Ohio, are a reminder for the faithful to pray for those on death row, for the victims and their families, and for an end to the death penalty.

(source: The Crescent-News)

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John Mack Jr. pleads not guilty to 17 counts in ex-girlfriend’s death—-Body of Melinda Kay Davis was found in trunk of her car on March 14

John Mack Jr. entered a plea of not guilty to all 17 counts in the aggravated murder case in Richland County Common Pleas Court.

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

He was indicted on 17 counts earlier this month including aggravated murder, kidnapping, and tampering with evidence.

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

2 Mansfield attorneys appointed to represent Mack

Mansfield attorneys Robert H. Whitney and Bernard R. Davis were appointed Tuesday to represent Mack, who was found indigent, according to court records. A pretrial hearing was set for 3 p.m. June 23.

Mack, 43, is charged with 2 counts of aggravated murder including 1 that meets death penalty criteria; 2 additional counts of murder; 2 counts of kidnapping; 6 counts of tampering with evidence; abduction; grand theft of a motor vehicle; gross abuse of a corpse; domestic violence, and obstructing official business, according to the indictment filed Wednesday with the Richland County Clerk of Courts.

Mack was charged in March with kidnapping and receiving stolen property.

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

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

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

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

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

Bond set at $1 million

Mack Jr. was arraigned on March 5, with bond set at $1 million.

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

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

(source: Mansfield News Journal)

KENTUCKY:

Frankfort man indicted on murder charge in 2019 stabbing

A Frankfort man was indicted by a Franklin Circuit Court grand jury Tuesday on a murder charge in connection with an April 2019 stabbing on Owenton Avenue.

Edward Gravely, 39, is charged with murder, a capital offense, and 1st-degree persistent felony offender.

In Kentucky, a capital offense is punishable by the death penalty, however the sentence is decided by the jury and must be unanimous.

At 10:40 p.m. on April 12, 2019, while conducting a well-being check in the 700 block of Owenton Avenue, officers found Phillip J. Hellard, 45, unresponsive on the side of the road from an apparent stab wound to the chest, according to police reports.

Hellard was pronounced dead at the scene.

Frankfort Assistant Police Chief Lynn Aubrey told The State Journal at the time that Hellard sustained a single stab wound to the center of his chest.

Gravely has a lengthy felony record, including convictions for 2nd-degree rape, a Class C felony, in Gallatin County in May 2001 and 3rd-degree rape, a Class D felony, in April 2009 in Owen County. In May 2012 he was convicted of receiving stolen property (less than $10,000), a Class D felony, and in November 2013 he was convicted of failure to comply with sex offender registration, first offense, a Class D felony.

According to Aubrey, a warrant for Gravely’s arrest has not yet been issued by the courts.

(source: The State Journal)

OKLAHOMA:

Justices signal they could limit Indian Country ruling

The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted Oklahoma’s request to retain custody of a man who has been on death row for killing 3 Native Americans, a sign the court may be willing to limit the fallout from last year’s ruling that much of eastern Oklahoma remains a tribal reservation.

The action came in the case of Shaun Bosse, whose conviction and death sentence for the murders of Katrina Griffin and her two young children were overturned by a state appeals court.

The order makes it likely that the high court will weigh in soon on the extent of its 5-4 ruling last year in McGirt v. Oklahoma.

The state court had held that state prosecutors had no authority to try Bosse for the killings, which took place on the Chicksaw Nation’s reservation, based on the McGirt decision.

Hundreds of criminal convictions, including several death sentences for 1st-degree murder, have been set aside, and tribal and federal officials have been scrambling to refile those cases in tribal or U.S. district court.

Oklahoma argued to the Supreme Court that it can prosecute crimes committed by non-Native Americans like Bosse, even if the scene of the crime is on tribal land. The state also said there might be technical legal reasons for rejecting Bosse’s claims.

The three liberal justices dissented from the order but did not explain their disagreement. They were in last year’s majority, along with Justice Neil Gorsuch, the author of the opinion. Gorsuch did not publicly dissent from Wednesday’s order.

The fifth member of the McGirt majority was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September. She has been replaced by Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Bosse already has been charged with the killings in federal court, and he had been scheduled to be transferred to federal custody. But he could not be sentenced to death under the federal charges.

(source: Associated Press)

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Supreme Court says Oklahoma man should stay on death row as tribal case plays out

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that an inmate on Oklahoma’s death row must stay in the state’s custody while the high court considers tribal jurisdiction issues.

The court issued a stay in the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals’ ruling tossing the murder conviction and death sentence of Shaun Michael Bosse.

Bosse was convicted of 3 counts of 1st-degree murder in 2010 for the deaths of his girlfriend, Katrina Griffin, and her 2 children, Christian Griffin and Chasity. Griffin and her children were members of the Chickasaw Nation and their slayings happened on tribal lands.

The conviction was overturned earlier this year after the Supreme Court ruled that state courts don’t have jurisdiction over crimes that happen on tribal land and involve tribal members. In July 2020, the court ruled that a large swath of eastern Oklahoma is considered the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation, meaning state prosecutors don’t have authority to pursue cases involving Native Americans there.

The high court voted 5-4 in favor of a Jimcy McGirt, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation who is serving a 500-year prison sentence for child molestation.

The so-called McGirt ruling was expected to have repercussions for hundreds of convictions won by state prosecutors in the region, including in the Bosse case.

Wednesday’s stay allows the Oklahoma attorney general’s office to make its case to the Supreme Court, arguing that McGirt shouldn’t apply to Bosse since he’s not Native American. The Chickasaw Nation said it supports the federal prosecution of Bosse for the slayings.

Even if the Supreme Court determines that the McGirt ruling still applies in the Bosse case, it doesn’t mean Bosse will walk free. Rather, it means he must be prosecuted under the Major Crimes Act. Only federal prosecutors can bring a case in crimes committed by or against American Indians on reservation land.

(source: upi.com)

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Commutation hearing for death row inmate Julius Jones set for September

After spending more than two decades on Oklahoma’s death row for a murder he maintains he never committed, Julius Jones will finally receive a commutation hearing at 10:00 a.m. on September 13.

Despite mounting opposition from Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater and Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, Jones will finally get to assert his innocence at the September hearing, Jones’ legal team confirmed to KFOR.

While attending the University of Oklahoma, a jury convicted 19-year-old Julius Jones of shooting and killing Edmond businessman Paul Howell in Howell’s driveway in July 1999.

Commutation hearing will highlight inadequate council, racist juror

Yet, the lawyer Jones received had never tried a capital murder case before, didn’t let Jones or anyone from his family testify, and failed to expose evidence and an alibi pointing to Jones’ innocence.

“As God is my witness, I was not involved in any way in the crimes that led to Howell being shot and killed,” Jones said in a previous clemency report. “I have spent the past 20 years on death row for a crime I did not commit, did not witness and was not at.”

The judge at the time of the trial also failed to exclude a juror who made explicitly racist remarks about Jones, which ABC’s “The Last Defense” brought to light, elevating his case and helping him garner millions of supporters, celebrities and athletes from Kim Kardashian to Baker Mayfield.

Many compare Jones’ case to that of Walter McMillian’s, played by Jamie Foxx in the 2019 film “Just Mercy”.

Oklahoma known for racial disparities in criminal legal system

The Jones family, which maintains Julius was at home with them at the time of the murder, hopes he will finally get a fair shot at freedom. Although, it remains to be seen whether Jones will receive a fair hearing in a state where prosecutors are more likely to call for the death penalty when the victim is White, according to a 2017 report in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.

“Conversely, we find that homicide cases that take the lives of male victims who are members of racial and ethnic minority groups are the least likely to receive a death sentence,” the report’s conclusion stated.

Most recently, an Arkansas inmate Roderick Wesley claimed to recognize a co-defendant as the real killer after watching a documentary on Jones’ case. Wesley signed an affidavit claiming that Christopher Jordan confessed to the murder while in contact with Wesley during an interstate prison transfer, according to the Frontier.

Days later, on March 8, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 to send Jones’ case to stage 2, allowing him a full hearing. It came amidst a campaign of intimidation from Oklahoma County DA David Prater, who attempted to have a parole board member removed for a tweet explaining Jones’ case and the commutation process.

Attorneys for Oklahoma attempts to obstruct commutation process

Parole Board member Adam Luck refused to resign after Prater accused him of having a conflict of interest for retweeting a 2019 post from Kim Kardashian explaining Jones’ case. Prater also highlighted Luck’s involvement with a non-profit that assists recently released prisoners as an example of a conflict of interest.

Yet, despite Prater’s unusual attempt to threateningly insert himself into a legal commutation process, the board has chosen to give Julius Jones what his 1999 trial lawyer never did, a chance to plead his innocence with all of the available evidence.

Even the state’s highest-ranking lawyer attempted to stop Jones from receiving a fair commutation hearing. Last year, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter told media that calling attention to Jones’ case brings nothing but pain to the Howell family. Instead of doing his due diligence and assessing all the available evidence, including an alibi that was never brought up in the original trial, Hunter appears to want Julius Jones to die quietly. This week he vaguely announced plans to step down due to “personal matters that are becoming public“.

Relatives and supporters remain hopeful

But the family, along with millions of supporters, remain determined to save Jones’ life. Back in February, supporters marched to the Pardon and Parole Board’s office to deliver 20 boxes containing 6 million signatures in support of his release.

Hope has also come in the form of Jones’ new attorney, Dale Baich. He twice argued in support of Jones to the U.S. Supreme Court. First, he illuminated the capital punishment disparities based on race in Oklahoma in 2019. More recently, he called attention to the racist juror in Jones’ original trial. In both arguments, the Supreme Court declined to take up the case, eliminating the possibility of federal intervention.

Ultimately, while millions across the nation want to see Jones freed, the decision will come down to a recommendation from a few board members on September 13 and the final word from Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt.

Family friend, activist and minister Cece Jones-Davis said she’s thrilled for Julius and his family in an email to The Black Wall Street Times.

“This has taken too long, but thanks be to God, Julius will finally receive a hearing. We need our officials to delay this no further,” Jones-Davis said.

(source: Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has written for OU’s student newspaper the OU Daily as well as OKC-based Red Dirt Report. He now lives in Tulsa and serves as the Associate Editor for The Black Wall Street Times—-theblackwallsttimes.com)

IDAHO:

Idaho Couple Face Murder Charges in Deaths of Children and a Former Spouse

Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell, the mother and stepfather of Tylee Ryan and Joshua Vallow, were indicted by a grand jury this week. They drew international attention for their so-called doomsday beliefs.

Headlines refer to them as the “doomsday couple,” a pair who have drawn international attention for their so-called apocalyptic religious beliefs and the recurring demises of their immediate family members under questionable circumstances.

The Lifetime television network even made a movie about them.

On Tuesday, prosecutors in Idaho announced that the husband and wife, Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow, had been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of 2 of Ms. Vallow’s children. Mr. Daybell was also charged with 1st-degree murder in the death of his previous spouse, a case that received renewed attention after the disappearance of Ms. Vallow’s children.

The couple, who were indicted by a grand jury in Fremont County, Idaho, on Monday, could face the death penalty, prosecutors said.

“Members of the grand jury deliberated and determined there is probable cause to believe the Daybells willfully and knowingly conspired to commit several crimes that led to the death of 3 innocent people,” Lindsey Blake, the Fremont County prosecutor, said at a news conference.

The couple’s indictment came nearly a year after investigators found the remains of Ms. Vallow’s children Tylee Ryan, 17, and Joshua Vallow, 7, last June, buried at the home of Mr. Daybell, who was their stepfather.

Prosecutors did not say how the children had been killed, but the couple’s religious beliefs played a role, according to the indictment. Mr. Daybell and Ms. Vallow “did endorse and teach religious beliefs for the purpose of justifying” the murders, the indictment said.

Mr. Daybell’s previous wife, Tammy Daybell, 49, was found dead in October 2019 in her home in Idaho. Her death was initially attributed to natural causes, but the authorities ordered that her remains be exhumed, suspecting that her death might have been connected to Ms. Vallow’s missing children.

According to the indictment, Mr. Daybell and Ms. Vallow said in a text message exchange that Ms. Daybell had been in “limbo” and was “being possessed by a spirit named Viola.” Mr. Daybell had increased the amount of coverage in a life insurance policy for Ms. Daybell in September 2019, a little more than a month before her death.

Mr. Daybell, 52, and Ms. Vallow, 47, married shortly after their previous spouses had died.

A lawyer for Mr. Daybell did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

Ms. Vallow’s lawyer said in a text message on Tuesday that he was not immediately prepared to comment.

Both Mr. Daybell and Ms. Vallow have been in custody since last year, when Ms. Vallow was arrested in Hawaii on charges that included two felony counts of desertion and nonsupport of dependent children. Mr. Daybell was arrested last June on felony charges related to the disappearance of his stepchildren. He and Ms. Vallow have pleaded not guilty to those earlier charges.

In yet another layer of the story, Ms. Vallow’s previous husband, Charles Vallow, was shot and killed in Arizona in July 2019 by Ms. Vallow’s brother, Alexander Cox, who told the police that his brother-in-law had hit him in the head with a baseball bat and that the shooting was a case of self-defense. Ms. Vallow had been estranged from her first husband at the time, and Mr. Cox has since died.

The religious views of Mr. Daybell and Ms. Vallow have drawn international attention to the case.

Mr. Daybell has written several novels with recurring doomsday themes. In divorce records obtained by the Phoenix television station Fox 10, Ms. Vallow’s previous husband said that she had told him that she believed she was “receiving spiritual revelations and visions to help her gather and prepare those chosen to live in the New Jerusalem after the Great War as prophesied in the Book of Revelations.”

Both Mr. Daybell and Ms. Vallow have been linked to an entity called Preparing People, which aims to help prepare people for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, according to its website.

In addition to the murder charges, Mr. Daybell and Ms. Vallow were charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and grand theft by deception in connection with the children’s deaths, and one count of conspiracy to commit 1st-degree murder that stemmed from Ms. Daybell’s death.

The indictment said that Ms. Vallow had continued to collect several months’ worth of Social Security survivor benefits for both children and Social Security child care payments for one of them after their deaths.

Mr. Daybell was also charged with 2 counts of insurance fraud, and Ms. Vallow was charged with 1 count of grand theft.

In a news release last month, Lifetime announced that Ms. Vallow would be portrayed in a movie called “Doomsday Mom: The Lori Vallow Story” that is scheduled to be broadcast on June 26.

A spokeswoman for Lifetime said in an email on Tuesday night that the movie would still be broadcast and that the producers had been closely monitoring the developments in the case. An update will appear at the end of the movie, she said.

(source: New York Times)

ARIZONA:

Arizona Supreme Court Sets Deadline For Warrant Seeking Frank Atwood’s Execution

The Arizona Supreme Court has set a deadline for prosecutors to request a warrant to execute the state’s 1st death row inmate since a botched execution in 2014.

Arizona’s highest court said prosecutors have until July 21 to request a warrant to execute convicted killer Frank Atwood, 64. The order said the court expects to consider the state’s request on August 24.

The court also rejected Atwood’s request to hear evidence about the execution protocol.

Prosecutors have said the pentobarbital to be used in the execution would expire 90 days after the chemical powder is compounded into an injectable fluid, but Atwood’s attorneys say the drug is unusable 45 days after it is compounded, according to the Associated Press.

Joseph Perkovich, one of Atwood’s attorneys, also said the state should not seek an execution warrant for Atwood “given the persisting serious unanswered questions” about his conviction and sentence.

“Moreover, much more needs to be learned about the compounded pharmaceuticals Arizona plans to use in the numerous executions the Attorney General has stated he expects to carry out,” Perkovich said in a statement to Newsweek.

The Arizona Supreme Court said prosecutors have until July 21 to request a warrant to execute convicted killer Frank Atwood.

“Arizona’s courts need to ensure that the state does not attempt executions with inadequate drugs that would fail to take the condemned’s life or would cause severe pain in violation of the Constitution.”

Perkovich said Atwood has been wheelchair-bound for years due to “severely degenerative spinal conditions,” and that it “presents special risks for a failed execution.”

He added: “The state of Arizona’s abysmal track record requires meaningful scrutiny of its plan but, so far, the state judiciary has shown no regard for the gravity of the power that the Attorney General intends to exercise.”

Atwood and Clarence Dixon are the first inmates Arizona is seeking to put to death since the prolonged execution of Joseph Wood in 2014. Wood’s execution took almost 2 hours, and witnesses reported he gasped and struggled to breathe for much of that time.

Arizona officials had struggled to obtain lethal injection drugs in the years since Wood was executed, but they revealed in March that they had obtained pentobarbital and could resume executions.

Last month, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office announced he had notified the state Supreme Court of his intent to seek execution warrants for Atwood and Dixon, and asked the court to establish a briefing schedule so the office can comply with the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry’s testing and disclosure obligations regarding the drug that will be used in the executions.

“On September 17, 1984, 8-year-old Vicki Lynn Hoskinson rode her pink bicycle to mail a letter and never came home,” Brnovich tweeted Tuesday.

“Today, the Arizona Supreme Court set a briefing schedule for the warrant of execution of the person responsible for her death.”

Arizona’s push to resume executions comes as officials in Texas, the nation’s busiest death penalty state, came under fire after Quintin Jones was executed last week without any media witnesses present.

(source: Newsweek)

NEVADA:

Prosecutors ponder death penalty for suspect in slaying of teen’s father

Prosecutors in Las Vegas plan to decide soon whether to seek the death penalty for a teen accused of killing his girlfriend’s father.

Aaron Guerrero, 18, and Sierra Halseth, 16, face murder charges in the April slaying of the girl’s father, 45-year-old Daniel Halseth.

During a brief court hearing Wednesday, Chief Deputy District Attorney Christopher Hamner said his office would decide within the next month whether to seek capital punishment for Guerrero. Prosecutors could not seek death for Sierra Halseth because the U.S. Supreme Court has barred executions for crimes committed while younger than 18.

Prosecutors have said Daniel Halseth was stabbed to death inside his home before his daughter and Guerrero fled to Salt Lake City.

The couple recorded a video of themselves laughing and joking about having sex after the killing, prosecutors said.

Along with the murder charges, the 2 were indicted last week on charges of conspiracy, arson, robbery and fraudulent use of a credit card. They are being held without bail.

Daniel Halseth’s body was found badly burned on April 9 in the garage of his northwest Las Vegas home, near Durango and Alta drives. It appeared that the killers tried to dismember his body, according to prosecutors.

The living room and backyard of the home also had been burned. Throughout the home, investigators found Home Depot and ATM receipts.

Surveillance video from Home Depot showed Guerrero buying saws and gloves that later were found inside the Halseth home, prosecutors said, while ATM surveillance video showed Sierra Halseth using her father’s debit cards.

Sierra Halseth and Guerrero dated from June to December but were kept from seeing each other after their parents learned they planned to run away to Los Angeles, according to court documents.

The day before Daniel Halseth’s body was found, Guerrero ran away from home and the teenagers purchased a circular saw, saw blades, bleach, lighter fluid, disposable gloves and dropcloth from stores near the victim’s home, according to police reports.

Attorneys for the teens have not commented on the allegations.

(source: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

USA:

Philadelphia Lawyer Marc Bookman’s New Book Reveals the Continued Injustice of the Death Penalty—-“A Descending Spiral: Exposing the Death Penalty in 12 Essays” Exposes the Fatal Flaws of Capital Punishment

When you work closely in the system from the defense side, you see how outrageous the death penalty is.” — Marc Bookman, author

Marc Bookman, co-founder of the Philadelphia-based Atlantic Center for Capital Representation and a well-established writer, wrote “A Descending Spiral: Exposing the Death Penalty in 12 Essays” with a singular purpose: Awaken the public to a death penalty justice system he deems as broken, capricious and simply unfair.

The veteran capital defense lawyer describes a dozen harrowing cases, as he condemns capital punishment in America in a devastatingly clear and informative manner. The series of cases compiled by Bookman over the past 30 years highlights a broken legal system and exposes the dark side of the death penalty system and the fatal misconceptions that underpin its logic.

“When you work closely in the system from the defense side, you see how outrageous the death penalty is,” said Bookman in a recent interview.

“There’s a reason the prosecution tries to limit how much the jury knows about the person who is accused, because if the jury spent 30 minutes just talking to the guy — whether he is severely mentally ill, low functioning, or just did an absolutely terrible thing — the jury would never vote to execute him. The jurors would immediately see the humanity in the person, however that manifested itself.”

In a review of the book, international criminal defense attorney Michael G. Karnavas said, “What makes this book interesting and well worth reading is that in these 12 essays, you are exposed to all that is wrong with the death penalty and why it needs to be abolished. Even if you think you know all there is to know about the death penalty, ‘A Descending Spiral’ will not fail to inform. He [Bookman] comes with vast experience, appreciating the hidden nooks and crannies of this highly complex field, from the front line of the trial courts to the appellate courts, where so much of the legal life-saving maneuvering takes place. “Bookman lets the facts breathe, without forcing a message or aiming for heavy-handed persuasion.”

Before his current role as the executive director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation — a nonprofit that provides services for those facing possible execution — Marc Bookman spent many years in the Homicide Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia.

The U.S. ranks sixth in state-sanctioned killings, behind China, Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. “For us to be in that company,” Bookman says, “is an international embarrassment.”

“A Descending Spiral” is available at https://bit.ly/3fJCqUZ.

(source: einnews.com)

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Why the Death Penalty Lingers On in America

Support for capital punishment has declined in the U.S. to its lowest level in 50 years. In March, Virginia, formerly one of the staunchest supporters of the death penalty, became the 23rd state to abolish it.

But getting rid of it entirely promises to be an uphill struggle, says Marc Bookman, executive director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation. Bookman, whose nonprofit organization provides services for individuals on Death Row, explains why in his recently published book, A Descending Spiral – a collection of 12 essays exploring the systemic, political and emotional barriers to full abolition.

In a chat with TCR, Bookman, who served in the Homicide Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, discusses why the most draconian forms of punishment retain traction among many players in the U.S. justice system, why he believes things might change if prosecutors were held accountable for their actions at trial, and how capital punishment decisions are affected by systemic racism in the courts.

The following transcript has been edited for space and clarity.

The Crime Report: How did your experiences working in the justice system lead you to writing this book?

Marc Bookman: I’ve always been a writer, but you know what brought me to write these essays was really my work. The one thing I’m absolutely certain of is that if people knew the facts about the death penalty, they would think differently. There’s a quote from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises in which a character is asked how he went bankrupt. “Two ways,” he answers. “Gradually, then suddenly.” That’s capital punishment.

When you first get into it, you start to learn about all the problems with it slowly; but, after a while, it all just falls on your head like a stone. The problems become more and more apparent the more work you do. This book reflects that. I would start out writing an essay about a bad lawyer, but the essay would also quickly expose racism, or a prosecutor who hides evidence, or the courts that purposely overlook a problem with the case. And that’s the amazing thing: any capital punishment case almost never has just one problem. In these cases, all of the problems tend to coalesce.

TCR: Your book points out that courts and judges will often override a jury’s more lenient decision and push for capital punishment. What explains this dogged pursuit of the most punitive forms of justice?

MB: I think a desire for retribution is still a regrettable part of human nature. Why did we elect Donald Trump president? He said a lot of venal, vindictive and mean-spirited things, and yet he still got a significant percentage of the population to vote for him. However, I’m also absolutely convinced that the courts, politicians, and prosecutors are all under the misperception that capital punishment is more popular than it really is. I think there are two explanations why courts go out of their way to sentence someone to death: Either the people involved are venal, or they feel that the public wants them to do this and that they may lose an election, or be frowned upon in their community if they don’t.

TCR: Conversations about capital punishment often focus on the actions of police, attorneys, judges, and the lower courts. But your book reveals that even the Supreme Court often upholds or even flat-out ignores these cases where a person’s life is on the line.

MB: There are common misconceptions that the law, as written, creates a revolving door where people commit horrible crimes and then walk out the front door because of a technicality. The reality is exactly the opposite. Some of our most regrettable laws, such as the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (ADPA), are written so that judges can feel better about ignoring compelling evidence. And it’s the beginning of the road to fairness and justice that is the most important.

So, if a bad ruling or [bad] lawyering occurs at the beginning of a trial-and it often does-ADPA is designed to shield that bad behavior from scrutiny. And once a state court makes a bad decision based on bad evidence and information, then that decision is deferred through the whole process. So, we see federal courts saying this is a decision made by the state court, we owe a deference; and, therefore, the Act prevents us from doing anything in this case. ADPA is designed to give cover to judges that, frankly, want to screw our clients. It’s one of the worst laws ever written and the technicalities are really designed to hurt defendants, not help them.

TCR: Your book also reveals that judges make decisions based on how they will affect their careers, often deciding cases one way or another only because they’re worried about losing their jobs.

MB: [Many polls on capital punishment ask people whether they are in favor of the death penalty] but that’s the wrong question. The right question is: what do you feel is the appropriate punishment for someone who has been convicted of first-degree murder? The death penalty, life without parole and restitution to the victims, or life with parole and restitution to the victims? That’s the correct question because it’s the question jurors are faced with. It doesn’t matter what a guy thinks when he’s walking down the street, it matters what he thinks when he’s imposing a sentence someone convicted of an death penalty-eligible crime.

When you ask that question, the answers come out to about 35 or 40 percent in favor of the death penalty, 35 or 50 percent in favor of life without parole and restitution to the victims, and the rest is life in favor of the possibility of parole and restitution. And once judges and politicians realize that the death penalty is not nearly as popular as they think it is, they won’t feel compelled to act in a fearful way to support the death penalty and they won’t feel that they’re going to lose the next election. The death penalty is simply not the trigger that it used to be. And the sooner we can persuade politicians and judges that they can do what’s right, and not what is necessary to keep their jobs, then the better off we’ll be in terms of justice.

TCR: How does politics influence the conversation?

MB: Politics is a broad word. I think that until relatively recently the public might have thought that the U.S. Supreme Court was getting its answers from law books. In other words, they might have thought the answer is there somewhere, we’ll go and find the case that addresses this point of law, and then we’ll write an opinion and that point of law will be explicated, and we’ll know the answer.

The decision on whether someone should live or die is the only moral decision that we make in the justice system

What we now know, and what people like me and many others have known for years, is that the answer does not lie in the law books. It lies in, for lack of a better word and relying on the broadest use of the word, politics. Which is that people bring their thoughts, background, and experience to their decision making. W.B. Yeats said, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” You can’t separate politics from legal decisions, because the answer doesn’t lie in the law books; it lies in what the court thinks is the right answer. The decision on whether someone should live or die is the only moral decision that we make in the justice system; so, how do you separate out a person’s individual “politics” from that decision? I don’t think you can.

TCR: Your book exposes the countless number of circumstances that can affect the course of a death penalty case. Among them are the failings of prosecutors and defense attorneys. How do we improve their accountability?

MB: Let me deal with prosecutors first. The book describes a number of circumstances where prosecutors intentionally hid evidence or intentionally didn’t turn over exculpatory evidence. And if we catch someone intentionally hiding evidence, and we prosecute that person for obstruction of justice, I guarantee you fewer prosecutors are going to hide evidence. How do we deter theft? We prosecute it. How do we deter any crime? We prosecute it.

When a prosecutor is intentionally hiding evidence, that’s a crime. At the very least it’s obstruction of justice, and it may be more than that. There’s an essay in the book, where three police officers take the Fifth when confronted with the errors in their own investigation. Nothing happened to them. How do we expect to stop misbehavior by the prosecution or the police if we’re not going to prosecute them when they are actually seeking refuge in the Bill of Rights? Prosecute a couple of them, and they’ll stop doing it.

Defense attorneys are a different issue. If a defense attorney intentionally undermines the case, that’s a crime as well, but you don’t see that. What you do see is incredibly sloppy behavior. The answer isn’t to disbar them or force them to testify; or punish them. It’s to stop giving them more cases and have them practice some other kind of law. There has to be a merit-based scrutiny of defense attorneys handling capital cases.

cover artThe best example possible is Virginia. About 15 years ago, experienced and well-resourced capital defense attorneys were brought in, and the state of Virginia, enlightened by the fact that the death penalty was not realistic anymore, went from being one of the highest execution states, to not having a death penalty at all. Instead of wasting a huge amount of money trying to fix all the mistakes that defense attorneys are making, let’s put good defense attorneys in there from the beginning who aren’t going to make those mistakes.

TCR: Why do you think there is a disconnect between the understanding and acceptance of scientific evidence by the courts, especially when it comes to things like mental illness?

MB: 50 years from now we’re going to look back at our understanding of the brain, and be appalled. When you talk about scientific evidence, the first problem is that the courts consider that kind of science soft. Severe mental illness is seen as an excuse. It’s not like cancer, it’s not like a stroke, it’s not like heart disease. But plenty of people know right now that severe mental illness is just as profound, just as provable, and just as able to be assessed as any of those issues. We have to overcome this prejudice, the idea that (mental illness) is some kind of an excuse for a person who is just evil. Anybody that does what I do doesn’t believe in evil. That’s naive, black-and-white nonsense, and it’s just wrong.

TCR: When it comes to the problem of understanding evidence in the courts, please explain the role of Brady evidence and the potential for biased interpretation?

MB: One of the biggest ironies in criminal justice is that the people prosecuting the case are the same people that decide what evidence should be provided to the defense. The Brady Rule requires that exculpatory evidence be turned over to the defense. Ideally there would be some neutral body that was looking over the evidence and making a decision on what should be turned over and what shouldn’t or doesn’t have to be turned over. In a world where we really want to make sure we’re not making mistakes, where we really want to make sure every defendant has a fair shot, we would have a totally open file policy and the defense would get everything.

A huge irony in our practice is that the wolves guard the henhouse

But we’re not living in an ideal world. The prosecution has to decide what gets turned over and what doesn’t get turned over, but of course they have the motivation to win and, presumably, believe their case is a strong case. So what seems significant to me may not seem significant to them. But a huge irony in our practice is that the wolves guard the henhouse.

TCR: One essay in your book focuses on how a judge’s racism affects his decisions. Please discuss the role of race in capital punishment.

MB: Justice Lewis Powell, late in his life, said the one decision he really regretted the most was McCleskey v. Kemp. It’s important that he said that. McCleskey demonstrated pretty clearly that there’s an incredible racial bias that permeates our justice system. That cannot come as a surprise to any person who’s paying attention. And if we find racial discrimination in these capital cases, what’s to say that the same discrimination doesn’t permeate the rest of the cases that are not capital? And of course it does. It’s silly to think that we have racial discrimination in capital cases but we don’t have them in forgery cases or in robbery cases.

Justice William Brennan once said there’s a fear of too much justice. He meant that (judges) were afraid to be honest about what the evidence shows, because of the consequences of that honesty. We have to deal with the fact that our society still has an endemic racial discrimination problem. The story of the racist judge you’re referring to is not the only one. In Pennsylvania. we had a scandal recently that rocked the judiciary. Two justices on the (state) Supreme Court had to resign because they were passing around racist, pornographic and misogynistic emails between the court, the prosecution and a couple of defense attorneys.

This problem is systemic and you can find problems like it in almost every case. McCleskey v. Kemp proves that we basically looked the other way at pretty clear evidence of race discrimination then and we’re still looking the other way now.

TCR: Along with discrimination, another systemic problem that you discuss is the issue of confessions.

MB: False confessions are so counterintuitive to most of us. Who in God’s name thinks that if they confessed to a horrible crime, they can then just go home? There’s a recognition, even by our Supreme Court, that lower-functioning people are more likely to confess. That’s one of the reasons the courts decided you can’t seek the death penalty against the intellectually disabled. Another reason, aside from moral ones, is that they are more likely to get caught up in the criminal justice system.

The story dealing with this in the book is pretty amazing. Not only did two people confess, but one of them took a deal for 15 years in prison and then testified against the other one. There was no doubt that both were clearly innocent, and they were later released from prison because of their innocence. But think about the power of false confessions when a low-functioning guy, who was probably intellectually disabled, was actually able to testify to a crime that he didn’t commit. Then look at the list of DNA exonerations, where we found out who the right person was by DNA.

A significant percentage of exonerees had actually confessed to the original crime, and a lot of these false confessions are caused by the police. In the story described in the book, the police came to the conclusion that the individuals they arrested were guilty after firstg threatening them with the death penalty. The method of interrogation used by the police is essentially designed to coerce confessions. And the biggest problem with false confessions is that a jury cannot imagine somebody falsely confessing. And the eleven always pressure the one who can.

TCR: At the end of the book, you say that change is coming, albeit slowly. Where do you see this change occurring and why are you optimistic for the future?

MB: I’m hopeful because I can look at the data and see that sentences are going down and executions are going down. And the explanation for that is the more people know, the less they are enamored of capital punishment. The more we know that lawyers screw up, that people falsely confess, that juries make mistakes, that race discrimination has permeated our justice system, the more all those things come into the public’s view and the less enamored they become. The public and jurors are getting more knowledgeable.

That’s the main reason I wanted this book to come out, because I think that the more people read about these things the less they’re going to like capital punishment as a public policy.

It’s a truly failed public policy.

I write that it’s going to come to a slow grinding halt because something like the Trump administration comes along and executes 13 people in 7 months. It’s disgraceful. But, the more we recognize that we have made a lot of mistakes like this, and that it’s wrong, then the more progressive prosecutors get elected and the more likely it becomes that we’re going to end capital punishment. And states are regularly getting rid of it, if only for the fact that we’re just throwing money away on a failed policy. So changes are around the corner; it just depends on how far away we perceive that corner to be.

(source: Isidoro Rodriguez is editor of TCR’s Justice Digest—-thecrimereport.org)

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Miske trial delayed awaiting death penalty decision from U.S. Attorney General

The Attorney General of the United States has been asked to decide whether to pursue the death penalty for Michael Miske and that is likely to delay the start of the trial until next year in a massive case against Miske and 10 co-defendants on charges including kidnapping and murder.

The federal prosecutors’ request regarding capital punishment was revealed in a court filing this week in which the Department of Justice asked to delay the start of trial from this fall until March 2022. According to federal policy, the U.S. Attorney General must give prior written authorization before the death penalty can be sought.

Get Hawaii’s latest news sent to your inbox, click here to subscribe to News 2 You, a daily newsletter.

According to the filing, Miske and eight co-defendants support the delay and Miske’s attorney are working on “their written death penalty mitigation submission.” Two other co-defendants don’t want the trial to start later and one has already pled guilty.

The case is connected to the 2016 death of 21-year-old Jonathan Fraser and also involves racketeering, conspiracy, other acts of violence, chemical weapon attacks, firearms offenses, drug trafficking and bank fraud.

(source: KHON news)

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The death penalty remains the strongest deterrent to violent crime

In recent years, many states have moved away from lethal injections for those on death row, and some have moved away from the death penalty altogether. But some states are actively pushing back against this trend, such as my home state of South Carolina. Recently, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law a new bill that forces death row inmates to choose between the electric chair or a firing squad, so that the state can resume executions after a 10-year pause.

Some have argued that South Carolina’s return to the “old ways” of executions—such as reinstating the firing squad—are inhumane. Two inmates are suing, claiming the law is unconstitutional. On the flip side, as the governor stated, aren’t families and loved ones of victims of death row inmates allowed closure, as would be afforded under the new law? The decision by the South Carolina legislature and the governor is a step in the right direction to restore justice for not only the families of victims but also the victims themselves.

In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment is constitutional and, since that ruling, most of the death penalty cases have pertained to execution of those convicted of committing murder. The penalty of death is the most important catalyst to limiting the imitation of the worst kinds of crimes—principally, murder. According to Procon, “The death penalty is an important tool for preserving law and order, deters crime, and costs less than life imprisonment.” However, beyond merely lessening the numerical burden on taxpayers, maintaining not just the idea of justice but to actualize it through a penalty system is perhaps the greatest equalizer of those who are willing to push all standards of morality and ethics through their behavior and blatant disregard for their fellow mankind.

This isn’t just a pedagogical exercise about the epistemology of what is or isn’t just, but rather an adherence to a tradition of having standards that serve as a catalyst for expectations of living in a civil society.

It cannot be lost upon any of us the reality that there have been several death penalty convictions that were later overturned, such as the case of George Stinney, a 14-year-old African American who was sentenced to death by the electric chair in 1944 for the deaths of two white girls. He was the youngest person sentenced to death and subsequently executed in the U.S. in the 20th century. Tragically, his conviction wasn’t overturned until 2014. Death sentences often are overturned, and there are examples of life sentences being overturned, which indeed does create pause for concern. These are issues that require attention and correction, but they should not be utilized as a reason to remove and dismiss the death penalty altogether.

We must always maintain every notion and reality of justice; there can be no civil society without it. There can’t be safety, freedom or liberty without standards and expectations, and despite how heavy an acceptance it may be, it is absolutely critical that states be allowed to continue with the death penalty in some form. Many have criticized South Carolina and Gov. McMaster—unfairly, I believe.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who you might find to be a surprising supporter of the firing squad, wrote in the case of Thomas Douglas Arthur, who killed his girlfriend’s husband in 1982, “In addition to being near instant, death by shooting may also be comparatively painless.” In case about which she wrote, Sotomayor concluded that “condemned prisoners, like Arthur, might find more dignity in an instantaneous death rather than prolonged torture on a medical gurney.”

There must be some form to hold murderers accountable and, historically, the death penalty has been the most effective way of doing so. It could very well be that a firing squad is the most humane way, especially compared to lethal injection, where there have been cases of prisoners experiencing excruciating pain for sometimes over an hour. These examples are certainly worthy of our consideration and discussion. But one thing is clear: we still need the death penalty, if for no other reason, as a deterrent for other potential criminals.

(source: Opinion; Armsmtrong Williams, New Amsterdam News)

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NEW VOICES: Former Unilever CEO Says Business Leaders Should Take Stand Against Death Penalty

Saying that “the private sector can no longer be a silent bystander in the society it inhabits,” former Unilever CEO Paul Polman, has called on business leaders around the world to take a stand against the death penalty.

“The death penalty has to go,” Polman wrote in a May 12, 2021 commentary in Business Insider. “Business has a vital part to play.”

Polman, the co-founder and co-chair of IMAGINE, a global business consultancy promoting structural and institutional changes in corporate practices to affect transformative social and environmental change, is one of 42 current signatories to the Business Leaders’ Declaration Against the Death Penalty. “We are at a crucial moment in the fight to end America’s long and troubled history of using capital punishment,” he writes. “What people expect from responsible business has changed. Joining this fight is a way to make good on so many commitments to be ethical.”

In March 2021, a group of 21 global business leaders, led by Virgin Air chairman Richard Branson, launched Business Leaders Against the Death Penalty, a global business initiative against capital punishment. At the time, Branson called the death penalty “broken beyond repair and … marred by cruelty, waste, ineffectiveness, discrimination and an unacceptable risk of error.” He said that “[b]y speaking out at this crucial moment, business leaders have an opportunity to help end this inhumane and flawed practice.”

Polman was among a second set of 21 global business leaders that also included Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Alan Jope, Polman’s successor as Unilever’s CEO, and Bayer CEO Werner Baumann, to add their names to the declaration in early May. “The pandemic, mass anti-racism protests, attacks on democracy, growing inequality and the continuing destruction of our planet have recast the role of responsible business,” Polman wrote. “Business leaders have spoken out on issues from de-forestation to voting laws to LGBTQ rights. Bluntly, the private sector can no longer be a silent bystander in the society it inhabits. Not if it wants to promote the stability and inclusiveness on which a strong economy and successful business depend.”

Citing a University of Washington study that found that jurors in Washington were three times more likely to recommend a death sentence for a black defendant than for a white one in a similar case, and that killers of white victims are executed at a rate 17 times greater than those whose victims are black, Polman decried capital punishment as “blatantly racist.” That 27 U.S. states “still legally authorize executions … should be intolerable in a country still reeling from the brutal murder of George Floyd,” Polman wrote.

Referring to the business leaders’ anti-death-penalty declaration, Polman said “[t]he aim here is not simply to produce well-meaning statements. Corporate activism, when it aligns with calls for reform from civil society, can and does embolden lawmakers to braver action. … Given the historic momentum on Capitol Hill,” he wrote, “the question now lands at every CEO’s door: will you stand on the sidelines, or stand together with your courageous peers for a more just and humane world?”

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

KUWAIT:

Death penalty sought in Kuwaiti doctor, nephew family row

In a heinous crime, a Kuwaiti doctor working at the College of Medicine at the Kuwait University stands accused of assaulting his nephew with a dumbbell, the type used by body-builders inside a gym. The incident allegedly happened inside the home of the suspect who lives in Granada. The blow was directed to the head of the victim which caused a crack in his skull and led to the paralysis of the right side. The suspect has been detained at the Central Prison and remanded to police custody for 21 days. The victim was admitted to the intensive care unit of the Amiri Hospital until his condition stabilized.

The victim reportedly cannot move due to paraplegia on the right side and a broken skull. A security source explained the victim was attacked due to family disputes between the victim and his uncle (the suspect). The incident happened on the first day of the Eid holiday following which the victim’s family informed the Operations Room of the Ministry of Interior following which police and paramedics rushed to the spot and transferred the unconscious victim to the Amiri Hospital and days later he regained consciousness but was unable to move. In a related context, the lawyer for the victim, Attorney Yaqoub Al-Shatti, said the accused is facing the death penalty or life imprisonment. He added, he will request the court for maximum penalty. He added the suspect, who works in the medical school, must be an example to society, knowing the extent of the crime he committed and the extent of injury he has caused. Lawyer Al-Shatti also said this is no less than premeditated murder and punishable by death if it is proven the offender was stalking his victim.

(source: arabtimesonline.com)

IRAN—-executions

Mass execution of 6 Baluch men in Birjand prison on drug charges

6 prisoners from Iran’s Baluchi ethnic minority were executed on drug charges in Birjand Prison at dawn on Tuesday.

According to Rasanak, a regional human rights news agency, one of the men is identified as Javad Nakhaei, while the names of the other 5 are not yet known.

All the 6 men had previously been sentenced to death on drug-related charges.

The execution of these prisoners has not been announced by the Iranian media or official sources.

5 other men were also executed on drug charges Tuesday in Birjand prison. The 6 men were from Baluchi ethnic minority. pic.twitter.com/n1cRLKOwZ5 — IRAN HRM (@IranHrm) May 26, 2021

The recent increase in the execution of prisoners from the Baluch minority and prisoners convicted with drug charges is alarming.

Earlier, at dawn on May 19, 2021, 2 other Baluch citizens, Younes Tutazehi and Abdullah Tutazehi, were executed in the same prison on similar charges.

Mehran Narui who was also from Iran’s Baluchi ethnic minority was denied access to a lawyer during his pre-trial detention and trial.

Another Baluchi prisoner, Anvar Narui, who was sentenced to death in the same case, was executed on 28 January 2021.

Mehran Naroui from #Iran’s Baluchi ethnic minority, was executed today in Dastgerd Prison of Isfahan. He had been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment to extract “confessions” used to convict and sentence him to death in unfair trials. #SaveMehran#?????_?????? pic.twitter.com/Y8Z6FGPJXn — IRAN HRM (@IranHrm) May 17, 2021

A woman was hanged on May 23, 2021, in the Central Prison of Yazd. This is the 117th woman executed during Hassan Rouhani’s tenure as the regime’s president. At least 15 women have been executed every year in Iran over the past 8 years.

The woman was identified as Kobra Fatemi, 41, who had been in jail since 2015 on the charge of her husband’s murder. The family of the victim had agreed to receive the blood money and save her from execution. But the victim’s uncle, a member of the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), did not accept this and asked for the death verdict to be carried out.

At least 130 prisoners have been executed since January 2021.

Iranian authorities executed Mehran Narui on May 17, 2021, in Dastgerd Prison of Isfahan.

More than 4300 people have been executed in Iran during Rouhani’s tenure. As of now, they include 117 women.

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)

MAY 26, 2021:

TEXAS—-impending execution

Ex-Marine Who Killed Wife, Daughter and Father-in-Law to Be Executed in June

Shortly after 12:00 am on December 18, 2009, a man was walking down Little School Road in Kennedale, Texas, when he came across a house engulfed in flames and frantically called 911. When officers arrived, they kicked down the front door in an attempt to rescue any trapped residents but the smoke and flames made it impossible for them to see past the doorway. They shouted out but received no response.

At 4:30 am, a man parked his vehicle at a church across the street and approached an officer at the scene. With a vacant look on his face, he asked the officer whether anyone had made it out. The officer responded that it had yet to be determined and when he questioned the man’s curiosity, the man said, “I live here with my wife, daughter and father-in-law.”

That man was 34-year-old John William Hummel, an ex-marine who worked as a security guard at a hospital in a neighbouring city.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze and to their horror, they stumbled upon 3 deceased bodies: John’s wife, 34-year-old Joy Hummel who was 15 weeks pregnant, the couple’s 5-year-old daughter Jodi and John’s father-in-law, 57-year-old Clyde Bedford.

John was escorted to the police station for questioning where detectives noticed blood on his pants and socks and fresh scratches on his back. Despite having just learned his entire family had been killed, he did not shed one tear.

John told detectives that he left his home at 9 pm and went to visit a friend named David, whose last name and address he suddenly couldn’t remember. When he realized David wasn’t home, he filled his car up with gas and went to Walmart to check prices for Christmas gifts for his family.

Detectives gave John an exchange of clothes and sent his in for forensic testing. Since they had no hard evidence to arrest him at the time, John was released. He picked up a paycheque from work and vanished.

John failed to attend a memorial for his wife, daughter and father-in-law. When his friends could not reach him they became concerned for his safety and reported him missing. It had never crossed their minds that John could be the one responsible for the tragedy that had occurred in their quiet, usually peaceful city.

As expected, detectives soon learned that the fire was no accident, it had been intentionally set to cover up the triple homicide. Rolls of toilet paper had been lit on fire and placed throughout the home.

Clyde and Jodi had died of extensive blunt-force injuries to the head and Joy had been stabbed a total of 35 times. Extensive defence wounds on Joy’s hands proved she fought for her life. All 3 were already deceased when the house was set on fire. The blood and DNA of all three victims were found on John’s clothing and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

On December 20, John was captured attempting to re-enter the United States on foot at the border between San Ysidro, California and Tijuana, Mexico. He expressed his relief at being caught and stated, “I did a horrible, horrible thing. I know I’ll spend the rest of my life in jail or put to death. I accept it. I deserve it.”

John’s motive was a woman named Kristie Freeze who he had met at a convenience store in October of 2009. He would often stop by to chat and flirt before heading to work. Eventually, the pair exchanged phone numbers and began a full-blown affair. John told Kristie he was already married but no longer loved his wife. Kristie was also married with one child but had filed for divorce after she met John. On October 16 Kristie told John her divorce had become final. A day later, he killed his family.

In John’s written confession he wrote that on October 17 he left his home at 9 pm and went to Kristie’s apartment. He left a half-hour later after reading a bedtime story to her daughter. He then went home, killed his family as they slept and set the house on fire. Afterwards, John discarded the murder weapons in a dumpster at an auto parts store and went to Walmart to be captured on surveillance footage as part of his alibi.

In the dumpster, detectives found an aluminum baseball bat, two swords, 3 knives and a dagger. The weapons contained John’s DNA and the blood of all 3 of his victims.

Clyde Bedford was a retired plumber who was confined to a scooter due to debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. He spent his days at the Kennedale Seniors Center. He loved spending time with his family, especially his 5-year-old granddaughter Jodi who he often referred to as the light of his life. Joy was a licensed massage therapist who often gave therapeutic massages to her father to help ease his pain. She was described by her loved ones as a compassionate and dedicated woman, daughter and wife. She loved being a mother to Jodi and was looking forward to welcoming her 2nd child into the world.

John was arrested and charged with 3 counts of capital murder. The prosecution argued that he killed his family in order to start a new life with Kristie and showed evidence that he had attempted to kill his family once before by putting rat poison in their food.

John showed zero emotion or remorse during the trial. His attorneys argued that John was mentally ill and a psychologist testified that he suffered from borderline personality disorder. The jury was unmoved and found John guilty of capital murder. On June 28, 2011, he was sentenced to death.

John was set to be executed on March 18, 2020, but like many others, the execution was postponed due to the Coronavirus. His execution has now been re-scheduled for June 30, 2021.

(source: newsbreak.com)

PENNSYLVANIA:

This Philly lawyer works to empty death row. His new book reveals an absurd, broken system.

From the very first death-penalty appeal he worked on, Marc Bookman came to understand how crucial writing can be in life-and-death matters. The verdict form was missing a single “s” — an error that changed the meaning of the verdict enough to overturn the sentence.

The case also left him with a sense that the entire system of capital punishment can be arbitrary and even absurd, a view that was cemented when he became part of the first team of lawyers handling homicide cases for the Defender Association of Philadelphia. In 2010, he co-founded the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, a nonprofit death-penalty resource center.

Over the years, he’s applied his writing skills to pieces published in The Atlantic, Slate, and Mother Jones, among others. His first book, “A Descending Spiral: Exposing the Death Penalty in 12 Essays,” published by The New Press, was released this month. The essays — some dealing with cases he worked on, most cases researched through public records — circumvent the moral arguments for and against the death penalty and reveal the foibles of the system in practice.

Bookman spoke with The Inquirer about his book and life’s work. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why did you want to write this book?

A: At a personal level, the death penalty has become a very important issue to me over 40 years. When you work closely in the system from the defense side, you see how outrageous the death penalty is.

There are moral arguments on both sides. But there’s a reason the prosecution tries to limit how much the jury knows about the person who is accused, because if the jury spent 30 minutes just talking to the guy — whether he is severely mentally ill, low functioning, or just did an absolutely terrible thing — the jury would never vote to execute him. The jurors would immediately see the humanity in the person, however that manifested itself.

I would like to think that this book sheds some light on just how hypocritical our system of capital punishment is. It’s a public policy. I feel like the more people know about how the system of capital punishment really works, the less support they will have for that policy.

Q: Was there a case that first gave you the sense this is a dysfunctional system?

A: Percy St. George was one of my very first capital cases — a case that was withdrawn after it came out that detectives had fabricated statements, and the detectives then pleaded the Fifth. I had another case that was incredibly early in my career where a guy got very drunk, shot his wife, called the police, and was holding a bottle of whiskey in his hand when they came to arrest him. But in the discovery there is no evidence of any alcohol. We keep filing motions asking, ‘Where is the alcohol?’ They keep denying that there’s alcohol. Finally, right before the trial, the crime scene person starts getting nervous and turns over discovery. It turns out they took a lot of pictures of the alcohol, but they didn’t develop any.

That case and Percy St. George were among my first five homicide cases. So what’s a normal person to think? They’re going out of their way to convict on the highest charge no matter what. When did I realize how much corruption went into these cases? Early, really early.

Q: How did you select the cases in the book?

A: First, it’s important to say: These cases seem absolutely absurd — but people should not come away thinking these are 12 outrageous, crazy, beyond-the-pale cases. What’s important about these is they are typical of capital cases.

I would take a topic: There are sleeping lawyers, racist lawyers, drug-addicted lawyers. There are lawyers that are about to be disbarred. I just looked for an example. Every one of these stories, when I get into it, is a better story than I realized, and every one is just the tip of the iceberg. Often, you’re talking about a level of advocacy that is so low it’s remarkable — and lives are at stake.

For instance, a lot of times when a lawyer will give a jury an example of a reasonable doubt, he’ll give a hypothetical. So this one defense lawyer said, “A reasonable doubt is a hesitation that you would have in a serious matter in your own life. So say, for example, you want to buy a car, it’s reasonably priced, and then you look under the hood and you see rust. This makes you think. Then you look a little more and you realize the rust is not all that significant. So you buy the car.” This is a lawyer that doesn’t even understand his own hypothetical! The whole hypothetical is the rust is supposed to give you a reasonable doubt about the car. He tells the jury he bought the car.

Dozens accused a detective of fabrication and abuse. Many cases he built remain intact.

Q: You include a chapter on Terrance Williams, a Philadelphia teen who was convicted of 2 murders, and sentenced to death in the 1980s. (He has since been resentenced to life without parole, and has ongoing appeals.) Why focus on that case?

A: The Terry Williams story encapsulates virtually everything that’s wrong with the death penalty. He’s a kid who older men have been preying on since he was 13 years old. I think most people would say if you’re sexually abused and you kill your abuser, you’re not the worst of the worst. So you would think the reasonable prosecutor, even if they believe in the death penalty, might not seek it in that case.

Instead, the prosecutor does everything possible to get that death sentence. His 1st case involves this sexual abuse — and the jury comes back with 3rd-degree murder. That conviction has since been dismissed.

And then, in the second trial, after the prosecutor doesn’t get 1st-degree murder in the 1st case, she then approaches the second case by keeping out all the evidence about sexual abuse. [The prosecutor in the case has denied that any evidence was withheld.] Then, there’s a defense attorney who doesn’t look to find the evidence he needs, who meets the client only 1 day before trial. And you have a case that never should have been capital in the first place.

That story captures everything: bad lawyering, and a Commonwealth that is refusing to look at the facts of the case. And he’s just a kid. What more do you need?

(source: Philadelphia Inquirer)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

New motions filed in accused Florence mass shooter case

2 new motions have been filed in the case of a man who is accused of killing 2 Florence County law enforcement officers and hurting 5 others.

Online records show a “motion for evidentiary hearing” and “motion/other” were filed last week in Fred Hopkins’ case.

The court records do not list a hearing as scheduled.

Due to a gag order in the case, information on the motions can’t be released.

Hopkins is accused of ambushing officers at his home on Oct. 3, 2018, in the Vintage Place subdivision. They were serving a search warrant on his son Seth Hopkins on child sex abuse allegations.

Florence police Sgt. Terrence Carraway was shot and killed at the scene. Florence County Sheriff’s Investigator Farrah Turner died a few weeks later from her injuries.

The state is seeking the death penalty in the case.

(source: WMBF news)

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

Death by firing squad

I am appalled at the headline citing Gov. McMaster’s signing of the document authorizing death by a firing squad! What has humanity come to when the dark ages has resurfaced in South Carolina? Man’s inhumanity to man has shown its ugly face in the state in which I now reside. Undoubtedly, had I not found a humanitarian home in S.C., this decision would have propelled my move elsewhere!

Had the proponents of this bill not searched his/her own conscious before signing? Had this core of proponents not pondered the evilness of this decision? The death penalty over history has been fraught with errors wherein innocent people have died as a result of false accusations and, now, a firing squad! Who are we to judge the fate of our fellow human beings, and most especially when that decision results in death by a firing squad?

Today, after having read this pronouncement from our top official, I am ashamed to call South Carolina my home. In further contacts with friends and relatives from more “humanity-kind” states, I will lovingly refer to the Cypress as my home and geographically place it only in the South!

Elizabeth Rae, The Cypress Retirement Community

(source: Letter to the Editor, The Island Packet)

FLORIDA:

‘I love it,’ says man facing possible death penalty in Riverview slayings—-Ronnie Oneal III wants to represent himself in his upcoming murder trial. In court, he said he was “ready to die like ‘B.I.G.’”

For 3 years, Ronnie Oneal III has had highly trained public lawyers representing him as he faces a possible death sentence for the slayings of his girlfriend and their 9-year-old daughter.

Now, on the eve of a June trial date, he plans to go it alone.

In a routine if slightly surreal pretrial hearing last week, Oneal insisted he did not want the help of his court-appointed public defenders and would handle his defense on his own.

He was warned of the consequences of such a decision. He was advised that in his case — where the ultimate outcome may be his execution — the stakes couldn’t be any higher. In response, he pointed to an American rapper and songwriter who died in a drive-by shooting in 1997.

“I understand,” Oneal said. “I love it. Ready to die like B.I.G. …

“You’re ready to die like B.I.G.?” asked Hillsborough Circuit Judge Michelle Sisco.

“Yeah,” Oneal said. “You know who that is?”

“Biggie Smalls?” Sisco said.

“That’s B.I.G.,” he said.

“Okay, yes, I know who Biggie Smalls is,” the judge said. “He was actually murdered, but — ”

“Just like I’m going to be, right?” Oneal said. “I was murdered a couple times already before. So I’m cool with being murdered again and coming back like B.I.G.”

Oneal in 2018 was declared incompetent to proceed in court and spent a few months in a state hospital before returning to a Hillsborough County jail. Subsequent mental health exams deemed him competent to go forward.

In court Thursday, Assistant State Attorney Ronald Gale told the judge that prosecutors did not believe Oneal was suffering from any severe mental illness based on available psychological reports and evaluations.

Judge Sisco conducted what’s known as a Faretta inquiry, a procedure in which a defendant is asked a lengthy series of questions to gauge whether he is able to represent himself.

Oneal, shackled and wearing a red jail uniform, sauntered from a defense table to a lectern. He stood, at times shifting his weight, nodding or rolling his head back, as he conversed with the judge.

He was asked his name.

“It was Ronnie Oneal III,” he said. “But I have a new name only that I know.”

“Well, we’re going to go by what your legal name is, not by what you renamed yourself,” the judge said.

“Well, it isn’t a name that I renamed myself,” Oneal said. “It’s a name that means more than Ronnie Oneal III. But all I’m gonna say is I swear to tell the truth.”

The judge explained the disadvantages of self-representation, that his access to legal materials, witnesses, and attorneys would be limited, and that he would not be entitled to special treatment just because he did not have a lawyer. The judge warned that if the trial began and he became disruptive, he could be removed from the courtroom and the trial would continue without him.

Oneal seemed surprised.

“Well, to be honest, your honor, why (don’t) you guys just do that?” he said. “Because I’m already not present anyways.”

“You are present,” the judge said.

“Not to me,” Oneal said. “Y’all do what you want to do and that’s gonna end real soon. But keep doing what you’re doing and that’s it.”

He was asked how old he is.

“Hmm, that’s a good question,” he said. “I’m 32 — in this world.”

He said he could read and write and that he had a high school diploma. He said he hadn’t ever been diagnosed or treated for a mental illness, nor did he take psychotropic medications.

He was asked if anyone had told him not to use a lawyer.

“The most high God,” he replied.

Crime scene tape and a fire hose mark a home in Riverview where 2 were killed and 1 injured in March 2018. Ronnie Oneal is scheduled to stand trial in the attack next month.

Hillsborough sheriff’s deputies arrested Oneal the night of March 18, 2018, after a series of 911 calls brought them to a home on Pine Lake Drive in Riverview. In a neighbor’s yard, they found Kenyatta Barron, who had been beaten and shot to death. Inside the Oneal home, they later found 9-year-old Ron’Niveya Oneal, who had been fatally stabbed.

The house had been set on fire. As smoke billowed, Ronnie Oneal III strolled outside. He endured Taser shocks from deputies as he was subdued and arrested.

Soon afterward, his then-8-year-old son emerged from the home. The boy had been severely burned, had a collapsed lung and a gaping wound in his belly.

“My dad shot my mom,” he told deputies, according to case records.

Late last year, Oneal claimed self-defense under Florida’s stand your ground law. His lawyers argued that he killed Barron after she attacked him. In a recording of a 911 call, he can be heard saying that he’d been attacked by “white demons” that had been inside her. “She tried to kill me,” he said.

The judge denied his stand your ground claim.

Oneal’s son was later adopted by one of the homicide detectives who investigated the case. The boy’s status as a key witness has been a concern as the trial approaches. A judge said he would likely testify by remote video.

With Oneal representing himself, and the prospect that he would be allowed to cross-examine the boy, the judge cautioned that he would only be allowed to ask questions a lawyer could ask. She also instructed him to address the boy by his legal name. Oneal said he understood.

The trial is set to begin June 7.

(source: Tampa Bay Times)

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Florida’s Ayala jumps into race for Demings’ seat

Former state prosecutor Aramis Ayala is joining a quickly-growing Democratic primary to replace Orlando Rep. Val Demings.

Ayala has officially decided to run for the Central Florida congressional seat, becoming the second current or former elected Democrat to run for the seat after Demings signaled that she is going to challenge U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio next year. State Sen. Randolph Bracy announced on Tuesday that he was also seeking the seat.

Congressional District 10 is a safe Democratic seat, meaning that whomever wins the primary will likely wind up in Washington. President Joe Biden in 2020 won the district by almost 62 percent over Donald Trump, who won the state overall.

Ayala, who earned statewide attention for her battle against then-Gov. Rick Scott over the death penalty, was initially looking at running for the Senate, but she changed directions after it became clear that Demings planned to run against Rubio.

“I believe this is where I can best serve,” Ayala told POLITICO.

Ayala, a Black Democrat, served one term as the state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties. She won the seat in 2016 by knocking off an incumbent with the help of billionaire George Soros, who included Ayala on a slate of progressive prosecutors he backed across the country during that election cycle.

Ayala called Demings a “fearless leader” and “unapologetic champion for women and people of color,” adding that she would be also be a fighter for residents who care about affordable housing, living wages and environmental issues.

“All Floridians need a voice in Washington,” Ayala said. “I have done progressive work. I came in as a prosecutor committed to challenging the status quo.”

Ayala first gained statewide attention when she angered Scott and other Republicans over her decision to stop pursuing the death penalty in criminal cases. She fought the governor all the way to the state Supreme Court after he reassigned death penalty cases from her office to another prosecutor. The high court eventually sided with Scott. She opted against seeking a second term as state attorney in 2020.

Demings, a former Orlando police chief, was first elected to Congress in 2016. She gained national prominence as a manager during Trump’s first impeachment and was on the short list of potential running mates for Biden.

The 10th congressional district is located in Orange County. Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature will draw new congressional maps in early 2022, but making large-scale changes to a seat that a sizable Black minority — and who make up a majority of Democratic voters in the district — could spark a federal legal challenge.

(source: politico.com)

COLORADO:

Pastor Who Advocates Death for Gays to Appear With CO Lawmaker and Legislative Aide at Conference

Among the scheduled speakers at this year’s annual Rocky Mountain Homeschool Conference is Kevin Swanson, a Colorado pastor, evangelical radio host, and political operative, who believes that the death penalty is an appropriate “punishment” for the “crime” of being gay.

“Yes, Leviticus 20:13 calls for the death penalty for homosexuals. Yes, Romans, Chapter 1, Verse 32, the apostle Paul does say that homosexuals are worthy of death! His words, not mine! And I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ! … And I know I have taken the counsel; many have told me this weekend, “You be careful! You choose your words carefully! We have presidential [hopefuls] coming down to this conference this weekend!” I understand that. But I am not ashamed of the truth of the word of God. And I am willing to go to jail for it.”

Also slated as speakers for this year’s conference are state Rep. Kim Ransom (R-Lone Tree) and Carolyn Martin, the policy director for state Rep. Stephanie Luck (R-Penrose).

Ransom and Martin are scheduled to moderate a breakout session at the conference entitled “Conversation Cafe — Engaging in the Battle for the Biblical Founding of America.”

All three speakers have long histories as advocates for homeschooling.

Carolyn Martin, is listed on the conference website as the Director of Government Relations for Christian Home Educators of Colorado. She worked as a registered lobbyist for that organization from 2015 until late 2020.

While she still works at the state Capitol during the legislative session as policy director for Luck, she is no longer registered as a lobbyist. The conference website does not list her current employment as a legislative political aide, but does mention that “this has been Carolyn’s 5th session keeping the watch at the Capitol in Denver over our homeschooling freedoms, parental rights, and religious liberty.”

First elected to her seat in 2014, Ransom is a current member of the Joint Budget and House Appropriations committees in the Colorado legislature. She has previously served on House Education and Health committees.

Swanson’s radio show debuted on Colorado airwaves in 2003, and he has garnered attention for his ultraconservative, controversial opinions based on a biblical worldview and his antagonistic role as a troll. Critics have called him a “shock pastor.”

He advocates for male-led families and churches, and rails against feminism and homosexuality.

He has promoted all three ill-fated Personhood initiatives in Colorado, including the first in the nation in 2008, co-sponsored by then-teenager and now-chair of the state GOP, Kristi Burton Brown.

Swanson, who ran for a U.S. Senate seat and for Colorado governor, has also denounced Girl Scouts of the USA in 2013 for “supporting lesbianism” and being “antithetical to a biblical vision for womanhood.”

He continued, “In fact, if you want a communist in the White House in the year 2020 you have got to get more daughters raised with the worldview, the independent mindset, the worldview that is presented by the Girl Scouts of America.”

Following catastrophic flooding in Boulder County and other front range communities in 2013, Swanson suggested that the legalization of marijuana, abortion, and “decadent homosexual activity” were possibly indirect causes for the devastation, presumably by incurring God’s wrath.

Swanson had former Alabama Supreme Court Justice and candidate for U.S. Senate, Roy Moore (R-AL) as a frequent guest on his radio show, before Moore was exposed for inappropriate sexual misconduct with a minor during his failed Senate campaign. Previously, Moore had been removed from his seat on the state Supreme Court twice for judicial misconduct.

In November 2015, Swanson organized the National Religious Liberties Conference, held in DesMoines, Iowa, where 3 presidential candidates –Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal — appeared from the campaign trail, embracing his hardline audience and messaging.

It was Swanson’s speech at that conference where he cited New and Old Testament scripture to encourage capital punishment for homosexuality and encouraged parents of gay children to protest their same-sex weddings by covering themselves in cow manure at the entrance to the venue.

(source: Colorado Times Recorder)

UTAH:

COLD: How the Joyce Yost investigation became a death-penalty case

For the murder of Joyce Yost, Doug Lovell faced the death penalty in Utah, a state with deep connections to capital punishment.

Utah became one of the first states to reinstate capital punishment after the 1972 Supreme Court decision put most death penalty laws on hold in the US.

In Episode 9 of “COLD,” host Dave Cawley connects the dots between that 1st post-moratorium death-penalty case in Utah, and how it set the stage for the trial of Lovell for the murder of Joyce Yost.

The death penalty in Utah

When South Ogden police Sgt. Terry Carpenter served Doug Lovell with a charge of capital homicide, there were no blurred lines about what the prosecution was seeking. If a judge or jury convicted Lovell in the murder of Joyce Yost, he could face the death penalty.

In Utah, the death penalty was a very real possibility. It was one of the first states to seek the death penalty after the federal moratorium on executions in 1972. The moratorium originated from the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Furman vs. Georgia. In that case, attorneys argued the death penalty was inconsistent with civilized standards and, in the cases covered by Furman vs. Georgia, was unconstitutional because all of the defendants were Black.

The Supreme Court agreed.

But it didn’t take long, just one year, for the Utah Legislature to change the state’s capital punishment law. From then on, judges or juries would have to balance specific aggravating and mitigating circumstances before sentencing a defendant to death. With this, Utah hoped to re-establish capital punishment in the state while also satisfying the Supreme Court’s requirements.

The 1st case Utah prosecutors secured a conviction on using the new law involved a crime known as the Hi-Fi Shop killings in Ogden. In it, two men were convicted and sentenced to death under the state’s new law. One of the defense attorneys in the Hi-Fi case, John Caine, would also later represent Doug Lovell in the Joyce Yost murder case.

With a nod to the Supreme Court ruling, Caine outlined Lovell’s “mitigating circumstances” in attempt to help his client escape the death penalty.

Death penalty sought for Joyce Yost murder

Caine cited kindness as a mitigating circumstance for Lovell. Lovell’s attempts at kindness toward the family of Joyce Yost and his personal “progress” as he waited in prison for his trial figured prominently in the argument. He also argued it would not be fair to punish Lovell for a crime in which his ex-wife, Rhonda Buttars, who was an accessory, received no punishment at all.

All of those, Caine argued, added up to mitigating circumstances in the case against Lovell.

Caine argued the inmate showed kindness toward Yost’s family when he finally agreed to accept a plea bargain. Lovell had said he would plead guilty and lead investigators to Yost’s remains. In exchange, he’d be spared the death penalty and instead receive a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Lovell took Carpenter to a location along the road leading to the Snowbasin Ski Resort where, he said, he’d deposited the body of Joyce Yost in 1985. Carpenter and a team of investigators spent weeks scouring that mountain location during the summer of 1993.

But to this day, the body of Joyce Yost has never been found.

Judge, jury and executioner

By design, putting someone to death in the United States isn’t easy. Although judges and juries can follow the law, human emotions play a part, too. Despite criteria met, despite the nature of the crime, despite the feelings of the victim’s family or the public, the death penalty can always be taken off the table.

Lovell’s failure to return Yost’s body invalidated the plea agreement. Under Utah law, Lovell had the choice of whether a judge or jury would decide his sentence. He picked the judge, Judge Stanton Taylor, to whom he wrote a letter in ahead of his sentencing hearing.

In the letter, Lovell admitted to causing pain to Yost’s family and wrote that he’d tried to bring Joyce Yost back to her family, but couldn’t explain why Yost wasn’t where he’d claimed to have left her. He told Judge Taylor about the parts of his childhood that he believed led to his becoming a killer.

Lovell also wrote that he had changed and that he wanted to help troubled kids.

The letter did not appear to sway Judge Taylor.

“He says, ‘In all my years on this bench, I’ve never given out the death sentence,’ Randy Salazar, Yost’s former son-in-law recalled. “And I remember his voice cracking, and — and I remember him telling Lovell, ‘I sentence you to death.’”

Listen to the full episode

Season 2 of the COLD podcast will take you inside the no-body homicide investigation triggered by Yost’s disappearance. Audio tapes never before made public will allow you to hear Yost, in her own voice, describe the events which preceded her death.

You will learn why police suspected one man, Douglas Lovell, yet were unable to arrest him at the time. And you will learn how some individuals and institutions gave — and continue to give — Lovell every opportunity to evade the ultimate penalty.

Hear Joyce Yost’s voice for the first time in the COLD podcast season 2, available to listen free on Amazon Music.

Free resources and help with sexual abuse are available 24/7 at RAINN.org. You can also call 800-856-HOPE (4673).

(source: kslnewsradio.com)

IDAHO:

Lori and Chad Daybell indicted on multiple counts of murder

A grand jury indicted Lori and Chad Daybell on 1st degree murder charges Tuesday in the deaths of her children, Tylee Ryan and J.J. Vallow. Chad Daybell was also charged with 1st degree murder in connection to the death of his 1st wife, Tammy Daybell.

Both Chad and Lori were also charged with 3 counts of conspiracy to commit murder of all 3 victims, Madison County Prosecutor Rob Wood announced.

The indictments were handed down on the day that J.J. would have turned 9.

Prosecutors did not discuss whether they would pursue the death penalty against the Daybells, but they must make that announcement within 60 days after the defendants make a plea.

Wood added that Lori was additionally charged with grand theft in relation to social security benefits allocated to her children. Daybell allegedly took those funds after the children were already missing.

2 counts of insurance fraud were also brought against Chad related to life insurance policies he had on Tammy Daybell, of which he was the beneficiary and received funds after her death.

“We have been working diligently to pursue justice for the victims in this case, to ensure we have the evidence required to prove the facts beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” said Fremont County Prosecutor Lindsey Blake.

The Daybells will make their 1st court appearances on the new charges Wednesday.

Officials found the buried bodies of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 16-year-old Tylee Ryan on Idaho property owned by Chad Daybell on June 9. The 2 had disappeared in Sept. 2019.

Tammy Daybell’s 2019 death was initially ruled to be of natural causes. Just 2 weeks after her death, Chad Daybell married Lori Vallow, whose own husband, Charles, had died a few months earlier.

CHARGES AGAINST CHAD AND LORI DAYBELL:

•2 counts of 1st-degree murder in deaths of J.J. Vallow and Tylee Ryan

•2 counts of conspiracy to commit 1st-degree murder in deaths of J.J. Vallow and Tylee Ryan

•2 counts of grand theft by deception in deaths of J.J. Vallow and Tylee Ryan

•1 count of conspiracy to commit 1st-degree murder in death of Tammy Daybell

CHARGES AGAINST LORI DAYBELL:

•1 count of grand theft

CHARGES AGAINST CHAD DAYBELL:

•1 count of 1st-degree murder in death of Tammy Daybell

•2 counts of insurance fraud

(source: Fox News)

NEVADA:

Nevada death penalty repeal fails, but is on ‘right path,’ advocate says

Although legislation to repeal the death penalty in Nevada was stopped in its tracks in May, a Catholic death penalty advocate is not throwing in the towel.

“As we’ve seen in many state repeals of death penalty laws, the path to abolition can be long and winding. But this year’s progress in Nevada proves the state is on the right path,” said Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network.

Earlier this spring, the Nevada Assembly passed a bill that would have not only banned capital punishment in the state, but also would have commuted the death sentences of more than 70 people on the state’s death row.

The legislation failed to move forward when the state Senate did not advance the bill. It also lacked full support from the state’s Democratic governor, Steve Sisolak, who said May 13 that there was “no path forward” to end capital punishment in the state.

“Though this year’s death penalty abolition bill in Nevada ultimately did not make it to a full Senate vote, its historic passage in the Assembly was an encouraging sign of progress,” Vaillancourt Murphy told Catholic News Service in May 25 email.

She also said this year’s session marked the 1st time in Nevada history that such a repeal bill was reported out of committee and considered by either house of the Legislature.

In 2017, when a death penalty bill was considered in Nevada, the state’s Catholic bishops issued a statement calling for an end to the death penalty in the state and urging support for promoting the dignity and sanctity of all life.

After this year’s legislation failed to succeed, Athar Haseebullah, executive director of Nevada’s American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement the governor and Senate Democrats “failed Nevadans” and demonstrated that “their commitment to meaningful reform is nothing but lip service.”

Sisolak had expressed support for limiting the use of the death penalty, but he has stopped short of advocating for its full repeal.

“I’ve been clear on my position that capital punishment should be sought and used less often, but I believe there are severe situations that warrant it,” he said in a statement.

The Nevada Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, which organized support for the bill from groups including the ACLU of Nevada, the Nevada Democratic Party, the Nevada Catholic Conference, Faith Organizing Alliance, Faith in Action and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said the decision to stop the bill was “undemocratic.”

Despite the disappointment in the legislation’s failure, its state supporters echoed Vaillancourt Murphy’s idea of looking at the defeat in the context of a step toward progress.

“We are disappointed that we could not get across the finish line this session,” Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said in a statement.

“We have to accept that there is a process and many of our priorities don’t ultimately come to fruition,” he added, stressing that the state’s lawmakers would continue working on policies for “meaningful reform to the inequities that exist in our criminal justice system.”

For now, Nevada remains one of 24 states where the death penalty remains law. In the past 16 years, 11 states have rescinded capital punishment and state governors in California, Oregon and Pennsylvania have imposed death penalty moratoriums.

(source: angelusnews.com)

CALIFORNIA:

Californians and the death penalty: new poll shows plurality support repeal

Californians are more unsure about the death penalty according to a new poll from the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies.

Berekely IGS says the poll was conducted because there have been press reports that legislators are considering another constitutional amendment about the death penalty for 2022.

In 2016 voters rejected an attempt to repeal the death penalty by a 53% to 47% margin. The most recent poll found a plurality of Californians but not a majority support repeal efforts.

IGS Co-Director Eric Schickler noted, “The split on the death penalty mirrors the larger partisan and ideological divisions in the state, but with so many voters undecided, the outcome of a proposition vote remains unpredictable at this early stage.”

Registered Democrats back its repeal 63% to 19%, while Republicans oppose doing so 68% to 12%, while views of the state’s No Party Preference registrants closely approximate those of the overall electorate.

(source: KRCR TV news)

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California Committee on Revision of Penal Code Recommends Repeal of Death Penalty

A committee created by the California state legislature to study the state’s penal code and propose improvements in the law has recommended that California repeal its death penalty and expeditiously reduce the size of its death row.

At the conclusion of a virtual meeting on May 14, 2021, the California Committee on Revision of the Penal Code (CRPC) unanimously voted to recommend that the state abolish the death penalty. It was the first ever policy vote on the death penalty by the Committee, which was established by an act of the state legislature in 2019. Committee chair Michael Romano said “[a] full report detailing [the committee’s] recommendations, including supporting analysis and data, will be released later this summer.”

The CRPC’s recommendation followed an expansive review of California death-penalty law and policy by the committee’s staff. A CRPC staff memorandum dated May 5, 2021 concluded that “[e]liminating the death penalty is a critical step towards creating a fair and equitable justice system for all in California, as the ultimate punishment is plagued by legal, racial, bureaucratic, financial, geographic, and moral problems that have proven intractable.”

In a statement released May 25, Romano said that California should take immediate steps to reduce the number of people on the nation’s largest death row of 700 men and women, while moving towards full repeal. Those steps, he said, included commuting existing death sentences; reaching non-capital settlements in pending capital appeals; recalling existing death sentences and modifying them to life without parole; amending the law to give retroactive effect to state’s Racial Justice Act, limiting the reach of the state’s felony-murder special circumstance, and restoring judicial discretion to dismiss special circumstances; and removing mentally incompetent prisoners from death row.

In March 2021 the Committee heard presentations from death-penalty scholars Carol and Jordan Steiker, siblings who respectively teach at Harvard Law School and University of Texas at Austin School of Law, Elisabeth Semel, the director of UC Berkeley’s Death Penalty Clinic, and UCLA Law professor Sherod Thaxton, among others, on constitutional issues and issues of innocence, costs, racial and geographic bias, and mental health related to capital punishment. It also received submissions from the California District Attorneys Association, the Prosecutors Alliance of California, the California Innocence Coalition, and the Office of the State Public Defender.

The staff memorandum found “a myriad of problems with the administration of the death penalty in California,” as a result of which, “in practice it does not serve a legitimate penological purpose.” “In the face of this overwhelming reality, continuing to sentence people to death and continuing to house more than 700 people on death row undermines the legitimacy of our entire criminal justice system,” the memorandum said.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

USA:

Dylann Roof appeals death sentence for South Carolina church massacre

Lawyers for Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed 9 Black people at a South Carolina church in 2015, argued on Tuesday in court to overturn his conviction and sentence because he was not competent to stand trial and represent himself.

Attorneys for Roof pressed their case during an appeals court hearing on Tuesday, squaring off with U.S. government lawyers trying to uphold his conviction on 33 federal charges, including hate crimes, and subsequent death sentence.

Federal public defenders representing Roof launched the appeal in early 2020. They argued that Roof suffered from schizophrenia spectrum disorder and other mental problems and “believed his sentence didn’t matter because white nationalists would free him from prison after an impending race war.”

Ann O’Connell Adams, a U.S. Justice Department lawyer, told a panel of 3 judges that Roof did not act irrationally in representing himself and had shown that he understood the risk that he could face the death penalty if found guilty.

In December 2016, a jury found Roof guilty of 33 federal charges for the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in June 2015. The same jury sentenced him to death in January 2017.

Roof dismissed his defense attorneys just before trial and represented himself during jury selection. At the last minute he reinstated his lawyers for the guilt phase but represented himself again for the penalty phase.

The man on federal death row for the racist slayings of 9 members of a Black South Carolina congregation was wrongly allowed to represent himself during a critical phase of his trial, his attorneys argued Tuesday, saying Dylann Roof’s continuing “delusional belief” he’d be saved by white nationalists — but only if he kept mental health evidence out of his defense — should have shown his trial judge he wasn’t competent.

Before a 3-judge panel, Roof’s attorneys argued that an appellate court should vacate his convictions and death sentence, or remand his case to court for a “proper competency evaluation,” something they argue wasn’t done during his trial in 2017.

That year, Roof became the 1st person in the U.S. sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. Authorities have said Roof opened fire during the closing prayer of a 2015 Bible study at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church, raining down dozens of bullets on those assembled. He was 21 years old at the time.

Representing himself for sentencing, Roof successfully prevented jurors from hearing evidence about his mental health, “under the delusion,” his attorneys have argued, that “he would be rescued from prison by white-nationalists — but only, bizarrely, if he kept his mental-impairments out of the public record.”

In that part of the trial, the self-avowed white supremacist neither fought for his life nor explained his actions, saying only that “anyone who hates anything in their mind has a good reason for it.”

The only reason Roof shirked his trial team to represent himself, appellate attorney Alexandra Yates argued Tuesday, was because the trial judge gave him a choice: either keep his attorneys and allow in mental health evidence, or get rid of them and keep it out.

”A defendant need not forgo the assistance of experienced attorneys, in order to remain master of his own defense, with the right to choose the objective of that defense,” Yates said.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel held 2 competency hearings: one before the start of Roof’s trial, and one before sentencing, to determine if Roof could act as his own attorney for that trial portion.

By excluding from that 2nd hearing experts who would have argued against Roof’s competency, appellate attorney Sapna Mirchandani said Tuesday, the trial court “blinded itself” from whether or not Roof acted out of prejudice, or as a result of his mental illness.

In the second hearing, Ann O’Connell Adams of the U.S. Department of Justice argued, Gergel noted that he had reviewed prior evaluation of Roof, who she said acknowledged that his white supremacy rescue plan probably wouldn’t happen.

“Roof confirmed that he understood there was a high likelihood that he would be sentenced to death, and that the chance of being rescued was very small,” Adams said. “Roof was not making an irrational calculation that his best way to stay alive was to keep out the mental health mitigation evidence.”

All of the judges in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers South Carolina, have recused themselves from hearing Roof’s appeal; one of their own, Judge Jay Richardson, prosecuted Roof’s case as an assistant U.S. Attorney. The panel considering Tuesday’s arguments was comprised of judges from several other appellate circuits.

Following his federal trial, Roof was given 9 consecutive life sentences after pleading guilty in 2017 to state murder charges, leaving him to await execution in a federal prison and sparing his victims and their families the burden of a 2nd trial.

Although President Joe Biden — who as a candidate said he’d work to end federal executions — hasn’t spoken publicly about capital punishment in office, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in March that he continues to have “grave concerns” about it.

Biden has connections to the case. As vice president, Biden attended the funeral for one of those slain, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who also pastored the congregation. During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden frequently referenced the shooting, saying that a visit to Mother Emanuel helped him heal in the aftermath of the death of his son, Beau.

If unsuccessful in his direct appeal, Roof could file what’s known as a 2255 appeal, or a request that the trial court review the constitutionality of his conviction and sentence. He could also petition the U.S. Supreme Court or seek a presidential pardon.

(source: Reuters)

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The death penalty remains the strongest deterrent to violent crime

In recent years, many states have moved away from lethal injections for those on death row, and some have moved away from the death penalty altogether. But some states are actively pushing back against this trend, such as my home state of South Carolina. Recently, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law a new bill that forces death row inmates to choose between the electric chair or a firing squad, so that the state can resume executions after a 10-year pause.

Some have argued that South Carolina’s return to the “old ways” of executions — such as reinstating the firing squad — are inhumane. Two inmates are suing, claiming the law is unconstitutional. On the flip side, as the governor stated, aren’t families and loved ones of victims of death row inmates allowed closure, as would be afforded under the new law? The decision by the South Carolina legislature and the governor is a step in the right direction to restore justice for not only the families of victims but also the victims themselves.

In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment is constitutional and, since that ruling, most the death penalty cases have pertained to execution of those convicted of committing murder. The penalty of death is the most important catalyst to limiting the imitation of the worst kinds of crimes — principally, murder. According to Procon, “the death penalty is an important tool for preserving law and order, deters crime, and costs less than life imprisonment.” However, beyond merely lessening the numerical burden on taxpayers, maintaining not just the idea of justice but to actualize it through a penalty system is perhaps the greatest equalizer of those who are willing to push all standards of morality and ethics through their behavior and blatant disregard for their fellow mankind.

This isn’t just a pedagogical exercise about the epistemology of what is or isn’t just, but rather an adherence to a tradition of having standards that serve as a catalyst for expectations of living in a civil society.

It cannot be lost upon any of us the reality that there have been several death penalty convictions that were later overturned, such as the case of George Stinney, a 14-year-old African American who was sentenced to death by the electric chair in 1944 for the deaths of two white girls. He was the youngest person sentenced to death and subsequently executed in the U.S. in the 20th century. Tragically, his conviction wasn’t overturned until 2014. Death sentences often are overturned, and there are examples of life sentences being overturned, which indeed does create pause for concern. These are issues that require attention and correction, but they should not be utilized as a reason to remove and dismiss the death penalty altogether.

We must always maintain every notion and reality of justice; there can be no civil society without it. There can’t be safety, freedom or liberty without standards and expectations, and despite how heavy an acceptance it may be, it is absolutely critical that states be allowed to continue with the death penalty in some form. Many have criticized South Carolina and Gov. McMaster — unfairly, I believe.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who you might find to be a surprising supporter of the firing squad, wrote in the case of Thomas Douglas Arthur, who killed his girlfriend’s husband in 1982, “In addition to being near instant, death by shooting may also be comparatively painless.” In case about which she wrote, Sotomayor concluded that “condemned prisoners, like Arthur, might find more dignity in an instantaneous death rather than prolonged torture on a medical gurney.”

There must be some form to hold murderers accountable and, historically, the death penalty has been the most effective way of doing so. It could very well be that a firing squad is the most humane way, especially compared to lethal injection, where there have been cases of prisoners experiencing excruciating pain for sometimes over an hour. These examples are certainly worthy of our consideration and discussion. But one thing is clear: We still need the death penalty, if for no other reason, as a deterrent for other potential criminals.

(source: Opinion; Armstrong Williams, The Hill)

SUDAN:

Sudanese paramilitary officer sentenced to death for killing demonstrator

An officer with Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) who was charged with killing a protester during the breakup of the 2019 sit-in in Khartoum has been sentenced to death. Major Youssef Mohieldin al-Fiky was found guilty of ramming Hanafy Abdel-Shakour, 22, with his car in June 2019 during the breakup of the protest in front of the army headquarters.

More than 120 people were killed during the violent dispersal of the protesters, although human rights groups indicate that the numbers are higher.

The sentence was handed down on Monday.

The sit-in was held 2 months after the military deposed President Omar al-Bashir, who had ruled the country for 30 years.

The RSF came from the paramilitary forces called the Janjaweed, who are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur under Bashir’s orders. The group has been absorbed into the Sudanese military.

According to state SUNA news agency, the trial started in July 2020 in Khartoum’s Judicial and Legal Science Institute, more than one year after the murder.

While protesters had repeatedly called for an international, independent investigation into the deaths and disappearances during the sit-in breakup, a panel assigned to the probe after the African Union-brokered agreement in 2019 has frequently missed its deadlines.

In 2019, a military prosecutor said that eight officers were to blame for the crackdown, charging them with crimes against humanity. But no trial or even detail on their possible detention has been revealed.

The verdict can be appealed in a higher court.

(source: rfi.fr)

VIETNAM:

Nigerian receives death for smuggling meth into Vietnam

A Nigerian man was sentenced to death Tuesday for smuggling nearly 6 kilos of methamphetamine from Cambodia to Vietnam.

Theophilus Ugwu, 23, was charged with “illegal trafficking of narcotic substances” by the People’s Court of Tay Ninh, Thanh Nien newspaper reported.

On March 8 last year, police found Ugwu transporting 12 bags containing meth from Cambodia to Vietnam in Tay Ninh’s Ben Cau District. The meth weighed around 5.92 kilograms.

Ugwu said he came from Nigeria to Cambodia in February last year as a soccer player. But in March, he became acquainted with another African, who promised to help him play for a famous Cambodian club. On March 8, the man hired Ugwu to deliver a bag containing the drugs from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Tay Ninh borders both HCMC and Phnom Penh.

Ugwu accepted the deal and got $1,000, but was eventually busted by police as he tried to smuggle the drugs into Vietnam through less-traveled paths.

In court, Ugwu said he did not know the bag contained drugs.

The repeated seizure of huge amounts of narcotics has occurred 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)

TAIWAN:

Taiwan man sentenced to death for scooter stabbing—-Taiwan has drawn criticism from rights groups for continuing to enforce the death penalty

A Taiwanese court on Wednesday sentenced a man to death for killing a scooter driver in a random knife attack that has reignited debate about capital punishment.

Taiwan is one of Asia’s most progressive democracies and markets itself as a regional bastion of human rights.

But it has drawn criticism from the international community and local rights groups for continuing to enforce the death penalty.

Wang Ping-hua, 24, was convicted of murdering a man riding a scooter after quarrelling with his wife over where they should eat as the couple sat in a parked car.

“Wang stabbed and killed the victim, who was a stranger, by ambushing him from behind to vent his anger,” Taipei district court said in a statement.

“His motive is vicious… and his action is cold-blooded and inhuman,” it added.

The court rejected Wang’s argument that he was suffering from multiple personality disorders at the time of the crime and was in a “state of unconsciousness” and therefore “had no control” over himself.

Its decision will be automatically appealed to a higher court.

Polling shows the majority of Taiwanese tend to support the death penalty.

Taiwan resumed executions in 2010 after a 5-year hiatus and there are currently 39 prisoners on death row.

The current administration of President Tsai Ing-wen has pledged to phase out executions but 2 have taken place since she was elected in 2016.

The last execution took place in April 2020. Weng Jen-hsien was shot by firing squad after being convicted of starting a fire that killed his parents and 4 relatives.

(source: Yahoo News Australia)

IRAN:

Call to prevent the execution of political prisoner Mehran Gharebaghi

Mehran Gharabaghi, 29, a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, was arrested on January 18, 2020, along with a friend, Majid Khademi, 29, and transferred to Behbahan Prison after a month-long interrogation.

The MOIS agents demanded that Mehran’s family pressure him to recant, collaborate with the ministry. This they said, must happened before a formal court ruling is issued.

In late 2020, the public and Revolutionary Prosecutor of Behbahan arraigned them with charges of “propaganda against the state,” “complicity in destruction and setting fire to public property,” “participation in disturbing public order,” “participation in making civilian incendiary material” and “membership in an opposition group (The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and corruption on Earth.”

Mehran Qarebaqi had a former case with the Revolutionary Court for “insulting the supreme leader” and “propaganda against the state.” He had been sentenced to 3 years in jail for these charges.

Mehran Qarebaqi and Majid Khademi residents of Tilekoohi village near Behbahan, in the southwestern Khuzestan Province.

They were both tried on April 25 on charges of propaganda against the state, membership in the PMOI, participation in destruction and arson, disturbing public order, participation in the manufacture of flammable materials, and “corruption on earth.”

While their trial has not yet ended, the MOIS has informed the Qarebaghi family of Mehran’s execution order. Mehran’s family went to the court on Thursday, May 20, to follow up on his condition. But the court clerk threatened to arrest them and forced them to leave.

Iran Human Rights Monitor calls on the UN Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, and other human rights organizations to pressure the Iranian regime and prevent the execution of Mehran Gharahbaghi and save the life of Majid Khademi. It emphasizes the imperative of dispatching an international delegation to Iran to visit the prisons and meet with political prisoners in particular.

(source: iran-hrm.com)

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‘They Were Morally Corrupt’: Killings, Father’s Gruesome Confessions Shock Iran — In a case that has shocked Iran, filmmaker Babak Khorramdin was allegedly killed and dismembered by his parents.

An Iranian couple allegedly confessed to drugging and dismembering the man’s adult son and discarding the remains in trash cans west of Tehran, in a chilling case that has shocked the country.

The arrest of 81-year-old Akbar Khorramdin and his wife for the killing of Khorramdin’s 47-year-old son, Babak, a filmmaker, led to admissions that they had also killed a missing daughter and son-in-law.

The tragedies cast light on grave domestic crimes seemingly fueled by perceptions of honor and sexual propriety in Iranian society, as well as on laws eroding protections for potential victims of violence by a legal guardian.

The elder Khorramdin reportedly cited the “moral corruption” of his children and indicated they would have killed two surviving siblings if they hadn’t been apprehended.

Shahram Mokri, who once taught Babak Khorramdin at Iran’s Young Cinema Society, said the contradiction of the ghastly crimes and the outward normalcy of the Khorramdin family has horrified many Iranians.

“People see similarities between themselves and the characters involved in this case,” Mokri told the semiofficial ISNA news agency.

No Remorse

Local reports say the parents have expressed no remorse for the killings.

“I don’t have a guilty conscience for any [of the killings],” Khorramdin told reporters in a video posted online by Iranian news agencies, adding, “Those I killed were highly morally corrupt.”

His wife said the 2 had plotted together to kill their son, daughter, and son-in-law.

“I’m not sad at all. I suffered a lot because of them,” she said. “We both [planned it].”

“My husband said it and I said, ‘OK,'” she said.

Babak Khorramdin was killed in the family home in Tehran’s Ekbatan housing complex, according to the account published by Iranian media.

His father said that they first sedated their son using sleeping pills. He said his son was half-conscious and that he had to tie his feet with a bootlace before stabbing him in the chest. The couple then took their son’s body to a bathroom, where they dismembered it and stashed it in a suitcase and several bags that they later dumped in their neighborhood.

The police were called when remains were found on May 16.

Khorramdin’s mutilated body was identified through fingerprinting.

The parents reportedly confessed after the police went to their home and found evidence of the crime.

Khorramdin said they often argued with their son, an assistant professor who lived in London for several years before returning to Tehran. He said he and his wife didn’t have a day of peace because of his “harassment.”

He also reportedly said that he had killed his daughter Arezou three years ago and said she had been corrupt, including using drugs and bringing her boyfriends home. Khorramdin said he told acquaintances that Arezou had moved to Turkey.

He also allegedly confessed to killing his son-in-law, who he said was a drug trafficker, some 10 years ago with the help of his daughter Arezou and his wife.

The head of Tehran’s criminal court was quoted by the Hamshahri daily as saying that the 3 murders had been conducted in a similar fashion.

Both parents are in custody as the investigation continues.

3 Shocking Murders

The cold-blooded Khorramdin killings follow close on the heels of the killing of a gay Iranian man earlier this month.

20-year-old Alireza Fazeli Monfared despaired over difficulties he faced due to his sexual orientation and was preparing to flee his native Iran for Turkey.

Alireza Monfared is believed to have been killed earlier this month, shortly before he was about to flee Iran due to the problems he faced there as a gay man.

He was allegedly killed by family members before he could leave the southwestern province of Khuzestan after they accused him of dishonoring the family.

A half-brother and cousins reportedly killed Monfared and dumped his body before telling his mother where to find the corpse.

Less than a year ago, in another high-profile case, a 14-year-old girl was reportedly beheaded by her enraged father after trying to elope.

The death of Romina Ashrafi, who was reportedly beheaded by her father, has put a spotlight on the practice of honor killings in Iran.

The father of Romina Ashrafi was said to have consulted with a lawyer to learn what punishment he would face before beheading her.

She had reportedly tried to elope with her boyfriend before being arrested by police and sent back to her family.

Light Sentences For Fathers Who Kill Their Children

Iran is among the world’s leading executioners for crimes ranging from murder to drug trafficking or crimes against the state. It also routinely hands out harsh punishments for sexual misconduct and homosexuality.

But Islamic laws enforced in Iran suggest that Khorramdin could face as little as 3 years in prison for killing his son and his daughter.

He is exempt from what is known in Iran as “retribution” law — the death penalty — since under Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, fathers and grandfathers are considered legal guardians. But if he is convicted of killing his son-in-law, he could face the death penalty, Tehran-based lawyer Mohammad Hossein Aghasi told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda.

“Regarding their son-in-law, if someone files a complaint and calls for retribution, [if he and his wife are convicted they likely] will be sentenced to [capital punishment].”

The head of the psychiatric department of the General Directorate Of Forensic Medicine of Tehran Province, Mehdi Saberi, has said those experts have not yet made a determination on the mental status of the alleged killers.

He said the 2 had undergone initial questioning but more testing was needed to determine their psychological state.

Sociologist Mostafa Eghlima told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that the reasons for the gruesome murder should be identified to prevent such acts in the future.

“They say, ‘Kill him.’ What would that solve? We created these people. They weren’t [born] killers. This is a reminder for us to see what we’ve done is wrong that makes some reach such a point,” Eghlima said.

Tehran-based psychiatrist Hessam Firouzi suggested the heavily patriarchal behavior within Iranian households could be an echo of official actions with respect to public executions and other harsh punishments, as well as a notoriously nontransparent court system.

“When [leaders] issue sentences without holding public trials, execute citizens, or kill several hundred people, a father who suffers from personality disorders can believe he has the same right,” Firouzi told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda.

Outpourings On Social Media

Many Iranians — including several of Khorramdin’s former students and friends — have posted about their grief on social media, trying publicly to cope with the brutality of the case.

“The family institution is the most important refuge for Iranians,” analyst Abbas Abdi tweeted. “So everyone has been horrified by the brutal murder of Babak Khorramdin.”

Filmmaker Mokri said: “When we read about a murder that is far from us geographically, culturally…we consider it more like fiction. But, at least to me, this case was notable because I thought it is very similar to the situations we live in: a son who is a university professor, he’s successful, calm; and a father and mother who are like other fathers and mothers.”

“I can’t believe it, why you Babak?” Babak Rokni wrote on Twitter. “You were my professor and I was honored with your friendship. Why Babak? How could someone do this to you?”

London-based film critic Parviz Jahed said he used to meet Khorramdin in cultural and film circles in London.

“I heard that he missed his family and [so he] returned to Iran. And now I saw this horrible news. I can’t believe it,” Jahed wrote on Instagram. “How can a father be so brutal?”

(source: Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty)

MAY 25, 2021:

TEXAS:

Citing ‘Inexperience’ and ‘Miscommunication,’ Texas Conducts Execution Without Media Witnesses

In a failure of transparency one legislative leader described as “unfathomable,” the State of Texas put Quintin Jones to death on May 19, 2021 without any media witnesses present to observe the execution. It was the 1st time in the 571 executions conducted by Texas since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld its death penalty statute in 1976 that no media witnesses were present.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Director of Communications Jeremy Desel blamed the snafu on “miscommunication” by inexperienced execution team members who failed to notify prison officials to bring media witnesses into the viewing area. “We have a number of new personnel that are a part of the execution team who have not been a part of an execution in the past,” he said. “As a result of a miscommunication between officials at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, there was never a call made to the summon the media witnesses into the unit. We apologize for this critical error. The agency is investigating to determine exactly what occurred to ensure it does not happen again.”

The agency’s action raised renewed concerns about botched executions and execution secrecy. Rep. Jeff Leach (R – Plano), a co-chair of the Texas House Criminal Justice Reform Caucus, tweeted, “There needs to be an immediate investigation in to what happened, why it happened and who is responsible. It was ‘a mistake’ and/or ‘a miscommunication’ is not acceptable. This is an unfathomable, colossal screw-up and we need answers.”

Texas law authorizes five media witnesses to observe each execution, specifying that at least one each must be reporters for the Associated Press and the Huntsville Item. Reporters for both media outlets were present at the prison waiting to witness the execution, including AP reporter Michael Graczyk, who has witnessed more than 400 Texas executions. Prison officials never made the call to bring the reporters to the viewing room adjacent to the execution chamber and they were still in a waiting area when they learned the execution had already been carried out.

Associated Press coverage of the incident highlighted the importance of media witnesses in revealing problems with executions, saying, “The AP aims to cover every execution in the U.S. and has for decades. In recent years, reporters have been able to witness and tell the public about botched or problematic executions in Alabama, Arizona, Oklahoma and Ohio, where inmates could be seen gasping for breath for long periods of time or writhing and clenching their teeth while on the gurney.”

“Letting media witnesses in to see an execution isn’t hard,” Death Penalty Information Center Executive Director Robert Dunham said in a statement. “[I]f the state with the most experience in executing prisoners lacks the competence to carry out this most basic execution function, what does that tell us about what else in the execution process states and the federal government can’t be trusted to perform properly?”

Rep. Joe Moody (D – El Paso), the other co-chair of criminal justice reform caucus, told the Texas Tribune, “Nothing the government does should happen in the dark, least of all something as grave as the taking of a life. I’ve always said that human error—whether it’s on the street or in a court or at the death chamber itself—is one of the main reasons the state should never be involved in killing a human being.”

Joseph Larsen, a board member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, echoed Rep. Leach’s criticism of the execution, calling the exclusion of media witnesses “inexcusable.” “It is not different from requiring that the trial of the person charged be public and witnessed,” he said. “Texas officials would like to restrict media access to the extent (most) possible, mostly for political reasons.”

Dunham also emphasized the necessity of media witnesses for ensuring transparency and the legitimacy of the execution process. “That Texas apparently cares so little about transparency that it ‘forgot’ to let the media in — and then no one on the execution team inside the witnessing rooms noticed that the media witnesses weren’t there — exhibits a stunning disregard for public accountability,” he said. “Texas’s failure last night is destined to become a poster child for the lack of transparency and accountability in the U.S. execution process. It symbolizes why the public continues to lose faith in states’ trustworthiness to properly conduct executions.”

Jones’ execution was the first by any U.S. state in more than 10 months, ending the longest period without a state execution in more than forty years. The last state execution was on July 8, 2020, when Texas executed Billy Joe Wardlow.

Jones’ execution had already attracted nationwide attention, both because it marked the resumption of state executions, which had largely been on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, and because the victim’s family had requested clemency. A Change.org petition asking Governor Greg Abbott to grant clemency to Jones had garnered more than 150,000 signatures. His case highlighted racial disparities in the clemency process. In 2018, David Dow, the attorney for death-row prisoner Christopher Young, who also was denied clemency, noted that family members of the murder victim had asked the pardons board to commute the death sentence imposed on the person convicted of murdering their loved one six times this century. “[O]f those six,” Dow said, “three are black, two are Hispanic and one is white. Only in the case of the white guy [Thomas Whitaker] did they vote to recommend commutation.” Jones became the fourth Black prisoner denied clemency despite the support of the victim’s family.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

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

Texas execution exposes death penalty racism

Texas has shown the world that this racist state should not be in the business of killing. Quintin Jones, an African American man, was denied clemency by the Texas Board of Pardons and Gov. Greg Abbott and was legally lynched at 6:40 p.m., May 19.

Jones’ clemency appeal was quite similar to that of a white man, Thomas Whitaker, who was granted clemency after planning to murder family members for insurance money. His father survived the shootings, forgave him and successfully fought to stop his execution.

Jones also killed a family member and had family members forgive him and support his clemency appeal. But Jones’ family was not from a wealthy suburb; they weren’t college-educated, and they weren’t white.

Just hours after Abbott gave an emotional speech about the sanctity of life and signed a bill outlawing abortion after six weeks, he placed no value on Jones’ life and allowed the execution to happen.

Michael Mowla, Jones’ attorney, filed an appeal in federal court accusing the Board of Pardons of inconsistent rulings. In 2018, the board had unanimously ruled in favor of clemency for Whitaker, but last week ruled unanimously to deny clemency for Jones.

“The lack of consistency in the application of grounds for clemency — where clemency was recommended and granted for Whitaker, who is white, and rejected for Mr. Jones, who is Black — presents a legally cognizable claim that Mr. Jones’ race played an impermissible role in the Board’s denial of his application for clemency,” the filing said.

Texas has carried out 571 executions since reinstating the death penalty in 1976. Since its 1st execution in 1982, Texas has held more executions in this so-called modern era than any other jurisdiction in the Western Hemisphere.

Media witnesses excluded

The media has been present and witnessed every one of these executions except Jones’. For some inexplicable reason, the prison administration and the execution team “forgot” to let the media know that they could proceed to the execution chamber.

Texas procedures allow 5 media reporters into the witness room for each execution. Two of the five seats are reserved for the Associated Press and the local Huntsville Item.

“In case you’re wondering why witnesses matter, know that on a regular basis TDCJ does not fully report what the condemned says. Most of the executions I witnessed, the prisoners have said, ‘it burned.’ TDCJ never reports that. One shook from Parkinson’s tremors as he died. TDCJ denied it,” said reporter Keri Blakinger with The Marshall Project.

Anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean tweeted: “Due to the lack of media witnesses, we have no idea what happened during the execution, no idea if anything went wrong and no idea if protocols were followed. If a mistake this basic can so easily occur, then what kinds of other serious mistakes are happening every time Texas chooses to kill?

“This is why we can never trust the government with the power to kill. All of this is especially disturbing in light of repeated botched executions around the United States. Media witnesses give an unbiased perspective on what happened.”

In a May 20 press release, Robert Dunham, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, wrote: “Letting media witnesses in to see an execution isn’t hard. If a state can’t get that right, there really isn’t anything else in the process — short of executing the wrong person — that it can’t get wrong.

“Over and over again, state and federal officials have offered sanitized descriptions of problematic executions that are plainly inconsistent with what media witnesses have observed and reported to the public. With a policy so saturated by secrecy and official misinformation, ‘Trust me, I’m the government’ is no longer an acceptable option.”

‘Plate of food for the soul’

As he lay on the execution gurney, Jones thanked all those who had supported him over the years, including his Aunt Maddie, his twin brother and his friend Angie Agapetus, who visited him several times a month for over 11 years. Jones said: “I was so glad to leave this world a better, more positive place. It’s not an easy life with all the negativities. Love all my friends and all the friendships that I have made. They are like the sky. It is all part of life, like a big full plate of food for the soul. I hope I left everyone a plate of food full of happy memories, happiness and no sadness.”

What activists must fight for is no executions, no death rows, no racist cops and no racist courts. The whole system must be overturned and replaced with a just system that truly values all life. Being pro-life means an end to killer cops, an end to prisons as we know them and an end to injustice to our class. We deserve no less.

Note: Gloria Rubac, with the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, was present as a witness to Jones’ execution.

(source: Gloria Rubac, Workers World)

NORTH CAROLINA:

First Racial Justice Act claim since landmark 2020 ruling is heard in state court

The 1st case re-evaluating the role of racial bias in the death penalty began last week in Wake County, the result of a landmark 2020 state Supreme Court decision.

Hasson Bacote was convicted of murdering Anthony Surles, an 18-year-old high schooler in Johnston County in 2007, WRAL reported. A jury sentenced Bacote to death in 2009.

That same year, the General Assembly passed the Racial Justice Act, which then-Gov. Bev Perdue signed into law. The RJA allowed individuals on death row to seek sentences of life without parole if they could prove racial bias or discrimination was a significant factor in the decision to seek or impose the death penalty in their case.

After the RJA’s enactment, lawmakers gave those sentenced to death one year to submit their petitions. More than 100 did so, and 4 petitioners had their death sentences commuted to life without parole, according to Gretchen Engel, director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation.

In 2013, however, state lawmakers repealed the Racial Justice Act. Soon thereafter, the commuted death sentences for the four were reinstated, and other petitioners were denied the RJA hearings they had sought.

Bacote’s attorneys submitted evidence at his original trial that Johnston County prosecutors excluded qualified Black jurors at more than 3 times the rate of white jurors, according to the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, which represents Bacote and many other petitioners.

However, because of the RJA repeal, Bacote’s claims of racial bias were not heard.

As Policy Watch has reported, the state Supreme Court in a 6-1 decision, ruled last year that it was unconstitutional to deny hearings to those — such as Bacote — who had filed claims before the law was repealed. Associate Justice Anita Earls wrote in the case State v. Ramseur that applying the repeal retroactively was unconstitutional. State Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby was the lone dissenter in that decision.

The state Supreme Court later reaffirmed the re-sentencing of life without parole for one of the four Cumberland County petitioners who originally won their RJA cases.

Lower courts can now reevaluate defendants’ claims of racial bias in sentencing, as long as those claims were filed before the Racial Justice Act was repealed in 2013.

Bacote’s case is the first to be re-evaluated since the Supreme Court’s ruling.

There are 137 people on death row in North Carolina.

“The Racial Justice Act is really a unique law, and there aren’t very many states that have the courage to enact something like the Racial Justice Act that’s really going to take a hard look at our criminal punishment system in our most serious cases and deal with the history of racism and the death penalty, so we’re going to be doing that now,” Engel said.

The Thursday hearing, held in Wake County, was presided over by Judge Wayland J. Sermons Jr., who first heard Bacote’s RJA petition about a decade ago. Bacote was not present.

Bacote’s RJA petition relied on an analysis of demographics of defendants, victims and jurors from 1990 to 2009 in 1,500 North Carolina cases. The study was conducted by Michigan State University researchers, who had testified at previous RJA hearings. The researchers found that in capital cases, qualified Black jurors were eliminated from consideration more than twice as often as white jurors.

Jonathan Babb, a Special Deputy Attorney General representing the state, asked the defense counsel to disclose more information about the underlying data and biographies of the researchers. The judge granted part of the request. Both the state and the defense team are expected to call expert witnesses to testify on the validity and relevance of the MSU study.

The defense team, including lawyers with the ACLU and the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, requested that the state examine records of racial bias in trials dating to 1980, the beginning of the modern-day death penalty in North Carolina. Judge Sermons approved the request. Now the state Department of Justice must gather evidence involving training for district attorneys and communications concerning the race of jurors for the past 40-plus years.

Despite Babb’s objection, he also directed the Attorney General’s office to collect information about the racial makeup of all prosecutors and staff in state district attorney’s offices.

Babb said he could not comment on Bacote’s case.

In an interview, Henderson Hill of the ACLU, who is one of Bacote’s lawyers, said the defense team is seeking the information because many prosecutors had an immense influence in their offices that extended beyond long tenures. Hill cited former Robeson County District Attorney Joe Freeman Britt, who gained prominence as a “tough on crime” prosecutor. “If you went to a Joe Freeman Britt training, what he said influenced lawyers and the state prosecutors in the state for 20, 30 years,” Hill said.

Judge Sermons did not hear factual arguments. He said he wanted to be as fair and neutral as possible before the next evidentiary hearing, where he will reexamine the jury selection notes, training records and other documents, likely in the original jurisdiction of Johnston County. Before that, there will be a hearing to check in on the status of records in 90 days.

(source: pulse.ncpolicywatch.org)

GEORGIA:

Death penalty trial drawing nearer for Donnie Rowe

It’s been nearly four years since Donnie Rowe and Ricky Dubose escaped from a state prison bus after reportedly killing two corrections officers in a rural part of Putnam County, and still neither of them has gone to trial.

Now that the courts have reopened for trials across Georgia following a year of closure due to the coronavirus COVID-19 global pandemic, it appears that one of those men may soon have his day in court.

That defendant is Donnie Rowe, the oldest of the 2 men accused of gunning down Curtis Billue and Christopher Monica, onboard a state prison transport bus along Ga. Route 16 between Eatonton and Sparta on June 13, 2017. The subsequent escape of the 2 state inmates led to a nationwide manhunt and crime sprees in parts of Tennessee before they surrendered to authorities.

For the 1st time in more than a year, Rowe appeared in Putnam County Superior Court in Eatonton on Monday.

Rowe sat at the defense table with his 3 attorneys wearing dress pants and a dress shirt. He could be seen having conversations with all 3 of them from time to time during the half-hour pretrial hearing before Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge Brenda H. Trammell.

Rowe’s death penalty trial is scheduled for the end of August, which would make the case a little more than 4 years old at that time.

Jurors for the trial will be selected in Grady County. They then will be brought back to Putnam County for the trial and will be sequestered throughout the proceedings.

Trammell said she plans to journey to Grady County sometime soon to oversee the facilities being offered for jury selection in the upcoming trial.

The co-defendant in the case, Ricky Dubose, meanwhile, is not slated for trial until sometime in March or April 2022. That case will be heard by Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Alison T. Burleson.

During one portion of Monday’s hearing, Erin Wallace, one of Rowe’s attorneys who is with the Capital Defense Team from Athens, indicated she and the other attorney assigned to the case, Adam S. Levine, had encountered problems seeing their client in prison because of COVID-related concerns.

Putnam County Sheriff Howard R. Sills later informed the court that he had a possible solution to those concerns.

Sills suggested he would not object to officials with the Georgia Department of Corrections turning Rowe over into his custody and that he be kept at the Putnam County Jail in Eatonton until his trial.

“Your honor, a couple of things,” Sills said. “First of all, I have facilitated Mr. Dubose being brought here. I think it would cause no problem. Just let me have him and I’ll put him in my jail. I’m tired of the delays about the bureaucracy within the Department of Corrections.”

Sills said if Rowe was placed in the county jail that it would allow defense attorneys and their investigators to see him when they wanted.

Wallace explained that she has no idea what is involved in allowing a state inmate to be housed at a county jail while awaiting trial.

“But we don’t have an objection with the sheriff’s plan,” Wallace said.

Sills said he could assure everyone that if the court orders him to house Dubose in the county jail that it will be done.

Trammell then asked defense attorneys if their client would agree to a COVID-19 vaccination.

They indicated that would not be a problem.

“Then you would like him to be brought to Putnam County to be housed,” Trammell asked.

Levin replied that if such was done that they would be within closer driving distance to their client.

The defense attorneys then conferred with their client.

Levine said defense attorneys had no objection to Rowe being housed in the Putnam County Jail until his trial.

Trammell then asked about another possible concern in asking DOC officials to turn him over.

“Your honor, we’ve done this in the past,” Assistant District Attorney Dawn Barksdale said. “Granted, it’s a little extended, but I think the easiest way to do it is to let us prepare a production order for the court to sign.”

Barksdale said state inmates had been brought to the county jail as much as a month and a half away from their trial dates so the public defender’s office could have access to them.

“I don’t see this being any different,” Barksdale said.

Trammell said she would do some research before making a decision.

“What I’m trying to do, sheriff is, I don’t want DOC filing another appeal that is going to delay us further because we have ordered them to do something that we can’t do,” Trammell said.

The judge said she would work on fashioning some type of order.

(source: The Union-Recorder)

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

Tift County DA will seek death penalty in death of Alazia Johnson—-Tift County Grand Jury issued a 9-count indictment charging Semaj Moss

The Tift County Grand Jury issued a 9-count indictment charging Semaj Moss with 1 count of malice murder, 3 counts of felony murder, and 1 count each of aggravated child molestation, aggravated assault, burglary, possession of a knife in the commission of a crime, and theft by receiving stolen property in the death of Alazia Johnson in Tifton in October of 2020.

The indictment was issued on Wednesday, May 19, 2021.

On Monday, the District Attorney’s Office has filed the state’s notice of intention to seek the death penalty in this case.

“A Grand Jury indictment is merely an accusation, and Mr. Moss is presumed innocent of all charges until and unless he is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at trial,” stated Bryce Johnson, District Attorney for the Tifton Judicial Circuit. The Tifton Police Department and Georgia Bureau of Investigation participated in the investigation of this case.

An arraignment date will be set by the Court.

(source: WTXL news)

FLORIDA:

2 decades later, Adam Davis apologizes for Tampa slaying—-His death sentence struck down, Davis was ordered Monday to spend life in prison for the 1998 murder of his girlfriend’s mother.

After 2 decades on death row for a brutal murder he committed when he was 19, Adam William Davis stood in a Tampa courtroom and quietly apologized as he was re-sentenced to life in prison.

“I want to express my deepest regrets, despair and sorrow for what happened that dreadful night,” Davis said. “Not a single day goes by where I don’t think of that night and the horror of what happened or how I wish I could turn back the clocks of time and change what happened.”

His apology came in a perfunctory court hearing Monday where a prosecutor formally announced that the state would no longer seek the death penalty for Davis.

He was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of Vicki Robinson, his girlfriend’s mother. His co-defendants included Robinson’s then-15-year-old daughter, Valessa, who served 13 years in prison and is now free. The other teen who participated in the murder, Jon Whispel, was released from prison in 2019.

The slaying, which captured national attention and became fodder for TV news magazine shows, was among the most memorable crimes in Tampa Bay history.

The mother had struggled to control her daughter’s rebellious behavior.

One night in June 1998, Valessa snuck out of her mother’s Carrollwood home and met up with Davis and Whispel. The three hatched a plot to kill the mother.

Later that night, Davis attacked Vicki Robinson in her kitchen and used a syringe to inject her with bleach. When she didn’t die, he stabbed her to death. The teens disposed of her body in a trash can that was later found in the woods.

Davis was condemned to death on a jury vote of 7-to-5, a bare majority. The Supreme Court later struck down Florida’s practice of allowing non-unanimous verdicts in death penalty cases. Davis’s sentence was overturned.

Until recently, prosecutors had been preparing to persuade a new jury to reimpose a death sentence. But last week, they opted for life, citing his youth, concerns about his mental health, the disparity between his sentence and those of his fellow defendants, and the original jury’s split decision.

Wearing a red jail shirt, his tattooed arms bound in handcuffs, Davis read Monday in a monotone from a prepared statement.

“Ms. Robinson had so much light and love for the world and showed me kindness,” he said. “Her loss is a great tragedy that should never have happened. To her family and loved ones, I express my deepest sorrow for their loss.”

No one from Robinson’s family attended the court hearing. Davis said he’d always wanted to reach out to them, but did not because he didn’t want to cause further pain.

“Though I cannot change what happened or your hurt and loss, I try my hardest to help those I can and try to better myself each day,” he said. “Please know that then, now and always, I am truly sorry.”

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Michelle Sisco commended Davis’ belated expression of remorse. In reviewing the case, she said, she noted that the crime arose from a belief that Vicki Robinson stood in the way of Davis’ relationship with her daughter. It was, the judge said, a “tragic, youthful miscalculation.”

“Even though you were not a juvenile at the time, you were still young,” Sisco said. “And I thought to myself that I bet not a night goes by, when you’re in your jail cell, that you don’t have (anything) but regret for the choices that you made.”

With a life sentence, Davis will join the general population of the state’s prison system.

The judge encouraged Davis to do what he can to mentor younger prisoners who may one day get out, to help them avoid the mistakes he made, and to ensure that his life won’t be defined by the crime he committed.

“I really do wish you the best of luck,” the judge said.

(source: The Tampa Bay Times)

ALABAMA—-new death sentence

Man sentenced to death in execution-style 2016 murder of beloved Alabaster store clerk

The man convicted in the 2016 shooting death of an Alabaster store clerk during a robbery has been sentenced to death.

Shelby County Circuit Judge Bill Bostick on Monday upheld the jury’s recommendation that 48-year-old Michael Anthony Powell die for the execution-style killing of 54-year-old Tracy Latty Algar at the Alabaster convenience store where she was well-known and well-loved by her customers.

It was more than 4 years ago, on a Sunday morning, that Algar was shot to death in the bathroom of the Kirkland Chevron.

Only several hundred dollars were taken in the holdup. Powell was convicted of capital murder in late April after a trial that lasted more than a week.

Alabaster police officials and members of Algar’s family were in the courtroom for Monday’s sentencing.

Taylor was present in the courtroom for the sentencing.

Asked if he had anything to say prior to sentencing, Powell said, “I still say against all odds, I’m not guilty. Regardless of what verdict you give me, I’m going to stay being me and I’m going to fight. I believe in the end I’m going to win.”

Prior to sentencing, Powell slightly rocked back and forth, and occasionally shook his head in apparent disagreement with what as being said. He showed no emotion when the death sentence was handed down.

The case was investigated by Alabaster detectives Jason Higgins and Josh Rauch.

During the penalty phase hearing, prosecutors presented evidence of Powell’s prior violent felonies, which included 2nd-degree assault and 2 counts of 3rd-degree robbery.

Algar, who only worked every 3rd Sunday at the store, was killed not long after she got to work that Sunday morning.

The store opened at 9 a.m. and, sometime in the next couple of hours, police say, Powell entered, stole cash and then shot Algar to death. The slaying happened sometime between 9 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. A customer made the discovery about 11:15 a.m.

The cameras inside the store had not been working for some time, knocked out by lightning a long time ago, Algar’s family said. But, based on surveillance video from neighboring businesses, detectives Powell as a person of interest in the case and have been working around the clock to crack the case.

Powell was seen in the area of the Chevron between 10:45 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. that Sunday. He was wearing a white shirt, dark pants and a black fedora. Authorities said he walked from his apartment to the Chevron and walked back home after the robbery and killing.

“All we know is that he just walked in there and killed her,’’ said one of Algar’s sisters, Lisa Jones, shortly after the slaying. “She closed her eyes and woke up with Jesus.”

In a 2016 interview with AL.com, family members described Algar as a shining light with a strong faith and a devotion to her family.

Much of her time was spent in church-related activities – Bible study, the Welcome Outreach Team and Sisters of the Table. “She worshiped her God with such joy,’’ her mother said.

“She loved uplifting gospel music. She would ask questions about the Bible and God, and when I didn’t have an answer for her, she would add it to her list to ask Jesus when she got to Heaven.”

About 11 years before her death, Algar suffered a stroke which somewhat affected her speech.

It was something she was self-conscious about, but family members said her job at Kirkland Chevron restored her confidence because of daily interactions with the public.

“She loved her job,’’ her sister, Jones, said. “She was a very positive influence. She always tried to keep a smile on her face, especially with her customers. You could see a light shining through Tracy.”

Powell was arrested in a predawn raid at his Third Street apartment in Alabaster shortly after 5 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 4.

Lawmen tossed a stun grenade, or flashbang, into the ground-floor unit and captured Powell while he was asleep in his bed. Powell said nothing and didn’t appear surprised as he was led from his home at The View Apartments that morning.

Powell was released from prison in 2015 after serving 17 years for robbery. Court records show Powell was convicted of two counts of robbery and one count of escape in Covington County in southern Alabama in 1998.

He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for each of the three convictions – to be served concurrently – and went to prison on May 14, 1998. His release date was scheduled for April 4, 2018 but he was paroled on Oct. 1, 2015. He served 17 years, 9 months and 21 days.

In that case, Powell also robbed a convenience store – Mr. Henry’s No. 3 on South Three Notch Street.

The victim told police Powell held a handgun on him and told him to give him the cash register, which contained $402.38.

According to the victim, Powell had previously been in the store and he was able to identify him from a lineup.

Prior to that, he had been convicted – also in Covington County – on charges of theft of property and two counts of receiving stolen property. He served one year, 1 month and 23 days for those convictions.

(source: al.com)

KENTUCKY:

Commonwealth will seek death penalty in Merrell murder case

Hopkins County Commonwealth’s Attorney Kathy Senter confirmed Monday that the state will be seeking the death penalty against murder suspect Dennis Stone, 32, of Madisonville.

Stone is facing murder, assault and wanton endangerment charges after police say he shot and killed Nichole Merrell, 30, of Madisonville on Aug. 14, 2020 at an Earlington convenience store. One of her children was also shot, but was later released from the hospital, according to past reports.

Senter had filed a notice of aggravators in October 2020 that enlarged the range of penalties that could be sough in the case.

“The notice is to seek the death penalty,” said Senter. “At this point, yes we will be asking for it, should we go to trial.”

Senter said Stone’s next pre-trial conference is set for Monday, July 12. Senter said a date on a possible trial remains unknown.

“It will probably be some time before we actually get a trial,” said Senter, adding that many other people were indicted prior to Stone that have not yet had trials.

Senter said Stone and his attorney could also decide to enter a plea before the trial.

“It is not out of the realm of possibility,” she said. “He, in conjunction with his attorney, might want to enter a plea, and that does happen even up to the morning of a trial.”

Senter said Stone’s attorney has “made no indication of one or another.”

“There is always a possibility,” Senter said. “When someone is facing a death penalty, they are risking a lot going to trial.”

Stone remains lodged in the Hopkins County Jail on a $1 million cash bond.

(source: The Messenger)

ARKANSAS:

Quake Lewellyn’s lawyers prep death penalty defense, file motion to change venue in Sydney Sutherland kidnapping, murder case

The defense team representing the man charged in the kidnapping, rape and murder of an Arkansas jogger filed nearly 50 motions Thursday in a move that will set the stage for a death penalty defense.

Quake Lewellyn, 28, faces capital murder, kidnapping, rape and abuse of a corpse charges after 25-year-old Sydney Sutherland was found dead after going for a run in August of 2020.

Lewellyn’s defense team, including prominent Little Rock lawyers Bill James and Jeff Rosenzweig, filed 48 different motions Thursday in Jackson County Circuit Court.

“What happened was a horrible accident and nothing about it was intentional,” said James.

The motions were filed after prosecutor Ryan Cooper did not waive the death penalty in the case.

In a phone conversation Friday, Cooper confirmed he was “absolutely” pursuing the death penalty against Lewellyn.

In an exclusive interview that happened in March, Sutherland’s mother, Maggy Sutherland, said she wanted Lewellyn to face the death penalty.

“As of right now, I’m going to say yes,” she said. The Sutherlands said they don’t think they’ll find a day to forgive Lewellyn.

‘He gave me a hug’: Family of Sydney Sutherland tells all, shares thoughts on her accused killer

Lewellyn’s defense team is requesting the death penalty be excluded as a sentencing option and that their client’s trial be held in a different venue.

“Lewellyn asserts that the minds of the inhabitants of Jackson County are so prejudiced against him, that a fair and impartial trial cannot be held in Jackson County,” the motion states.

The defense argued that yard signs, billboards, the dedication of the Highway 67/167 overpass and community events, such as the prayer vigil held a month after Sutherland was found dead, would make it impossible to hold a fair trial in Jackson County.

Overpass to be named after Arkansas jogger deputies say was kidnapped, raped and murdered

“This case has been the subject of multiple local, national, and international news stories,” the motion continues. “An attempt to assemble an impartial jury in a small-population county inundated with the case is bound to fail. Change of venue is the mechanism to vindicate that right to a fair trial before an impartial jury.”

Lewellyn’s team has requested a “death-qualified jury.” They also filed a motion to prevent victim impact evidence or have the statement available to them in pretrial review. The attorneys have asked the court no more than one person be allowed to offer a victim impact statement.

The court will have a hearing on July 6.

Jury selections are scheduled to begin September 28.

(source: KNWA news)

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

Did an innocent man die? Ledell Lee and a questionable Arkansas death sentence

Opponents of capital punishment have long argued that that the practice, while arbitrary and random, disproportionately affects Blacks, the poor and those unable to afford adequate legal counsel.

Most are greatly concerned that too many innocent people have been put to death by what they describe as a racist, classist, deeply flawed criminal justice apparatus. Those concerns are borne out by data culled by The Innocence Project which indicates that to date, 375 people in the United States have been exonerated by DNA testing, including 21 who served time on death row. These incarcerated individuals served an average of 14 years in prison before exoneration and release.

Then in early May, representatives of the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union released the results of new DNA analysis by top forensic experts producing what they say is “powerful new evidence supporting Ledell Lee’s longtime claim that he was innocent of a 1993 murder.”

This recent development is happening about four years after Mr. Lee was executed by lethal injection in Arkansas for the murder of 26-year-old Debra Reese, a White woman. Mr. Lee proclaimed his innocence for more than 2 decades, from the time he was accused and later charged until his death in 2017.

The judge in the trial and the district attorney refused to allow DNA tests before executing Mr. Lee. Now, these advocates say, the DNA evidence in the case points to someone other than Mr. Lee as having committed the murder.

Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Nina Morrison, middle, along with Little Rock attorney John Tull, left, and attorney Kaitlin Welborn of Hogan Lovells US LLP, answers questions Jan. 23, 2020 in Little Rock, Ark. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Innocence Project asked a state judge to order Jacksonville authori-ties to release fingerprint tests and DNA evidence they say supports claims that Ledell Lee was innocent of the 1993 murder of Debra Reese. The groups fi led the lawsuit on behalf of Patricia Young, Lee’s sister. Staton Breidenthal/The Arkansas Democrat- Gazette via AP “Since Ledell’s execution, we have discovered a wealth of new evidence supporting his claim of innocence,” said Nina Morrison, senior litigation counsel at the Innocence Project in a joint press release.“All of this evidence should have been presented to the courts while Ledell was still alive, but it wasn’t because he couldn’t afford a quality defense.

We know that 167 people have been exonerated from death row for crimes they did not commit, many after losing decades of their life behind bars. The lack of thoroughness in Ledell’s investigation helps explain how that happens, and we hope the Court will allow us to finally uncover the truth.”

The ACLU, the Innocence Project and a team of volunteer lawyers from Hogan Lovells have spent more than two years since Mr. Lee was executed investigating the forensic evidence and eyewitness testimony that was relied on by the state to convict and execute Mr. Lee. The results of this investigation include affidavits from some of the nation’s leading forensics experts, and provide strong reason to believe Mr. Lee may have been innocent, staffers said.

Representatives from The Innocence Project, the ACLU and Amnesty International USA declined to comment because the case is still open but according to media reports, attorneys for Mr. Lee’s family say a “wealth of new evidence supporting his claim of innocence” has been discovered since his execution, and they want to conduct testing on hairs from the bedroom, scrapings from Ms. Reese’s fingernails and on fingerprints from the scene.

They maintain that such evidence should have been presented in the courts while Mr. Lee appealed but that he “couldn’t afford a quality defense.”

Kami Chavis said she felt a heaviness when she heard about Mr. Lee’s possible innocence.

“In the judicial system, we see finality and closure but I’m seeing that we need to relax those windows,” said Ms. Chavis, professor of law and director of the Criminal Justice Program at Wake Forest University School of Law. “The harm of murdering a potentially innocent person outweighs any judicial efficiency. I think what these cases tell us is that if there’s one there are more.”

Prof. Chavis said each of these cases potentially calls into question the validity and integrity of the criminal justice system. We need to look at the policies and procedures, she argued.

“Sure, the other side will argue that they had other evidence but potentially executing innocent person is such a grave concern,” said Prof. Chavis, the vice provost who served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia for three years. “We should take every possible precaution … .”

The Rev. Graylan Ellis Hagler told The Final Call it’s clear by the way capital punishment is administered that too many innocent men and women are being executed by the state.

“Well, I must tell you that theologically, capital punishment is an apostrophe,” he said. “They’re trying to supplant God. God is the only one who can judge. Criminal justice tries to be judge and executioner, but God is the only entity which is infallible. Humans and institutions are fallible based on race, culture and the particular climate of the historical moment that we’re in.

“We have to understand that saying in a court of law that someone is guilty, and they’re later found innocent, in your mistake, you can’t undo it. This is judgement based on race and class which makes this ripe with possibilities of making a mistake. It’s fallibility versus infallibility. Only God can be the ultimate judge.”

The ACLU and Innocence Project had requested DNA tests before Mr. Lee’s execution, but things were allowed to go forward after Mr. Lee’s sister, Patricia Young, filed a lawsuit in 2020. Those results indicate that another man’s DNA was found on the murder weapon, a wooden club, and on a shirt that had been wrapped around the murder weapon. The unknown man’s DNA, however, was not found in the FBI’s national criminal database.

Five sets of fingerprints found at the scene of the crime that did not belong to Mr. Lee were also entered into a national database but also yielded no result. The Arkansas State Crime Laboratory has yet to test those fingerprints against its own database. Six hairs from the scene were also tested. Mr. Lee was excluded as the source of five but could not be excluded as the source of the 6th, though such “mitochondrial DNA profiles may be shared by thousands of individuals in a given population,” the Innocence Project said.

Retired Federal District Court Judge Kevin Sharp said he’s very frustrated with, and vocal about the mélange of problems and issues in the criminal justice system, saying that he grumbles a lot when contemplating the various problems and flaws in the system. Capital punishment is just one issue that troubles him, he said.

“It’s expensive, a waste of time and it’s theater,” he said. “ … At the state level, it was just politics. That’s the problem: we get it wrong. The Innocence Project says 1 in 9 of those executed are innocent. Good Lord, that’s too much!”

Judge Sharpe, managing partner of Sanford Heisler, Sharp’s Nashville office, pushed back against the idea that capital punishment brings closure.

“Does it keep wounds open? Festering longer? Is it justice? Not at all. It’s revenge,” he said. “None of the other stated reasons work. They do it for politics and revenge. We just get it wrong too often. This is just an imperfect system. The stakes are too high to make these mistakes.”

Judge Sharp recounted the vagaries of capital punishment using his experience with a client, Nick Sutton, who he worked with in an effort to get him clemency. He said Mr. Sutton, who was on death row for murder, experienced a harsh childhood, particularly with a schizophrenic father. During his time in prison, Judge Sharp said, he became a different person.

“The murder of a younger inmate landed him on death row and he was sent to be executed. He should have gotten life,” said the judge. “The inmate told other inmates and guards he was going to kill Nick. It was who could kill who first.”

Over the course of 25 years, the judge said, as appeals were going on, “Nick became a different person.” Guards said he made the facility safer, mentored people coming into the system and contributed to the sense of calm.

“Was he violent and volatile? Yes. But there was no reason to execute Nick Sutton,” Judge Sharp said. “It was unnecessary and fulfilled none of the usual reasons. Generally, we have to look at the innocence factor and the way it is administered. You have to recognize the imbalance. And where does mental health and drug addiction fit into this?”

To his surprise and dismay, Judge Sharp said, the state of Tennessee went ahead and executed Mr. Sutton in 2020.

Critics of capital punishment like Dr. Rashawn Ray, say that it’s impossible to take any serious consideration of this issue without acknowledging the role of race.

“With the execution in Arkansas, what it speaks to is the obvious way that Black people and Black families have been disrupted because of the criminal justice system,” said Dr. Ray, the David M. Rubenstein Fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution and professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland. “Some view the death penalty as something that should happen. It’s a way to corral and control Black people.”

“Black people are shipped all over the country to places—including Alabama and Terre Haute, Indiana continue to be sites of brutalization … I’m not surprised that we’re talking about the South in that way. Convict leasing and mass incarceration are still alive.”

Dr. Ray said the criminal justice system is riddled with bias, bigotry and racism but economics also plays a huge role.

“There is racism but it also has a lot to do with the economic aspects,” he said. “Terre Haute is a like a ‘company town’ because of the amount of residents who work in prisons there. You have whole towns and municipalities that are dependent on these prisons and the jobs they offer.”

In the United States in 1972, 300,000 people were incarcerated. However, in 2021, there are 2.3 million people behind bars, the highest rate in the world. That should be of great concern to all Americans, argues Bryant Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.

“Mass incarceration is at an extraordinary level: 50-60 percent of young men of color are in jail, prison, or on parole. And that is fundamentally changing how we live,” said Mr. Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, said during a TED talk. “Our justice system is distorted around race and also around poverty. It’s a system that ‘treats you much better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent.’ It feels like a problem that we should all want to solve, but the politics have made us feel that these are not our problems.

“We are extremely uncomfortable talking about race and poverty. For example, Alabama permanently disenfranchises convicted felons. As a result, 34 percent of African American men in Alabama have permanently lost the right to vote. And yet, there is a stunning silence.”

Dr. Ray cited Mr. Stevenson who argues that Americans would not tolerate the risk of error if for every 10 planes that took off, one crashed killing everybody: “ … Then we would stop flying. It’s just unacceptable,” Mr. Stevenson has said in interviews.

More broadly, Mr. Stevenson said, in the death penalty context, Americans accept this rate of error because they don’t actually think that it implicates them.

“But ultimately the question of the death penalty is about what kind of society do we live in,” he said in a Mashable interview. “And if we are making these kinds of mistakes, if we’re tolerating this kind of bias, then I think we live in a society that doesn’t deserve to kill.”

(source: The Final Call)

MISSOURI:

Supreme Court Rejects Inmate’s Plea for Firing Squad—-The inmate, Ernest Johnson, argued that Missouri’s planned use of pentobarbital to execute him would cause excruciating pain.

Over the dissents of its 3 liberal members, the Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal from a death row inmate in Missouri who said the way the state planned to execute him would cause him excruciating pain. The inmate, Ernest Johnson, had asked to instead be put to death by a firing squad.

As is the court’s custom, it gave no reasons for refusing to hear the case. Mr. Johnson was convicted of murdering three people during a 1994 robbery of a gas station. He later learned he had a brain tumor and underwent surgery to address it, leaving him with a seizure disorder.

Mr. Johnson sued to challenge Missouri’s execution protocol, which uses a lethal injection of pentobarbital, saying it would very likely cause him to suffer intense and painful seizures. As required by Supreme Court precedent, he proposed alternative methods of execution, starting with nitrogen gas, a method contemplated by state law but never used.

In a separate case from Missouri in 2019, Bucklew v. Precythe, the Supreme Court ruled that nitrogen gas was not a feasible alternative because it was, as Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote for the majority, “an entirely new method — one that had never before been used to carry out an execution and had no track record of successful use.”

But Justice Gorsuch wrote that other alternatives would remain available. “An inmate seeking to identify an alternative method of execution is not limited to choosing among those presently authorized by a particular state’s law,” he wrote.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh said a firing squad may be one such alternative, noting that a lawyer for the state had specifically raised the possibility when the case was argued in 2018.

After the 2019 case was decided, Mr. Johnson sought to amend his lawsuit to ask for a firing squad. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, in St. Louis, denied the request, saying it had come too late.

In dissent from the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Mr. Johnson’s appeal, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the appeals court’s action was unfair and unseemly.

“Think about what the Eighth Circuit has done in the interest of moving things along more quickly,” she wrote. “Johnson has plausibly pleaded that, if he is executed using pentobarbital, he will experience pain akin to torture. Those factual allegations must be accepted as true at this stage of the litigation.”

“Yet despite the risk of severe pain rising to the level of cruel and unusual punishment,” she continued, “the Eighth Circuit has ensured that no court will ever review the evidence in support of Johnson’s Eighth Amendment claim.”

“There are higher values than ensuring that executions run on time,” Justice Sotomayor wrote, quoting from her dissent in the 2019 decision. “The Eighth Amendment sets forth one: We should not countenance the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment simply for the sake of expediency. That is what the Eighth Circuit’s decision has done. Because this court chooses to stand idly by, I respectfully dissent.”

Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan joined Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in the case, Johnson v. Precythe, No. 20-287. In a second dissent, Justice Breyer, who has called for the reconsideration of the constitutionality of the death penalty, said the new case provided further evidence of how problematic capital punishment has become.

“I simply add,” Justice Breyer wrote, “that the difficulty of resolving this claim, 27 years after the murders, provides one more example of the special difficulties that the death penalty, as currently administered, creates for the just application of the law.”

(source: New York Times)

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

U.S. Supreme Court rebuffs inmate’s firing squad request

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to let a Missouri death row inmate with significant health problems pursue his effort to face execution by firing squad instead of lethal injection.

The justices, with the 3 liberals on the 9-member conservative-majority court dissenting, turned away the appeal brought by Ernest Johnson, who has epilepsy prompted by a brain tumor and further damage to his brain caused by a surgical procedure.

Johnson, sentenced to death for 3 murders he committed during a 1994 gas station robbery, said that execution by lethal injection would cause significant pain in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment. He sought death by firing squad instead on the grounds it would be less painful.

“Missouri is now free to execute Johnson in a manner that, at this stage of the litigation, we must assume will be akin to torture given his unique medical condition,” liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote.

(source: Reuters)

KANSAS:

18 years later, Carr brothers’ death sentences re-argued in Kansas Supreme Court

20 years after one of Wichita’s most vicious crimes, the cases of Carr brothers Reginald and Jonathan were back before the Kansas Supreme Court for arguments over whether their death sentences should be carried out or commuted to life in prison.

Lawyers for the brothers argued that their sentences were tainted because they shared a joint penalty phase and procedural errors in the trial conducted by Judge Paul Clark, who died in 2011.

None of the current justices were in office when the crimes were committed and only 3 of the 7 were on the court in 2014 when it upheld the guilty verdicts but vacated the brothers’ death sentences. That ruling, based on the state court’s interpretation of federal law, was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court 2 years later.

The case is now back in the Kansas Court for consideration of additional appeal issues that weren’t part of that 2014 decision.

The brothers were sentenced to death in 2002 for a brutal home invasion in December of 2000 that included robbery, rape, torture and eventually the execution-style murders of 4 people. It was part of a 6-day crime spree that left one other person dead.

The brothers turned on each other at trial, with each seeking to maximize the other’s blame and minimize their own.

Reginald Carr’s case

On Monday, Reginald Carr’s attorney, Debra Wilson, argued that the the jury’s recommendation for the death penalty was unduly influenced by the “presence of Jonathan Carr acting as a second prosecutor of Reginald Carr.”

She also argued that errors by Judge Clark early in the case had prevented Reginald Carr from testifying in his defense during the penalty phase.

Reginald Carr’s defense would have been that he was the victim of mistaken identity and that a third individual committed the crimes with Jonathan Carr, Wilson said.

“He didn’t take the witness stand either in the guilt or penalty phases of his trial because of the trial court error which precluded him from testifying to anything useful to his defense,” she said.

The current issue is whether the jury should have been instructed during the penalty phase not to hold Reginald Carr’s silence against him.

The justices peppered Wilson with questions on whether it would have made a difference.

“It’s perfectly sensible to me in guilt or innocence why silence could give rise to a reasonable inference of admission (of guilt),” Justice Keynan “K.J.” Wall said. “But on the penalty phase . . . help me understand what logical inferences a juror would make.”

Wilson replied that jurors may believe a defendant committed a crime by the legal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but still harbor some “lingering doubt” that would be enough to spare him from the death penalty.

“The jury that sentenced Reginald Carr to die saw a man who for weeks sat with seeming nothing to say about those accusations lobbed against him both by the state and by Jonathan Carr,” she said.

Prosecutor David Lowden argued that even if there were errors, the crimes were so horrific that there’s practically no chance that any mitigating factors could have outweighed arguments for the death sentence.

The crimes

On the night of Dec. 14, 2000, the brothers burst into a home and forced 5 young adults to perform a variety of degrading sexual acts with the brothers and each other.

The Carrs also kidnapped the victims, forced them to drain their bank accounts at automatic teller machines, and finally, shot each victim in the head execution-style in a frozen field and ran over the sprawled bodies with a pickup.

Jason Befort, 26; Brad Heyka, 27; Aaron Sander, 29, and Heather Muller, 25, died at the scene.

The 5th victim, identified in court by the initials H.G., survived because the bullet was deflected by a hair clip she was wearing. Naked, shoeless and grievously wounded, she managed to stagger to a home more than a mile away and alert authorities to what had happened.

The Carr brothers were arrested and later linked to 2 crimes earlier in the month: the carjacking and robbery of a 23-year-old man and the shooting death of Wichita symphony cellist Linda “Ann” Walenta, 55.

Lowden disputed that Reginald Carr wasn’t allowed to mount an effective defense against the death penalty.

“What is so compelling about some of these alleged errors (in the trial) that would cause somebody to say ‘You know what, I think I’m going to find mercy?” Lowden said. “In the face of overwhelming evidence, he made a choice (of) let’s let the jury know I’m guilty and then beg for sympathy and mercy, and that’s exactly the way it went down.”

Jonathan Carr’s case

Jonathan Carr has maintained that he has mental disabilities brought on by abuse from his brother and others in their family, and that Reginald Carr was the primary actor in the crime.

While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the brothers didn’t have a federal 8th Amendment right to separate penalty phases, Jonathan Carr’s lawyer that they should have been handled separately handled under state law.

Lawyer Clayton Perkins said the decision to join the cases is something that happens early in a case and shouldn’t necessarily carry through to the end. He said state law requires that each death-penalty defendant be sentenced for their own actions.

“I think joint sentencing is inconsistent with our statutory mitigations, several of them that were brought up in this case,” he said. “That the defendant (Jonathan Carr) was an accomplice in the crime committed by another person and the defendant’s participation was relatively minor, or the defendant acted under extreme distress or under substantial domination of another person.”

Perkins also raised issues of allegedly improper statements by prosecutors in closing arguments.

Lowden replied it wasn’t the prosecution that made Jonathan Carr look like a terrible human being.

“He did that himself on the night of Dec. 14th and the morning of Dec. 15th (2000) by his actions against the 5 victims in this case,” Lowden said. “He couldn’t look any worse and it wasn’t because of what we did in closing or at the penalty phase.”

(source: Wichita Eagle)

CALIFORNIA:

Hangman’s nooses hung at SLO County shooting range for at least a decade — until now

For at least a decade, two nooses hung outside a building on a shooting range off Highway 1 north of San Luis Obispo.

According to San Luis Obispo Sportsmen’s Association president Bill Plummer, whose group oversees the range, the nooses “are a part of cowboy history.”

But community members started raising concerns about the knotted loops of rope, which dangled from a large rack of antlers, at the beginning of May. Now the nooses are gone.

“They won’t be hung here anymore,” said Plummer, a Cal Poly emeritus professor of reproductive physiology. “It’s not worth the number of angry people who don’t understand (the noose’s) history.”

The Chorro Valley Regulators — a sub-chapter of the San Luis Obispo Sportsmen’s Association — operates the shooting range where the nooses were hung. The venue hosts Wild West-themed shooting events where attendees dress in cowboy regalia and shoot guns patented in the 1800s.

Competitions held by the Chorro Valley Regulators are overseen by the Single Action Shooting Society, which serves as the governing and sanctioning body for the sport of cowboy action shooting and Wild Bunch action shooting around the world.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife owns the land where the Chorro Valley Regulators’ shooting range is located. The department’s Central Region has its own shooting range on the property and stores some of its boats at the Regulators’ shooting range — within eyesight of where the nooses once hung.

When asked about the nooses spotted at the property, Fish and Wildlife Warden Matt Gil said agency officers looked for them but they had already been taken down.

Gil also told The Tribune that he’d never noticed the nooses there before.

The Tribune was made aware of the nooses from an anonymous tip.

Noose’s history as execution method, racist symbol

Nooses were used to execute people for centuries.

From the 1800s to about 1930, thousands of people of color In the United States were brutally killed by hanging, often without trials for possible crimes or due process of law. The noose became a racist symbol used to threaten and intimidate Black Americans in particular.

“Execution by hanging was a violent process. People did not die quickly. It took them a long time to die,” said Jack Shuler, a professor at Denison University in Ohio who wrote the book “The Thirteenth Turn: A History of the Noose.” “And as with any system of capital punishment in the world, we know that the vast majority of people who are executed are people who are on the margins, who have less power.”

“Even if you see the noose solely as a system of justice, if you know anything about the justice system, you know that people who have more money and more power usually get off,” Shuler said.

Plummer argued that the nooses hung at the shooting range were a symbol of cowboy history.

“Most people under the age of 35 have cut off history. Those of us who are older remember other history” of the noose, Plummer said.

He elaborated by explaining that nooses were used in the Old West as a means of punishment for serious crimes.

“If you were convicted of murder, you were going to be hanged,” he said.

San Luis Obispo Sportsmen’s Association general manager Julia Soto said that nooses “have more than one history,” adding that, because the shooting range was period-specific to the cowboy era, the nooses were not racist.

Shuler wondered why anyone would want to honor the tradition of the noose because of its deeply problematic history.

“By hanging the noose, you bring up all of that violent history,” he said. “I think taking them down was a good thing. It is a sign that people recognize that we can do better, be better than that.”

(source: sanluisobispo.com)

USA:

A Few Words for the Firing Squad—-A new South Carolina law forces people on death row to choose between firing squad and electric chair if lethal injection drugs aren’t available.

South Carolina’s governor has signed into law a bill adding the firing squad as one of the methods of execution that a person sentenced to death must choose between if lethal injection drugs are unavailable.

Research suggests that the firing squad produces a quicker and less painful death than lethal injection, which Justice Sonia Sotomayor described as “the chemical equivalent of burning alive.” But capital punishment is about more than just pain; who carries out the execution, who it is imposed on, and why it’s carried out matter just as much. In Furman v. Georgia and Gregg v. Georgia, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall insisted that if the American people truly understood the arbitrary, discriminatory, and vengeful nature of the death penalty, they would never impose it.

We feel it is necessary to make clear just what South Carolina has authorized by signing this bill. Utah has been the only state to use a firing squad to execute prisoners since 1976, although Oklahoma and Mississippi have authorized it. In a hearing this March, South Carolina legislators indicated that Utah’s protocols might serve as a model for South Carolina, explaining that “trained marksmen” would carry out executions.

Recent History

Utah’s firing squad executioners are police officers from the jurisdiction where the crime took place. This is a consistent practice in Utah’s history and one that has passed virtually unremarked. When Utah reauthorized the firing squad in 2015 as a backup execution method, legislators didn’t even discuss the consequences of using police officers as executioners. South Carolina legislators insisted on deferring the question of who will carry out the sentence to the Department of Corrections. They will have to confront that issue eventually.

Using police officers as executioners further blurs the line between some police killings and executions and is certain to increase distrust and negative perceptions of policing. Asking police to kill people on death row on behalf of the state will exacerbate policing’s existing cultural problems by putting officers in a situation that encourages them to commit further violence—with official sanction for that violence. The knowledge that officers have volunteered to execute members of the communities they serve will undermine officers’ ability to work in those communities and build relationships of trust and accountability. Following the murder of George Floyd by on-duty Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, distrust in law enforcement reached historic levels among white Americans and demands for reform grew louder than ever before. Black Americans’ trust in the police dropped even lower than it already was, which put a fine point on the critical need to reimagine public safety.

Increased video footage and media coverage have helped fuel and maintain the ensuing outcry against police killings of unarmed Black people. In 2015, Michael Slager, a South Carolina police officer, shot an unarmed Black man, Walter Scott, in the back while Scott was running away. In 2019, South Carolina police officers killed 18 people. Killings like these have led to the perception of police as de facto executioners, often for no greater crime than merely living while Black. Representative Christopher Hart emphasized these points during legislative hearings on the bill, arguing that although South Carolina had not officially executed anyone since 2011, Black residents of South Carolina like Scott had in fact been executed by the government. Representative Hart argued that ordinary Black residents of South Carolina also deserve a choice—the choice not to be executed by the police for minor infractions.

The well-known and exhaustively documented racial bias in administering capital punishment makes the assignment of police to such duties especially provocative. South Carolina currently has 39 men on death row; 21 of them are Black. Since 1912, South Carolina has executed 284 people; 75 were white and 209 were Black. One of them has since had his conviction vacated. In 2014, a judge ruled that George Stinney, a 14-year-old Black child executed in the electric chair in 1944, was denied due process. Simply put, both the past and present of the death penalty is rife with racial injustice.

The next step is for South Carolina’s Department of Corrections to develop procedures for firing squad executions. It is possible that the Department of Corrections will rely on Utah’s procedures—many jurisdictions copy one another’s protocols—and ask South Carolina police officers to volunteer to be executioners. This presents the obvious problem that, setting aside the enormity of asking police to deliberately kill, police officers are simply not meant to be agents of punishment. Acting as executioners would erode police officers’ legitimacy even if neither policing nor capital punishment were inundated with racism.

Relying on random citizen volunteers would be an equally troubling choice, calling to mind the atrocity of lynching, during which members of communities, including law enforcement officers, tortured and murdered Black people for perceived slights against social norms—or for no reason at all. Ultimately, the problems of finding a sound means of executing convicts by firing squad echo the problems inherent in capital punishment. Even if states insist on retaining state authority to execute human beings, adding the firing squad to their methods of execution, without considered deliberation on the way in which it will be carried out, risks undermining the legitimacy of both policing and punishment.

(source: Alexandra Klein is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law. Her article analyzing the role of law enforcement in firing squads, “Volunteering to Kill,” is forthcoming in the Florida Law Review in March 2022—-The Nation)

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Mental illness key part of Dylann Roof’s appeal of his death sentence for Charleston church shooting

Defense lawyers will advance arguments Tuesday on up to 20 issues in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, as to why Dylann Roof was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to the death penalty in 2017 after a weekslong trial. They will ask the court to vacate both the conviction and the death penalty.

Those arguments will be countered by a team of prosecution appellate lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice. They seek to uphold the conviction and sentence.

Roof, 27, who grew up in Columbia, was sentenced to death in January 2017 by U.S. Judge Richard Gergel after a jury found him guilty of 18 death-eligible federal hate crimes and firearms charges in the Charleston church shooting. In a subsequent proceeding to determine sentence, the same jury ruled Roof deserved the death penalty. Gergel then pronounced the sentence.

Roof showed no remorse and permitted his defense team to offer only scant rebuttal to the prosecution’s charges.

Evidence at Roof’s trial, which included his own writings and selfie photos and videos, portrayed him as a self-described white supremacist who wanted to start a race war by killing African Americans. To implement his plan, Roof traveled to Charleston in June 2015, entered a prayer meeting at an African American church and executed nine Black churchgoers, including beloved Democratic state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.

“Multiple issues arising from convictions for hate crime, religious obstruction, and firearms offenses resulting in death and from imposition of death penalty” will be considered, according to a description about the case on the 4th Circuit’s website.

Roof’s purported mental illness and inability to be his own lawyer — casting aside an active defense role by David Bruck, one of the nation’s most experienced death penalty lawyers — is a major feature of Roof’s defense.

“When Dylann Roof represented himself at his capital trial, he was a 22-year-old, 9th-grade dropout diagnosed with schizophrenia spectrum disorder, autism, anxiety and depression, who believed his sentence didn’t matter because white nationalists would free him from prison after an impending race war,” defense lawyers say in their 347-page brief to the 4th Circuit.

“His experienced counsel (Bruck and his defense team), whom Roof jettisoned to prevent evidence of his mental illness from coming to light, told the court that in their decades of experience, none had represented a defendant so disconnected from reality. And yet, the court (Judge Richard Gergel) allowed Roof not only to stand trial, but to represent himself and present no mitigating evidence or argument to the jury.

“Though Roof’s mental state was the subject of two competency hearings, and five experts found him delusional — findings swiftly dismissed by the court, in its rush to move the case along — jurors never heard any of that evidence. Instead, prosecutors told them Roof was a calculated killer with no signs of mental illness. Given no reason to do otherwise, jurors sentenced Roof to death. Roof’s crime was tragic, but this Court (the 4th Circuit) can have no confidence in the jury’s verdict,” the defense brief on the case says.

Prosecutors will argue that Gergel’s rulings in both the guilt or innocence, as well as the penalty phases of the trial, were correct.

“(Judge Gergel) did not clearly err in finding Roof competent to stand trial. The finding was supported by expert testimony and was not arbitrary or unwarranted,” the prosecutors’ brief said. “Roof’s right to self-representation was correctly defined and properly protected.”

“No error occurred at the penalty phase,” the prosecutors wrote. “The death penalty was not plainly erroneous based on Roof’s age or mental condition. Finally, Roof’s convictions rest on sound legal and constitutional grounds.”

Arguments before a 3-judge panel are to begin Tuesday morning. Ninety minutes will be allotted for each side. The public will be able to listen in on a live audio feed.

Roof is now on federal death row at a high-security penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The judges on the panel are Judge Duane Burton of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals; Kent Jordan of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals; and Senior Judge Ronald Gilman of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Usually, judges on a panel are chosen from the full 4th Circuit, which has 15 judges. However, 4th Circuit Judge Jay Richardson of Columbia was in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina in 2017 and the lead prosecutor on the Roof case.

Lawyers for Roof are Sapna Mirchandani of the federal public defender’s office in Maryland, Margaret Farrand of the federal public defender’s office in California’s Central District and Alexandra Yates, a court-appointed defense attorney.

They will be opposed by Department of Justice attorneys Ann O’Connell Adams of the department’s Criminal Division and Bonnie Robin-Vergeer of the Civil Rights Division.

Besides Clementa Pinckney, Roof killed 8 other parishioners of Mother Emanuel AME Church: The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. and the Rev. Myra Thompson.

(source: The State)

PHILIPPINES:

Senator, CHR disagree on death penalty for drug criminals

A senator who once led the administration’s war on drugs on Tuesday failed to convince a Commission Human Rights official that the death penalty should be reinstated for narcotics-related crimes.

Senator Ronald dela Rosa led a Senate hearing on House Bill No. 7814, which aims to strengthen the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

The senator, who earlier steered the bloody crackdown on drugs as chief of police, said Chinese drug lords serving life sentences continue to lead the country’s illegal drug trade. Some inmates are even able to orchestrate misencounters between law enforcement agents, he noted, referring to a shootout between PDEA and QC cops in February.

“Yung frustration ng law enforcement na sana nabitay na itong drug lord na ito kasi kung nabitay na ito noon wala na itong problema na ito ngayon,” dela Rosa said.

[Translation: The frustration of law enforcement is that had these drug lords been executed, we would not have these problems now.]

CHR Commissioner Karen Dumpit, however, insisted that everyone’s right to life must be respected as government tries to free the country from illegal drugs.

“On your example of a drug lord orchestrating misencounters, why is he enabled to do that? He is already confined. Where is the accountability of custodians?” Dumpit said.

Drug policy reform advocate Dr. Lee Edson Yarcia also pointed out that under the proposed bill, the death penalty is not imposed on top drug lords or syndicates.

“Ipinasok po ito doon sa persons who are possessing dangerous drugs during parties, social gatherings, or meetings,” Yarcia explained.

[Translation: This was included in the provision about persons who are in possession of dangerous drugs during parties, social gatherings, or meetings.]

Presumption of guilt amendment unconstitutional

The CHR also told the senate panel that the proposed measure’s provisions on legal presumptions on drug-related offenses are unconstitutional.

Under HB 7814, a person present in the immediate vicinity of an area of distribution or sale of illegal drugs is “presumed to have been involved” in such activities “unless proven otherwise”.

The National Bureau of Investigation agreed.

“Instead of the government proving the guilt of the accused, the accused will be proving his innocence. We’re going to have a reverse trial,” NBI Atty. Ross Galicia said.

Dela Rosa said a technical working group will be created to further discuss issues under the proposed bill.

The House of Representatives passed HB 7814 last March but there is no counterpart measure yet at the Senate.

(source: cnnphilippines.com)

INDIA:

Sushil Kumar To Face Life Imprisonment Or Death Penalty If Proven Guilty For Murder: Report—-The wrestler is charged with kidnapping, murder and criminal conspiracy. If proven guilty for murder, Sushil Kumar can face life imprisonment or death penalty.

2-time Olympic medalist Sushil Kumar was nabbed by Delhi Police in connection with murder of a former junior national wrestling champion Sagar Dhankhar at Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium. According to a news report in Hindustan Times’ sister publication Livehindustan, as soon as Sushil was lodged in the lock-up of the Model Town police station, he started crying and was awake all night.

Delhi Police have 6 days to interrogate wrestler Sushil Kumar and law permits the Police to ask the Court for 8 more days extension of Sushil’s police custody. Livehindustan reported that the decorated wrestler is charged with kidnapping, murder and criminal conspiracy. If proven guilty for murder, Sushil Kumar can face life imprisonment or death penalty.

Delhi High Court lawyer Prashant Manchanda told Livehindustan that Sushil Kumar is charged with kidnapping, murder and criminal conspiracy. In the event of these allegations being proved, one can be sentenced to a minimum of life imprisonment or even death penalty.

As per the Delhi Police, murder and other charges will be investigated by the Crime Branch against Sushil Kumar and his associate Ajay.

“We are questioning Kumar to ascertain the sequence of events that transpired and led to the crime and also about his whereabouts after the incident.

“He was also questioned about his associates and friends who helped him to hide. He will be taken to the spot for recreating the crime scene,” the Delhi Police officer told PTI.

The police said further interrogation of Kumar will clear whether the brawl took place over a property dispute.

“The motive behind the attack on wrestler Sagar Rana and his friends, Sonu and Amit Kumar, who were injured will only be clear during interrogation,” the police told PTI.

(source: abplive.com)

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Death penalty for 11 of dreaded highway killer gang in Andhra

People will finally heave a sigh of relief after Ongole District Court in Andhra Pradesh today sentenced notorious highway serial killer Munna and 10 other gang members to death.

The gang used to stop vehicles on highways posing as police officers and then kill the occupants. The court found 18 persons guilty for being involved in 4 such cases in 2018. 11 have been sentenced to death and the rest have got life term or jail for shorter duration.

All the accused were found guilty of murdering 7 persons in 4 cases in Ongole. After killing lorry driver Ramasekhar and cleaner Perumal Subramani near Ulavapadu, the gang sold the 21.7 tonnes of iron in the lorry to a leading merchant in Guntur.

The bodies of the driver and cleaner from Tamil Nadu were packed in gunny bags and buried on the banks of Gundlakamma river near Parkasham in Andhra Pradesh.

The police started on an investigative trail from Durgapur in West Bengal and, in the process, found out the involvement of the gang headed Syed Abdul Samad, alias Munna, operating in Ongole.

During the trial, the police told the court that Munna tried to make preparations to flee the country. However, before he could do so, the police arrested him in the farmhouse of a former MLA in Karnataka and brought him to Ongole.

(source: tribuneindia.com)

ZAMBIA:

Chipili sentenced to death by hanging for defiling and killing own daughter

A 33-year-old man of Chipili district who allegedly defiled and murdered his 3-day old daughter has been sentenced to death by hanging.

Appearing before High Court judge Mary Mulanda in the Mansa high court on Friday, was Christopher Sunday Chipulu who was charged for 2 counts of murder and defilement of a child under the age of 16 years contrary to section 200 of the Penal Code Chapter 87 of the laws of Zambia.

In the 2nd count he is charged for defilement of a child contrary to section 138 clause 1 of the penal code Chapter 87 of the laws of Zambia as amended by Act number 15 of 2005 and Act number 2 of 2011.

Facts before the High Court were that on June 13, 2019, Chipulu allegedly murdered and wilfully and unlawfully had carnal knowledge of a child under the age of 16 years in Chipili area of Chipili district.

And on 16 June 2019, police in Chipili arrested Christopher Chipulu for allegedly defiling and murdering his three days old biological daughter consequently leaving her umbilical cord torn and bleeding from mouth and nose.

Justice Mulanda said she was satisfied with the evidence that the state prosecutors brought forth before the court saying that the accused acted with malice in his actions.

“I find the accused guilty of murder and defilement of the Child under the age of 16 and I convict him accordingly as charged,” she said.

In the 1st count of Murder Justice Mulanda sentenced Chipulu to death by hanging until pronounced dead.

And during litigation, State Advocate Nasilele Lubasi said Chipulu is the 1st offender.

Meanwhile, from the defence counsel of Chipulu, Legal Aid Counsel Adinas Banda asked the court to exercise leniency on the accused.

“He is remorseful in his actions and has taken time to reflect on his misdeeds,” she said.

In passing judgement for the second count, Justice Mulanda said she had heard the litigation from the defence counsel but that the truth is that Chipulu defiled a 3-day-old baby who is his child describing his action brutal and evil.

Justice Mulanda went on to sentence Chipulu to life imprisonment with hard labour starting from June 13, 2019 the day of his arrest.

“If you are not happy with the judgment, you can appeal to the higher court within 30 days,” she said to Chipulu.

With the judgment of the People versus Christopher Sunday Chipulu passed, Clark of the High Court Session for Luapula province Emelia Njovu declared the session officially closed.

(source: Zambia News)

SIERRA LEONE:

Sierra Leone commits to legislating the abolishment of the death penalty

AdvocAid congratulates the Government of Sierra Leone on its commitment to bring forward legislation to Parliament to abolish the death penalty. The organization has campaigned to end this cruel practice for 15 years.

AdvocAid welcomes the commitment the Government of Sierra Leone repeated at the UN Universal Periodic Review this month to abolish the death penalty. Passing legislation to abolish the death penalty will be a historic step forward for Sierra Leone. AdvocAid encourages Government and Parliament to take forward this legislation at the earliest opportunity, without unnecessary delay.

Since 2006, AdvocAid has actively campaigned for the abolition of the death penalty and provided free legal representation for women and men on death row to challenge their convictions and death sentences. AdvocAid has secured the release of 6 women and 3 men on death row through appeals or presidential pardon applications.

AdvocAid in partnership with the University of Oxford and the Death Penalty Project submitted a memorandum on capital punishment to the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone setting out the legal arguments and evidence base for abolishing the death penalty. In May 2021, AdvocAid and our partners also submitted a memorandum setting out alternative sentences that could be used to replace the death penalty. Guided by international best practice, a mandatory death sentence should be replaced with maximum, non-mandatory, penalties of life imprisonment. Sentencing guidelines can be issued to clarify the range of penalties appropriate for specific offenses, making clear where the Judiciary has the discretion to consider aggravating and mitigating factors.

Aminata’s Story (Name Changed)

AdvocAid successfully appealed the sentence of Aminata, a survivor of gender-based violence. Aminata was convicted of the murder of her abusive boyfriend when she was 17 years old. Her legal journey from a death sentence to freedom took nine years. In 2011, her death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment during pardons to mark the country’s 50th independence anniversary.

Aminata’s case was heard by the Court of Appeal in 2014 and closed for judgment in February 2015. Nearly four years later, her appeal was granted and her sentence was quashed in January 2019.

The legislation to replace the death penalty should also set out what happens to those who have already been sentenced to death. Holding resentencing hearings for the men and women currently on death row would ensure justice and allow proper consideration of any mitigating circumstances that were not able to be taken into consideration during their original trials.

(source: switsalone.com)

KUWAIT:

Death penalty upheld for a Kuwaiti

The Cassation Court, headed by Counselor Ahmad Al-Ajil, has upheld the capital punishment for a Kuwaiti. The man was found guilty of killing his cousin when they were camping in Mina Abdullah early last year. He faces death by hanging, unless pardoned by HH the Amir. The convict allegedly killed the victim with a machete when both were inside a tent while the killer’s parents were in another tent. After the crime was committed the parents allegedly handed him over to the Mina Abdullah Police Station and also the weapon with which the victim was killed.

(source: arabtimesonline.com)

SAUDI ARABIA:

Saudi top court upholds death penalty for ‘Dammam kidnapper’—-Woman convicted of kidnapping, illegal adoption, forgery, illegal relationship; The accused, who had pleaded not guilty, will be deported following the completion of his punishment.

Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has upheld the verdict issued by a criminal court in Dammam in September 2020, awarding the death penalty to a Saudi woman known in the media as the “Dammam kidnapper,” and jail terms for 3 other defendants, local media reported.

The woman, the main defendant, was convicted of kidnapping newborns from Dammam 3 decades ago, illegal adoption, forgery and establishing an illegal relationship. The court also sentenced the 2nd defendant to 1 1/2 years in prison and a SR20,000 fine, while the 2rd defendant, a Yemeni man, was jailed for 25 1/2 years. The court also handed 1-year imprisonment and imposed a SR5,000 fine on the 4th defendant.

The criminal court found the Saudi woman, who had kidnapped 2 baby boys from a Dammam hospital in the 1990s, guilty.

She illegally raised the abducted children as her own and reportedly told them they were born out of wedlock. Police investigations into the babies’ kidnapping failed to yield results until suspicions about the identity of the two boys, who are now in their twenties, rose after she tried to apply for their ID cards.

The mystery of the missing of the 2 babies was unravelled 2 years ago, when the woman submitted applications to obtain identification documents for the 2 men.

Subsequently, the authorities conducted medical and technical examinations, and the results proved no biological relationship between the woman and the young men and instead proved their lineage to other Saudi families, who had reported the abduction of their children.

The Public Prosecution spokesman said that their investigation team carried out 247 procedures in the case, and these included 21 investigation sessions with 21 defendants and witnesses, and filed charges against defendants, including 4 convicts, while the 5th defendant is on the run outside the Kingdom. The Public Prosecution sought the help of Interpol to bring back the culprit.

(source: Gulf News)

IRELAND:

Execution of 13 IRA volunteers in 1921 may have been a war crime, says UCC historian—-Men should have been treated as prisoners of war, according to historian Gabriel Doherty

It could be argued that the execution by the British of 13 IRA volunteers in Cork 100 years ago was a war crime, according to a University College Cork historian.

Speaking at a ceremony in UCC at the mass grave where the men were buried, Gabriel Doherty of the School of History at UCC said the executions of the 13 men, captured in Cork, Tipperary and Limerick in 1921, was the result of the British resorting to state-sanctioned legal violence to counter the IRA.

He recalled how the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act of 1920 imposed the death penalty for a range of offences including possession of firearms, which was designed to stop the IRA guerrilla campaign in its tracks.

“Munster experienced the most dynamic and effective armed resistance on the island and in December 1920, the British government placed the province under martial law, administered by a military governor in Victoria Barracks.

“It was this regime that condemned 13 IRA volunteers, unfortunate enough to be caught in the nets of the British military,” said Mr Doherty, who is on the advisory committee to the Government on the decade of commemorations.

The executions, which took place by firing squad in the Cork Detention Barracks inside Victoria Barracks, began on February 1st, 1921 with the execution of Captain Con Murphy from Millstreet, who was caught with a loaded pistol.

On February 28th, 5 IRA men captured at the Dripsey Ambush, volunteers, Patrick O’Mahony, Timothy McCarthy, John Lyons, Thomas O’Brien and Daniel O’Callaghan were all shot together with Capt Sean Allen from Co Tipperary.

On April 28th, four IRA men, Volunteer Maurice Moore and Lt Patrick Sullivan from Cobh, both captured at Clonmult and volunteers Thomas Mulcahy and Patrick Roynane, both from Burnfort and captured at Mourneabbey, were shot.

Just a few days later on May 2nd, Volunteer Patrick Casey from Grange in Co Limerick was executed with the final execution taking place on May 16th when Volunteer Daniel O’Brien from Liscarroll in north Cork was shot.

“Many had been captured fighting with the IRA Flying Columns in well-known engagements such as Dripsey, Mourneabbey and Clonmult,” said Mr Doherty. “Others were caught amid the daily peril of their national service.

“Their social backgrounds were modest – among the 13, one could find tram and creamery workers, an apprentice plumber, a shoemaker, clerks, a World War one veteran – they were ordinary people caught up in extraordinary times.

“The execution of Prisoners of War, for these volunteers buried here undoubtedly were [POWs] as British courts at that time clearly affirmed, is always a foul deed. Legal scholars might deem it a war crime.”

Memorial

The bodies of the 13 men were taken from Victoria Barracks, now Collins Barracks, and buried at Cork Men’s Gaol, which was later acquired by UCC, and they are commemorated with a memorial over the plot on the college campus.

Interim UCC President, Prof John O’Halloran said the denial of a public burial of the 13 men and their interment behind the prison walls by the British in the former exercise yard of Cork’s Men Gaol was intended as “a final punishment.”

But despite that, the grave, now the largest mass grave in the country of IRA men executed during the War of Independence, has become a site of national memory, following UCC’s acquisition of part of Cork Men’s Gaol in 1946.

“Old IRA veterans raised funds to construct a suitable public memorial and in 1948, Eamon De Valera unveiled this monument and the adjoining Seamus Murphy plaque at the front of the gaol,” said Prof O’Halloran.

According to UCC historian Dr John Borgonovo, of the 24 official executions carried out between 1919 and 1921 during the War of Independence, 13 were in Victoria Barracks in Cork, 10 were in Mountjoy and one was in Limerick.

Wreaths were laid by the Mayor of Co Cork, Cllr Mary Linehan Foley, Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Shane O’Sullivan and Mayor of Limerick City and County, Cllr Michael Collins, as the names of the executed men were read out by 3rd-year UCC history student Alana Daly Mulligan.

Colonel Ray O’Lehan, representing Brigadier General Brigadier Brian Cleary, of 1 Brigade, Collins Barracks and Commodore Michael Malone, Flag Officer Commanding the Naval Service, also attended the wreath-laying ceremony.

Descendants of the executed men were also present for the event, which was introduced by Dr Mervyn O’Driscoll of the School of History at UCC and which closed with Amhrán na bhFiann played by uilleann piper Nichola Stathers from the UCC Academy.

(source: The Irish Times)

MAY 24. 2021:

NORTH CAROLINA:

Attorneys, medical experts question Stroupe II’s capacity to represent himself in capital murder trial

An attorney for Phillip Michael Stroupe II is questioning his capacity to represent himself in his capital murder trial.

Stroupe is charged with first-degree murder in the July 26, 2017 death of Mills River resident Tommy Bryson. Superior Court Judge W. Robert Bell of Mecklenburg County ruled in March that Stroupe could represent himself.

Stroupe is also charged with 1st-degree kidnapping and robbery with a dangerous weapon.

The state is seeking the death penalty. District Attorney Andrew Murray and Stroupe’s standby attorneys declined to comment on the case.

The capacity hearing to determine whether Stroupe can adequately represent himself was denied by Bell during the same March hearing in which he determined Stroupe could represent himself in court on the charges against him.

Stroupe wants to represent himself so he can plead guilty to 1st-degree murder and let a jury decide his sentence, according to the capacity hearing request.

The attorneys that Stroupe fired requested the hearing based on psychological and neurological testing that they believe prove Stroupe is incapable of representing himself.

Bell allowed affidavits from experts to be filed, which are from clinical psychologist Dr. John Warren III and neuroscientist Dr. Jeff Lewine.

Warren noted Stroupe’s behaviors were “strongly consistent” with a comprehensive brain-behavior evaluation in 2018 by neurophysiologist Dr. Shawn Acheson that states Stroupe has “problems with attention and impulsivity, limited social judgment and a haphazard or trial-and-error approach to complex tasks.”

The “deficiencies will become exacerbated and significantly more problematic during times of intense scrutiny,” Warren stated in the affidavit.

Acheson’s report also states Stroupe has low average general intellectual functioning, verbal reasoning and verbal memory skills.

MRI and EEG testing performed by Lewine shows 2 traumatic brain injuries.

“The brain injuries coupled with Dr. Acheson’s findings strongly support counsel’s questioning Mr. Stroupe’s decision to go it alone at a capital trial,” the request for capacity hearing states.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in several cases that death penalty cases are “qualitatively different” and that “the Eighth Amendment requires States to apply special procedural safeguards” when seeking the death penalty, according to the capacity hearing request.

Stroupe’s trial is set to begin July 12.

(source: Henderson Times-News)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

Former chief of prisons says death row inmate deserves clemency

According to the nonprofit Justice 360, Richard Moore, who is Black, is the last person to enter South Carolina’s death row with a trial where the state struck all potential African American jurors.

If Richard Moore is executed, he will have some say in how he goes — the electric chair or the firing squad.

Moore is 1 of 3 prisoners on South Carolina’s death row who have run out of appeals in the past 6 months and could be among the first to face the grim choice under a new state law. But his supporters — including the state’s former prisons chief — say he deserves better.

The state Supreme Court set and then stayed the prisoners’ executions after the Corrections Department said it didn’t have the drugs needed to carry out lethal injections. Now, Gov. Henry McMaster has signed a law requiring the condemned to choose to die by gunshot or electrocution if lethal injection drugs aren’t available.

South Carolina once had one of the nation’s most prolific death chambers, but a shortage of the drugs has caused a decadelong lull in executions. The state is one of only 9 to still use the electric chair and the fourth to allow a firing squad.

Moore, 56, has lived on death row for two decades after being convicted in 2001 for the fatal shooting of convenience store clerk James Mahoney. The Spartanburg man hasn’t made a choice, said his attorney Lindsey Vann, because he is focused on a current petition to the state Supreme Court.

As his lawyers continue to mount court challenges, they’re also preparing a case for clemency. Among his supporters is the former director of South Carolina’s Department of Corrections, Jon Ozmint, who asserts Moore is a reformed man who deserves life without parole instead of death.

“Circumstances took place inside the store that certainly made him guilty of killing another man, but in most counties in this state, I doubt you could even find a jury to recommend the death penalty on those facts,” said Ozmint, a self-described supporter of the death penalty who helmed the department between 2003 and 2012 — one of the death chamber’s busier periods.

Moore’s lawyers argued in front of the state Supreme Court this month that Moore’s crime simply doesn’t rise to the level of heinousness in other death penalty cases.

Inmates most recently executed in the state include a man who strangled his cellmate while serving time for a double murder and a man who secretly took out life insurance policies on his wife and son before killing them and burning their bodies.

“Richard’s case just wasn’t like theirs,” Ozmint told The Associated Press.

No one contests that Moore killed Mahoney, who was working at Nikki’s Speedy Mart in Spartanburg County on Sept. 16, 1999. During the 2001 trial, prosecutors said Moore entered the store looking for money to support his cocaine habit and got into a dispute with Mahoney, who drew a pistol that Moore wrestled away from him.

Mahoney pulled a second gun, and a gunfight ensued. Mahoney shot Moore in the arm, and Moore shot Mahoney in the chest. Prosecutors said Moore left a trail of blood through the store as he looked for cash, stepping twice over Mahoney.

At the time, Moore claimed that he acted in self-defense after Mahoney drew the 1st gun. His appeals lawyers have said that because Moore didn’t bring a gun into the store, he couldn’t have intended to kill someone when he walked in.

Lawyers for the attorney general’s office argued this month that Moore was trying to turn the court’s attention away from “the damning evidence presented against him” and toward “generalities, innuendo and speculation.”

Mahoney’s relatives haven’t spoken publicly on the case in recent years. At the sentencing, family members described the 42-year-old clerk as a beloved uncle and friend who loved NASCAR and dutifully worked the third shift at the store, according to The Spartanburg Herald-Journal.

“We’re pleased with the verdict, and exceptionally pleased with the manner in which the case was prosecuted,” Mahoney’s father, James Mahoney, said at the time.

Moore, who is Black, is the last person to enter death row with a trial where the state struck all potential African American jurors, according to Justice 360, the nonprofit that represents Moore and many others on South Carolina’s death row.

During Moore’s trial, the jury learned of his rap sheet, ranging from weapons charges to burglary and assault convictions. But in prison, Moore has grown into a man remorseful for his crimes who’s built up relationships with his family and his Christian faith, supporters say. In his 2 decades on death row, he has received just 2 minor infractions.

“His life in the Department of Corrections has been exemplary. He’s a giver, not a taker,” Ozmint said.

Even with the new law, Moore’s fate remains a waiting game for all involved.

“There’s never anything definite, and it leaves your mind wondering: When’s the last time I’m going to talk to him? When’s the next time I can see him, because of the pandemic? Is this going to go in his favor or not?” said Moore’s daughter, Alexandria Moore. “It definitely makes you get stuck in your own head, thinking about the hypotheticals.”

Retired state Rep. Gary Clary, who as a state judge presided over Moore’s case, says it’s inevitable that lawsuits will follow the bill’s signing. On the House floor, he argued against similar legislation, noting it would continue costing the state more money in court.

“When a jury convicted Richard Bernard Moore, I think I set his execution … 90 days later. We all knew when those arbitrary dates were established, it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon,” Clary said. “And here we are, 20 years later.”

(source: American Independent)

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There’s no reason for SC to execute inmates in the electric chair or by firing squad

On Friday, May 14, Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill making electrocution South Carolina’s primary method of execution. It also provided the men on death row with the option of death by a firing squad. Why did South Carolina become the first state to move away from lethal injection, which has repeatedly been recognized by the Supreme Court as the most humane method of execution? Supposedly because the Department of Corrections is unable to obtain the drugs necessary for the lethal injection executions of 2 death row inmates who completed the ordinary appeals process earlier this year.

This “crisis” that was the impetus for the legislature to turn back the clock and embrace barbaric methods of execution, however, was entirely of SCDC’s making. SCDC Director Bryan Stirling has, by his own admission, known that SCDC did not have execution drugs since at least 2013. Furthermore, Stirling, Attorney General Allen Wilson and McMaster have known for several years that a small cohort of death row inmates were nearing the end of their appeals. Stirling has stated publically that he can’t get the drugs due to the pressure anti-death penalty activists have placed on big pharma. Yet, there is no evidence anyone in South Carolina has done any such thing.

Furthermore, in the last two years, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, and South Dakota have all carried out executions by lethal injection. Those states found a way to obtain the necessary ingredients. In the last few months of the Trump Administration, the federal government carried out 13 executions by lethal injection. No convincing explanation has been offered why South Carolina cannot also find the necessary ingredients to carry out what has been South Carolina’s primary method of execution for the last 25 years.

Strapping someone into a chair and sending high voltage electricity into their body carries with it the significant likelihood of cooking the person to death. Both the process and the damage it does to the body is offensive to human dignity. I know this firsthand as I have watched a man die in the electric chair. It is not for the faint of heart. Its brutality is also the reason the last 2 state courts to consider the matter—the conservative Georgia and Nebraska Supreme Courts—ruled that death by electrocution was unconstitutional.

The firing squad may produce death quicker than electrocution, but it requires significantly more human involvement. All execution methods have varying degrees of human participation, but having citizens shoot other citizens like they do in China and other countries where basic human rights are denied sets a horrible example. Having multiple people shoot another human being in the chest with high powered rifles also does tremendous damage to the condemned inmate’s body. Again, I know this firsthand as I have reviewed autopsy photos of Gary Gilmore’s Utah execution by firing squad for a book I authored.

There are doubtless some people reading this op-ed thinking that electrocution and firing squad are more humane than the way in which the death-sentenced inmates killed their victims. And, in some cases, that is true. But a society that is not better than those it has sentenced to die has lost its moral compass. This is especially true when executions could be carried out in what has been deemed the most humane manner possible if South Carolina would, as seven other states and the federal government have done, find the drugs to conduct executions by lethal injection. Bringing back the electric chair and embracing the firing squad is not the answer.

John Blume is the director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project, a historian of the South Carolina death penalty, a native of South Carolina and the founder of Justice 360, a non-profit that represents death row inmates in South Carolina.

(source: The State)

USA:

Dylann Roof Appeals to Overturn Death Penalty

A man in federal death row for the racist killing of 9 members of the South Carolina congregation should overturn his conviction and death sentence.

The oral argument in the case of Dylann Roof will be held on Tuesday in front of a panel of three judges at the 4th US Court of Appeals based in Richmond, Virginia. Appeal judge Jay Richardson, who has filed a proceeding with Roof as an assistant federal prosecutor, is not part of the panel.

In 2017, Roof became the 1st person in the United States Death sentence For federal hate crimes. Officials said the roof fired during the closing prayer of the 2015 Bible Study Group at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, dropping dozens of bullets at the gathered people. At that time, the roof was 21 years old.

In a long brief explanation, Roof’s lawyer argued that the Court of Appeals should either revoke Roof’s conviction and death sentence or remand his case to the court for “appropriate performance evaluation.”

“The federal trial that led to his death row was far from the standards needed when the government sought a final price that couldn’t affirm it,” they wrote, the mental illness of their clients. A lawyer sent to the federal death row cell during part of a trial that claimed he should have prevented him from working as himself.

Judge Richard Gergel of the US District Court held two competency hearings on the roof. One before the start of the trial and the other before the decision stage, he decided whether Roof could act as his lawyer in that part of the trial. His appeal team said, “Even though all defense experts agreed that the roof suffered from the delusional belief that it would be saved by the winner of the race war, the court mistakenly competed with the roof. I wrote that it was judged to be .. “.

Roof passed the sentence and succeeded in preventing the jury from hearing palliative evidence of his mental health “under delusion,” his lawyer wrote. Mental illness from public records.

In that part of the trial, the self-proclaimed white supremacist did not fight for his life or explain his actions, saying, “Anyone who hates something in their hearts has a good reason for it.”

His lawyer said that this resulted in a “complete collapse” of possible defenses, and the jury “darkness” about the past details of the roof that could have been used to mitigate the government’s “death inflammation case.”

Following his federal trial, the roof was given 9 consecutive life imprisonments After pleading guilty to murder in 2017, he awaited execution in federal prison, saving victims and their families the burden of a 2nd trial.

After that sentence, Solicitor Scarlet Wilson, who was also pursuing the death penalty, called the deal “an insurance policy against a federal conviction,” and Roof sentenced him to life imprisonment if the federal decision was not passed.

Wilson also said he was more confident that the federal death sentence would be sentenced under the newly appointed Trump administration than under the democratic administration. At the time, then-President Donald Trump expected that federal executions could be resumed quickly, following the suspension of executions under several previous administrations.

Trump’s decision to revive the federal death penalty was not made until 2020, but his Justice Department continued to oversee a total of 13 federal death sentences after a 17-year hiatus. Due to his remaining appeal, Roof’s proceeding was not eligible for enforcement at that time.

President Joe Biden, who said he would work as a candidate to end the federal execution, had not spoken publicly about the death penalty, but White House spokesman Jen Psaki said in March that he was “gravely concerned.” He said he continued to have. .. The president could instruct the Justice Department not to execute the death penalty during his presidency.

If he fails Direct 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, Roof may request what is known as the 2255 Appeal, or the Court of First Instance to consider his conviction and the constitutionality of the judgment. He could also petition the US Supreme Court or seek the president’s amnesty.

(source: ohionewstime.com)

BELARUS:

Belarus reporter said ‘death penalty awaits me here’ — witness

Journalist Raman Pratasevich might face the death penalty after Belarusian authorities forced his plane to land in Minsk. A passenger on the flight described Pratasevich’s reaction.

Raman Pratasevich, a 26-year-old Belarusian national, was “upset” after realizing the Ryanair fllght he was on was unexpectedly landing in Minsk, a witness told Radio Free Europe’s Belarus department on Sunday.

“After a sudden turn of the plane, one guy [Pratasevich] started panicking, grabbing his head,” the source, another passenger on the flight said. “There was no conflict up until the plane turned, no falling out, nothing.”

Belarus claims a bomb scare

According to pro-government media in Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko himself ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet to be scrambled and intercept the Ryanair jet over an alleged bomb scare. No bomb was found on the plane.

Instead, Belarusian authorities detained the exiled reporter Pratasevich, who had been traveling from Greece to Lithuania. Pratasevich faces criminal charges in Belarus, including inciting hatred against the government. He is also on the nation’s list of “individuals involved in terrorist activity.” Belarus opposition leaders say he could face the death penalty in his native country.

Reporter’s luggage ‘thrown out’ onto the runway

Upon landing in Minsk, security forces took the passengers out and had sniffer dog teams inspect their belongings, the passenger told Radio Free Europe.

Pratasevich’s luggage was “thrown out on the runway” and he was taken aside.

“We asked him what was going on.” the passenger said. “He told us who he was and added: ‘A death penalty awaits me here.’ He was a bit calmer, but trembling.”

Eventually, he was taken away by the military, according to the source.

Journalist Hanna Liubakova: It’s not safe in Belarus for Raman Pratasevich Pratasevich previously served as the editor-in-chief of opposition news outlet NEXTA, which the Belarus authorities have labeled as extremist.

Pratasevich suspected he was followed in Athens

In a separate interview to Deutsche Welle, an aide to opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Franak Viacorka said Pratasevich was in touch with him before boarding the plane and told him he suspected he was being followed.

“This morning I was in touch with Raman… he shared [with me] concerns that someone was following him in Athens airport,” the politician said.

NEXTA also shared texts sent out by Pratasevich from Athens, in which he described a suspicious Russian-speaking man who seemed to try to get a photo of his travel documents.

“The great thing is, that he was the next in line to get his documents checked, and he just turned and walked away… at the gate,” Pratasevich wrote, describing the man as “middle-aged, built, balding” and carrying a leather suitcase.

Talking to DW, Viacorka described the 26-year-old reporter as a “personal enemy of Lukashenko,” saying that Pratasevich was “posting videos and pictures from a protest about torture in prisons, about the conditions in jails. He was one of the most prominent figures speaking about the horrible violations of human rights.”

“I think what we saw today, it was their revenge, personal revenge of Lukashenko against Raman and his principled position right now,” he told DW.

(source: Deutsche Welle)

IRAN—-female execution

A woman hanged in Yazd Prison – 117th woman executed under Rouhani

A woman was hanged Sunday morning, May 23, 2021, in the Central Prison of Yazd. This is the 117th woman executed during Hassan Rouhani’s tenure as the mullahs’ president. At least 15 women have been executed every year in Iran over the past 8 years.

The woman hanged in the Central prison of Yazd was identified as Kobra Fatemi, 41, who had been in jail since 2015 on the charge of her husband’s murder. The family of the victim had agreed to receive the blood money and save her from execution. But the victim’s uncle, a member of the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), did not accept this and asked for the death verdict to be carried out.

The NCRI Women’s Committee has previously pointed out that many of the women executed by the mullahs’ regime are themselves victims of domestic violence against women and acted in self-defense.

However, the Iranian Judiciary does not categorize deliberate murders and punishes them with the death penalty regardless of the motivation and reason.

Iran holds the world’s top executioner record, with the highest number of citizens executed per capita. It is also the world’s chief executioner of women. The executions are grossly unfair.

More than 4300 people have been executed in Iran during Rouhani’s tenure. As of now, they include 117 women.

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.

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.

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Saleh Shariati, Juvenile Offender Sentenced to Death Based on Qassameh Acquitted in Court

Saleh Shariati, a juvenile offender arrested at 16 and sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) based on a qassameh despite witness testimonies of his innocence, has been acquitted after spending eight years on death row.

According to Iran Human Rights, juvenile offender Saleh Shariati who has been on death row for murder in Shiraz Central Prison since being arrested at 16, has been acquitted by Branch 39 of the Supreme Court. In April 2012, Saleh was around 16 years old when he went to help his father on a farm in Bushehr for seasonal work. He was standing by a well when another worker fell into it and died.

Confirming the news, his lawyer Abdolrasoul Jahankhah told IHR: “The Supreme Court found breaches in the case which were rectified and ultimately, Branch 39 of the Court issued the acquittal after investigating the witness testimonies.”

“A 15-year-old child was tortured to confess in a police station in the presence of the “victim’s family. Can the confession of a 15-year-old child under torture be evidence in court? And in a qisas case?” the lawyer had previously told IHR.

Saleh Shariati was not permitted to contact his family at the time of his arrest and was interrogated without the presence of a lawyer. His father said that the injuries caused by the torture were still evident on his son’s body in his 1st visit and he had lost substantial weight. Saleh himself had stated that he was forced to make self-incriminating confessions.

This is despite three eyewitnesses testifying that the worker had fallen in the well while washing his hair.

Qassameh is based on swearing an oath on the Quran by 50 people in “premeditated murder” cases and 25 people in “quasi-premeditated murder” cases and is performed when the judge decides that there is not enough evidence proving guilt of a crime, but the judge still thinks that the defendant is most probably guilty. It should be noted that the people who swear in qassameh ceremonies are not usually direct witnesses to the crime.

Iran is one of the few countries in the world that still carries out the death penalty for juvenile offenders. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Islamic Republic is a signatory to, prohibit the issuance and implementation of the death penalty for crimes committed by an individual below 18 years of age.

Yet, according to data collected by IHR and international human rights organisations, the Islamic Republic is responsible for more than 70% of all executions of juvenile offenders in the last 30 years. IHR’s statistics also show that at least 63 juvenile offenders have been executed in Iran over the past 10 years, with at least 4 executed in 2020.

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Qisas, Filicide and Honour Killings in Iran; By-products of Violent and Discriminatory Laws

In order to provide protections against filicide (a parent’s intentional murder of their child), the vicious cycle of violence, which is driven by the death penalty and discriminatory laws, must be ended.

Iran Human Rights considers the vicious cycle of violence which is exacerbated by cruel and inhuman punishments like qisas (retribution-in-kind) and discriminatory laws to be responsible for the rise in filicide cases.

“Iran is one of the leading executioners in the world and has a wide application for the use of the death penalty. The death penalty is imposed for charges such as consensual sexual relations, drinking alcohol and insulting the prophet, which are not criminal acts according to international law. The government’s widespread use of the death penalty breaks the taboo of murder in people’s minds and propagates violence in society,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Iran Human Rights.

He added: “Such acts are legitimised by the Islamic Penal Code’s discriminatory laws which provide leniency for a father or paternal grandfather murdering their (grand)children or a Muslim murdering a non-Muslim. The only sustainable solution is the complete abolition of the death penalty including qisas, and the equality of all citizens before the law.”

Iranian society was shocked by the recent murder and mutilation of film maker Babak Khorramdin by his parents, and their subsequent revelations in the early investigation phase that they had murdered their daughter and son-in-law in the same way. A short while later, news of a mother killing her two small children started a national conversation about filicide and the root causes of such violence.

While there are no official statistics on the number of filicide cases in Iran, lawyers and sociologists who have discussed the subject say, there has been a rise in the number of cases in recent years. Recent reports and statements indicate that the recent filicide cases reported in the media may be considered indicative of the bigger picture, and that filicide is more common than just the few cases that gain media attention.

Meanwhile, Islamic Republic officials and law makers have shown no signs of attempting to tackle the issue despite widespread protests by civil society activists.

Many lawyers and sociologists cite discriminatory laws based on religion which exempt a father or paternal grandfather from qisas for the murder of their (grand)children, as one of the aggravating factors. Discriminatory laws also apply to Muslims murdering non-Muslims and the murder of homosexual people.

Many of the recent filicide cases reported in the media have been honour killings. Some reports suggest that where the honour killings are committed by other family members, the victim’s father will be forced to take responsibility by the family due to the immunity afforded to him by law.

On the other hand, less attention is paid to the male victims of honour killings who are predominately homosexual men, due to outdated definitions of honour killings. As well as the father and grandfather being granted immunity in these cases, the law expands immunity in the murder of homosexual men.

Homosexuality is punishable by flogging and death according to Article 234 of the Islamic Penal Code which sets out the hadd (fixed punishment for offences mandated by Sharia) punishments for sodomy. Article 302 of the new IPC sets out a list of those that are mahdoor-ol-dam, one whose blood may be shed with immunity or deserving of death. Article 302(a) states that anyone charged with committing a crime against an individual who has committed a hadd crime punishable by death is considered mahdoor-ol-dam and the perpetrators of the murder will not be sentenced to qisas or have to pay diya (blood money).

Such discriminatory laws act as green lights in the murders and violence being committed and must be abolished to end the vicious cycle of violence in Iranian society.

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IHR Condemns New Ruling in Trumped-up Case Against Narges Mohammadi

In a new trumped-up case, human rights defender Narges Mohammadi, who was released from prison in October, has been sentenced to a further 30 months’ imprisonment, 80 lashes and a fine. Iran Human Rights condemns the ruling in the strongest terms and calls on the international community to react and act.

“Narges Mohammadi has continued to peacefully protest against the death penalty and human rights breaches despite previously enduring the heavy costs. The international community must condemn the unfair and unlawful sentence against Narges Mohammadi and support her calls for citizens to have basic human rights,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, Iran Human Rights’ director.

In an Instagram post shared today, Narges wrote: “I received a notice yesterday. It was a court order. 80 lashes, 30 months’ imprisonment and 2 fines. They charged me for my 2019 sit-in against the killing of protesters on the streets and called it disruption. Statements that I wrote in prison, they pointed to the statements against the death penalty. Speaking out against the brutal and shameless (sexual) assaults by government officials during my sit-in and unlawful prison exile are called slander and disobeying the prison warden’s orders. Breaking the glass of the prison office after a group of men from the security, military and judiciary tried to aggressively touch me has been called damage. More disgracefully, I have been convicted of holding a party and dancing. They want to flog me 80 times, lock me up for 30 months and take money from me. I will not abide by any of these rulings.”

(source for all: iranhr.net)

INDIA:

Passing the buck on the fate of Rajiv Gandhi killing case convicts

Can a high constitutional authority — even the President of India — exercise a power not vested with him in the first place? No.

So won’t the office of the First Citizen be stumped by a letter from Tamil Nadu chief minister M K Stalin, requesting the President to remit the sentence of the 7 life convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and order their ‘immediate release’?

Stalin’s May 20 letter was the second dig on the President’s office to invoke a non-existent power vis-a-vis the release of the 7 convicts. The 1st one was by Tamil Nadu governor Banwarilal Purohit, who had concluded that the President was the ‘competent authority’ and hence ‘referred’ a state cabinet resolution on the issue to him.

It was on September 9, 2018 that Tamil Nadu government invoked its sovereign power under Article 161 of the Constitution and recommended the governor to release the convicts. After more than 29 months, Purohit ‘referred’ the issue to the President on February 4, 2021. How can the President take a decision when no petition is filed directly before him, and when there is no Union cabinet recommendation in that regard?

A brief antecedent analysis of the seven convicts is in order here. Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated at Sriperumpudur near Chennai on May 21, 1991. Shortly afterwards, 26 were arrested and tried under the now-repealed Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (TADA) Act. On January 28, 1998, a special court found all of them guilty and sentenced all 26 to death. On May 11, 1999, the Supreme Court, however, did not consider the assassination as an act of terrorism, and hence upheld death penalty for only 4 – Sriharan and his wife Nalini, Santhan and A G Perarivalan. 3 others – Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran – were sentenced to undergo life imprisonment. While others, who got varying degrees of jail terms, have served their sentence and been released, the case of these seven convicts alone has been mired in a complex political web for 3 decades now.

Thanks to invocation of Article 161 by the M Karunanidhi regime in 2000, Nalini became a life convict. And in February 2014, the Supreme Court got the noose off 3 other death convicts, citing inordinate delay by the President in disposing of their mercy petitions pending since 2000. So, as on date, all seven are life convicts who have completed three decades in jails.

All of them had a fair trial and exhausted every legal option – appeals, reviews, curative pleas, mercy petitions and appeals against rejection of clemency pleas — available to them. Right now they have no vested legal right to demand release from jails. The only escape route open to them is the state government invoking its sovereign power and releasing them.

For a convict to be released under those circumstances, there are only 3 avenues open. One, the state takes the Section 432 of CrPC route, wherein it would set a minimum period as cut off and shortlist all eligible lifers who have completed those many years in jail, and line up their cases before a statutory committee. The committee shall consider the gravity of offences, mental condition of the convict and the impact his release would have on society before taking a call. Section 435 of CrPC will come into play in case of a crime investigated by a central agency or involving Union government servants or its assets, the Centre has to be necessarily consulted before the release.

In the case of these seven convicts, the J Jayalalithaa government first took Section 432/435 route in February 2014 and wrote to the Centre seeking its response. In no mood to let them go, the Congress government at the Centre rushed to the Supreme Court and got a stay. Later the apex court ruled that ‘consultation’ mentioned in Section 435 would amount to ‘consent’ so if the Centre is unwilling, the state cannot release anyone prematurely. Thus went bust the Tamil Nadu government’s first bid to release the 7.

The 2nd route is the President invoking Article 72 of the Constitution and grant pardon, reprieve, remission or suspend the sentence. In the case of Rajiv Gandhi assassins, the mercy petitions had been rejected and no President chose to invoke that power.

The only available 3rd route was Article 161 of the Constitution, wherein the state recommends to the governor to pardon and release the convicts. This is what the Tamil Nadu government did in September 2018.

There is no constitutional provision for Purohit to ‘refer’ Tamil Nadu cabinet’s recommendation to the President, for the simple reason that a President cannot act upon a state cabinet’s recommendation. A governor can take legal opinion independent of the state’s views or can return a recommendation, but if reiterated by the government, he has no other go except to give assent. Tamil Nadu itself has a brilliant precedent – Fatima Beevi, the then governor of Tamil Nadu, rejected the DMK government’s recommendation to commute death penalty of Nalini Sriharan in 2000, only to subsequently give her assent after a rap by courts.

By calling upon the President to invoke his power outside his jurisdiction and order release of the seven convicts, Stalin may be actually taking a dig at not one but two constitutional authorities — TN governor and the President.

(source: The Times of India)

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(see: https://newsmeter.in/crime/dreaded-gangster-munna-bhai-11-others-sentenced-to-death-678611?infinitescroll=1)

GLOBAL:

History’s oddest executions from boiling alive to being pulled apart by horses

Forget being beheaded, burnt at the stake or even hanged, drawn and quartered — there have been far more creative and gruesome methods of execution throughout history.

Sunday marks 320 years since the notorious pirate Captain William Kidd was put to death for his crimes.

After being found guilty of murder and piracy the 47-year-old was hanged at Execution Dock by the River Thames in London’s Wapping, on May 23, 1701.

His body was then left there until three tides had washed over it – to symbolically drown him. But this once traditional method of dispatching pirates isn’t the only unusual method of execution from yesteryear.

Forget being beheaded, burnt at the stake or even hanged, drawn and quartered – here Daily Star reveals history’s most bizarre form of capital punishment.

Hot water

In 1531 Lambeth cook Richard Roose was found guilty of killing 2 people with poisoned gruel while unsuccessfully attempting to assassinate the Bishop of Rochester.

Paranoid Tudor King Henry VIII introduced a special new punishment for poisoners – being boiled alive. Roose was duly plunged into a vat of scalding water at London’s Smithfield where he “roared mighty loud”.

The vile practice was dropped in 1547.

Stone me

Another old English punishment was to be “pressed to death”.

This saw the accused tied down and then heavier and heavier stones placed on their body until they died or pleaded guilty or not guilty. Legally, unless they did so, they couldn’t be tried.

Amazingly some people opted to be crushed to death, thus avoiding official conviction and meaning their children could still inherit their lands. Catholic martyr Margaret Clitherow died this way in 1586.

It was only abolished in 1772.

Wheel squeal

Popular in Europe until the 1800s – and once used in Scotland to execute murderers – was being “broken on the wheel”. This gruesome practice involved the condemned individual being tied to a large wooden wheel. Their limbs would be broken by being hit with a large metal rod.

They’d then be strangled or simply left to die before being paraded on the wheel in public.

Wild horses

Being pulled apart by 4 horses was a method of execution reserved for regicide – the murder of a monarch.

The French Catholic zealot Francois Ravaillac (1578-1610), who assassinated King Henry IV of France, in Paris, in 1610, is depicted, top picture, being executed by this gruesome method.

Sharp exit

Roman Emperor Caligula liked to have criminals sawn in half, while in China the painfully slow “death by a thousand cuts” or “lingchi” was a real execution method up until 1905.

Totally roasted

The Ancient Greeks sometimes locked lawbreakers inside a huge bronze bull statue, then lit a fire underneath so that their fate was to be cooked alive.

Cannon law

Being “blown from a gun” involved the wrongdoer being tied to the mouth of a cannon which was then fired.

Dating back to the 16th century, it was used by British forces to execute rebels after the 1857 Indian Mutiny.

Just wild

Elephants were once used to crush crooks to death in parts of Asia, while in Britain a murderous 12th century monk was just one of those sentenced to be torn apart by wild horses.

The once widespread method saw nags attached to each limb, then made to run.

Sweet justice?

As well as famously throwing people to the lions and burying them alive, the Romans sometimes left criminals stuffed in a tree trunk with just their head sticking out, which was covered in milk and honey.

They were left out in the open to be attacked by critters such as bees until they died.

(source: en.ammonnews.net)

MAY 23, 2021:

TEXAS:

Bexar County Goverment: Grand Jury Indicts 2 Men For 2019 Capital Murder—-This week, Bexar County Grand Juries handed down 219 felony indictments.

Armando Eric Narvaez and Zion Michael Talavera are charged with capital murder – other felony. The indictments allege that on July 30, 2019, Narvaez and Talavera intentionally caused the death of Gemunu Gamarachchilage by shooting Gamarachchilage with a deadly weapon (firearm) in the course of committing or attempting to commit the offense of aggravated robbery of Gamarachchilage. These cases are being prosecuted by the Criminal Trial Division in the 186th District Court. Capital murder is punishable by life in prison without parole or the death penalty.

An indictment is not a finding of guilt. A person charged by indictment is presumed innocent until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury or a judge. Because this case is pending, we can make no further comment on it.

Copies of indictments may be requested from the Bexar County District Clerk. Information on court settings can be found by searching the case online or directly from the court.

(source: patch.com)

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Life Without Parole Is Replacing the Death Penalty — But the Legal Defense System Hasn’t Kept Up —- Just ask a Dallas woman who spent a year in jail without talking to a lawyer.

Shuranda Williams spent more than a year in the county jail here, waiting to talk to someone about fighting the murder charge she faces. The police have said she was involved in the 2019 killing of a suspected drug dealer; she insists she wasn’t.

This investigation was published in partnership with The Dallas Morning News, NBC News and NBC 5

If she’s convicted of capital murder, Williams, 44, faces a minimum sentence of life in prison without parole. She wanted a lawyer to help her make her case and to argue for her release from jail, but she couldn’t afford to hire one.

If prosecutors had announced they were seeking the death penalty, Williams would have been guaranteed a pair of lawyers whose expertise in capital cases has been vetted by a court-appointed screening committee. The government would have paid for an investigator and a mental health expert to examine her case. And under national legal guidelines, her lawyers would have had a special obligation to aggressively assert every possible argument to defend her.

But because Williams could face life without parole — a sentence that also means she would die behind bars — she didn’t get any of that.

The lawyer a judge appointed to defend her, George Ashford III, is not on the approved list for death penalty cases. He has not hired an investigator or mental health expert for her. He visited Williams once, wrote her one letter, and has not responded to her phone calls, she told judges. When she wrote to them for help, they didn’t respond — or sent her back to Ashford.

“I explained to him what happened that night, and I haven’t talked to him since,” Williams said in a phone call from jail. She was frustrated that Ashford hadn’t pursued a motion to reduce her $525,000 bond. “At least if I got out, I could work and pay for a decent lawyer,” she said.

Ashford said there was little he could do given the pandemic and the circumstances of the crime. After 35 years as a criminal defense lawyer handling many felonies, Ashford said, “Realistically I can pretty much read a police report and determine what the likely or average outcome for that case is going to be.”

Life-without-parole sentences are steadily replacing the death penalty across the United States. Almost 56,000 people nationwide are now serving sentences that will keep them locked up until they die, an increase of 66% since 2003, according to The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit that advocates for shorter prison terms.

By comparison, only 2,500 people nationally are on death row according to the Death Penalty Information Center; the number of new death sentences dwindled to 18 last year, as prosecutors increasingly seek life instead. Executions are less popular with Americans than they used to be, according to Gallup, and are astronomically expensive to taxpayers. In Dallas, the district attorney’s office says it asks for capital punishment only for egregious crimes where defendants present a continuing threat to society.

But as life without parole displaces capital punishment, the country’s patchwork system of public defense hasn’t kept up. Only 11 states report having minimum qualifications for lawyers who represent impoverished people facing a lifetime behind bars, according to the nonprofit Sixth Amendment Center. In Texas, there’s a continuing dispute over whether the standards for death penalty defense apply if prosecutors seek life without parole instead.

Most states have no rules, The Marshall Project and The Dallas Morning News found. Someone just out of law school could handle a life-without-parole case in Illinois or Nebraska. In California, where a third of the prison population is serving some form of life sentence, minimum qualifications apply only in death penalty cases; the state hasn’t executed anyone since 2006.

Other states have minimal standards. South Carolina requires just three years of experience in criminal law; Arkansas specifies that lawyers should have handled at least one homicide trial.

When it comes to life without parole, “the idea that you would treat these cases like you would treat other felonies is somewhat incomprehensible to me,” said Pamela Metzger, the director of the Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “The sentencing stakes are so high and often irreversible.” People facing life have far fewer chances to appeal than those facing capital punishment, and their cases draw far less scrutiny, she said.

In Michigan, where 4,000 people are serving life without parole, the indigent defense commission adopted new standards that would require lawyers who handle such cases to have at least 5 years of significant experience, including at least seven felony jury trials. But the standards have yet to be approved by other state regulators.

Many legal experts say that people facing life without parole should receive the same level of representation as those facing the death penalty.

“Life without parole is just another form of the death penalty, just a slower version of it,” said Lawrence Meyers, a judge who served on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for more than 20 years.

A MESSY PATCHWORK

Though thousands are serving life without parole for violent crimes such as homicide, courts in almost a dozen states have given hundreds of people that penalty for drug crimes.

Prosecutors have found that jurors are less squeamish about locking people up for the rest of their lives than about executing them. And life-without-parole trials cost thousands of dollars less than death penalty cases. They are shorter, involve fewer lawyers, allow limited appeals and often end in plea deals before trial.

Life without parole is an important option for prosecutors, said Joe Gonzales, the district attorney in San Antonio. While many families of victims expect the death penalty, for others “dealing with the tragedy of losing someone they love, knowing that the person who killed them is going to be in prison forever is enough.”

Half the people serving life without parole are locked up in just five states: California, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Only Alaska doesn’t permit this punishment.

“Prosecutors have gone wild with life-without-parole sentences – but in particular counties and for particular marginalized people,” said Brandon Garrett, a Duke University law professor who wrote a book on the decline of capital punishment. His study of North Carolina found that more than 60% of the prison population serving life without parole was Black. Only 30% was White.

The Texas Legislature authorized the use of life-without-parole sentences in 2005 as an alternative to the death penalty in murder cases. It is also used for some sexually violent offenses. The state has sentenced more than 1,200 people to die in prison; many convictions resulted from plea deals, so the defendants waived their right to appeal.

A BIRTHDAY GONE WRONG

Shuranda Williams said she was raised by her grandmother in a south Dallas neighborhood where gunshots used to wake her up at night. Williams, whose family calls her Pinkie, worked at Subway and KFC while taking care of her four children, who are now adults.

She had a couple of minor run-ins with the criminal justice system. In 1995, when she was 18, she was caught with underwear a friend bought with a stolen credit card; she spent several months behind bars, according to court records. She stayed out of trouble until 2010, when she tried unsuccessfully to cash someone else’s unemployment check in Georgia. She received probation.

“I’ve had my ups and downs in life,” Williams said. The downs sometimes included drugs and alcohol, she said, especially when she was in abusive romantic relationships.

By 2019, she had found work loading medical supplies onto delivery trucks in Dallas.

Williams said her memory is foggy about what happened on Dec. 10, 2019, the eve of her 43rd birthday, but she knows she wasn’t involved in a murder. She remembers driving with her brother and another man to a Super 7 Inn. She bought drugs there from a man she knew named Anthony Burks, she said, and then left to go party.

In court records, police say video surveillance captured Williams knocking on Burks’ door, talking to him, then gesturing to her brother and the other man. They say she conferred with the men in her car before leaving. Within half an hour, law enforcement says, the men knocked on the door and shot Burks, 46, killing him in the course of a robbery.

Detectives said two men were spotted running from the motel; police offered a $5,000 reward for information.

Williams said she didn’t know about any plans for a robbery or shooting.

8 days after Burks’ death, Williams and her brother were arrested outside a Popeyes restaurant in east Dallas. Police said they found a trace amount of cocaine in a plastic baggie in Williams’ pocket; she was charged with drug possession in addition to capital murder.

Her brother, Donald Williams Jr., was also arrested on capital murder charges and remains in the Dallas County jail, held without bond because of a criminal case in another state. His lawyer, Paul Johnson, who is on the approved list for death penalty defense, did not comment on behalf of his client.

The unnamed man police said was involved in killing Burks? He’s never been identified or charged.

A LEGAL QUAGMIRE?

In 1984, the Supreme Court decided that lawyers defending people accused of crimes must be proficient. But it didn’t set standards, just allowed people to challenge their convictions by showing that their lawyers didn’t demonstrate basic competence — and that this poor performance affected the outcome. It is a high bar.

Defense lawyers began trying to develop minimum standards. In 2003, the American Bar Association updated its guidelines for what lawyers should do for clients who face death sentences. Among other things, the guidelines say these lawyers should have extensive criminal trial experience and knowledge of death penalty case law and should hire investigators and mental health experts.

Some state legislatures and courts have adopted these standards, including Texas. But experts say enforcement is a problem. And in almost every state, the standards don’t apply to life-without-parole cases.

The issue is further complicated by the quagmire of indigent defense. In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees people accused of serious crimes the right to a lawyer — but didn’t specify how that would work. States have struggled with how to find, pay and evaluate lawyers for the poor. Sometimes they hire public defenders, who are employed by local governments. Sometimes they let judges assign private lawyers, who are paid with taxpayer funds. Many counties use a combination of systems.

Across the country, the result has been some lawyers who are overburdened, underpaid and occasionally incompetent. Some of these lawyers handle more than 1,000 felony cases a year, missing crucial filing deadlines or letting clients with mental illness languish in jail. It’s rare for an appeal of a life sentence to get a thorough reassessment: It took more than 43 years for courts to review the case of a Kansas City man sentenced to die in prison for a capital murder that prosecutors now say he did not commit.

In Texas, the state commission that oversees public defense says all people charged with capital murder — as Williams was — should get lawyers approved to handle capital punishment cases, in part because prosecutors don’t always announce right away if they will seek the death penalty. The American Bar Association and State Bar of Texas guidelines say the same.

The commission also says that under a law passed in 2019, defendants in Dallas and other places where public defenders are available should receive them, not private lawyers, in capital murder cases. But while the commission can threaten to withhold funding from courts, it doesn’t have the authority to control the behavior of individual judges.

Since 2014, courts in Dallas have appointed private lawyers not on the death-penalty approved list to capital murder cases at least 72 times, or roughly 20 percent of the time, The Marshall Project and The Dallas Morning News found. The judges we contacted did not answer questions about this practice. But in court filings, Dallas officials have argued that under state criminal law they don’t have to appoint lawyers from the approved list for capital murder cases — unless prosecutors say they are seeking the death penalty.

Some Dallas judges had been using a checklist form that stated that they had “good cause” to appoint preferred lawyers. Earlier this year, the Indigent Defense Commission said this system was “inadequate, misleading” and did not follow the law. The commission says that in April the county submitted a revised plan in which judges agreed to spell out their reasoning.

DEFENDING A RECORD

Judge Tracy Holmes used the checklist in December 2019 to appoint Ashford to represent Shuranda Williams. She marked that “the lawyer has the required experience,” “the Court is familiar with the lawyer’s work ethic and the facts of the case,” and that he would support the “special needs of the defendant.” He did not meet the fourth item on the list: being on the approved list for capital murder cases.

In response to an email describing Williams’ case and Dallas courts’ appointment practices, Holmes said: “I do not necessarily agree with all the facts and findings you list.” She said she couldn’t comment on cases pending in her court.

Ashford says he has an excellent reputation in all parts of the criminal courthouse and has handled many serious felony cases, but doesn’t want to be on the capital murder list. “I choose not to do death penalty cases — because they are time-consuming, and kind of eat up your practice,” he said.

But he said the judges who appoint him to life-without-parole cases are confident in his skills defending serious felony charges: “Frankly, I’m pretty damn good.”

In the 12 months leading up to August 2019, state data shows that Ashford was paid at least $110,930 from taxpayers for handling more than 130 cases, mostly felonies.

In at least 2 cases since 2014, Ashford’s impoverished clients were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without parole. One has appealed, alleging he received ineffective assistance and Ashford wasn’t qualified to represent him; the appeal is pending.

Ashford says he has a successful record in these types of cases.

“Claims of ineffective assistance are par for the course on capital cases because of their very nature,” Ashford wrote in a recent email. “In the past, the appellate courts have always decided the issue based on the lawyer’s actual performance, not any rule” about qualifications.

‘SOMEBODY FIGHTING FOR YOU’

Williams said she met with Ashford for the only time on Christmas Eve in 2019 in the county jail. He started the process of filing a motion to get her released in early 2020, but said he stopped because she didn’t give him accurate information. He also said he didn’t hire an investigator to gather additional facts, including potentially identifying the unknown man involved in the shooting, because he didn’t believe it would help her.

“My client has to tell me the truth, but she basically told me a very big lie,” he said, declining to provide details. (Williams said she doesn’t know what he is talking about.)

Williams wrote at least a dozen letters to JudgeHolmes from jail, asking why she’d never been able to go to a courtroom and asking the judge to reduce her bond; her court date had been postponed 14 times.

She said she last heard from Ashford in May 2020, when he mailed her a letter saying he was reviewing evidence about the cases he was assigned to but judges weren’t approving all COVID-19 motions to reduce or eliminate bond. “Each case is judged on a case by case basis,” Ashford wrote.

The Dallas County district clerk’s office said records showed at least 19 capital murder defendants were released in the first half of 2020 on personal recognizance bonds or electronic monitoring; releases continued later in the year.

Ashford said he stands by his letter.

The day after The Marshall Project and The Dallas Morning News sent Holmes an email about Williams’ case seeking comment, the judge appointed Williams a new lawyer: Phillip Hayes.

Hayes is on the list of experienced lawyers appointed for death penalty cases. He declined to comment, saying he needed more time to review Williams’ case.

A few days later, the judge held a hearing and asked Williams if she wanted to keep Ashford as her lawyer.

“I haven’t spoken with him since Dec. 24, 2019,” she told the judge.

“OK, well, that’s not what he represented to me, but I’ll take your word for it,” Holmes said. Ashford was not in the courtroom.

At the hearing, Hayes asked for additional time to investigate the evidence and speak with Williams’ family to advocate for her release at a future bond hearing. In less than 2 minutes, Williams was headed back to jail.

“Everybody was so excited for me because they said he is a great lawyer,” Williams said of the reaction at the jail. “They were saying ‘Now you have somebody fighting for you!’”

(source: Cary Aspinwall is a Dallas-based staff writer for The Marshall Project. Previously, she was an investigative reporter at The Dallas Morning News, where she reported on the impact of pre-trial incarceration and money bail on women and children in Texas and deaths in police custody involving excessive force and medical negligence—-The Marshall Project)

NORTH CAROLINA:

Vernetta Alston: I represented an innocent man on death row: Here’s why N.C. must end the death penalty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(source: greensboro.com)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

EDITORIAL: Death penalty should be used per S.C. law

With the continuing unavailability of drugs for lethal injection, South Carolina leaders have decided to move ahead with executions after a 10-year delay. To do so, lawmakers will give death row inmates a choice between the electric chair or newly formed firing squad, though lethal injection will remain the state’s preferred method of execution.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law the legislation that forces death row inmates to make the choice, but just when or if executions can resume is unclear. Two inmates who have exhausted their appeals immediately sued, saying they can’t be electrocuted or shot since they were sentenced under a prior law that made lethal injection the default execution method if an inmate rejects the electric chair.

The continuing delays are unacceptable if the state is to have capital punishment. As McMaster said via Twitter: “The families and loved ones of victims are owed closure and justice by law.”

The death penalty is the ultimate punishment for the worst criminals.

We must be certain, with a defense being vigorously mounted for accused criminals, that guilt is established. After it is, at present, a flawed legal process allows those sentenced to death to remain on death row for decades as appeal after appeal is filed. That’s not the way the process should work. Capital cases should receive top priority, getting a thorough and complete review. And they should be handled quickly.

Executions and new death sentences have been declining in South Carolina and across the United States. South Carolina has not executed anyone since May 6, 2011.

The complication has been in the method: use of lethal injection.

States have been unable to obtain drugs because pharmaceutical companies that compounded them in the past have received a great deal of outside pressure to end the practice.

Without the drugs, states have had no way of executing inmates on death row unless, as in South Carolina, they choose to die by electrocution.

While lethal injection remains the most acceptable method of administering capital punishment, complications surrounding the process should not mean capital punishment is non-existent.

Still, he method of execution is not the primary problem.

Until we change the legal procedures surrounding capital cases, the death penalty is not even very good as societal retribution. Too many times there is sympathy for the person being executed as the stories of the victims are deep in the past. The victims, let us remember, are not around to tell their stories. Their family and friends are punished as cases drag on and on.

Call punishment by death or life in prison with no chance to get out nothing but retribution if you will, but time it is for people to pay the price for their actions.

If the electric chair and firing squads are the only certain methods of execution available in South Carolina, use them.

(source: Editorial, The Times and Democrat)

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Prison system tells Supreme Court: SC’s electric chair is ready for go

After 10 years and 2 weeks of downtime, South Carolina’s electric chair is once more ready to perform its duty.

That was the message delivered to the S.C. Supreme Court late this week by a lawyer hired by the State Department of Corrections.

“I have been authorized to alert the Supreme Court that, due to the recent amendment to S.C. Code Section 24-3-530, the Department now is now able to carry out executions by electrocution. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration,” wrote Columbia lawyer Daniel Plyler in a letter to the high court.

In the letter, Plyler said he “had been retained” by Corrections.

Copies of the letter were also addressed 3 men who are nearing execution — Richard Moore, Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens, as well as to their attorneys, according to the letter.

Earlier this month, the S.C. General Assembly tweaked the state’s death penalty law in hopes of eliminating a loophole that allowed inmates to indefinitely delay their executions.

Under the old law, a death row inmate had two choices: death by electrocution or death by lethal injection. The law said if an inmate wanted to die by lethal injection, the state could not force him to die by electrocution.

For years, since the state prison system said it could not obtain lethal drugs to carry out an execution, inmates chose lethal injection as their preferred way to die — knowing that the state could not force them to die by electrocution.

But the General Assembly has now eliminated that loophole. Lawmakers say the change in the law now allows the prison system to kill death row inmates by electrocution, even if they prefer lethal injection.

The newly revised law also has a provision for inmates to choose death by firing squad. However, Corrections does not yet have procedures for a firing squad.

Chrysti Shain, Corrections spokeswoman, released this statement Friday evening: “The S.C. Department of Corrections has informed the S.C. Supreme Court that it can carry out executions. The only method available at this time is the electric chair.

“The department is working to develop protocols and procedures to proceed with execution by firing squad and still has no lethal injections drugs. We are currently looking at other states for guidance in developing firing squad protocols,” she said.

Under state law, once the Corrections department notifies the Supreme Court it is ready to carry out an execution, the Supreme Court issues an execution notice to the inmate.

No notice had been sent out by the Supreme Court as of Friday.

Once the notices are sent out and received by the inmates, the executions will be scheduled for the fourth Friday following receipt.

A state senator who played a key role in getting the option of a firing squad inserted into the revised death penalty law this spring said Friday he doesn’t believe Corrections can carry out executions until there is a firing squad option in place, assuming the inmate would prefer a firing squad.

“They shouldn’t be electrocuting anybody until they have the alternative of a firing squad in place. If they aren’t doing that, they are violating the statute that we just passed,” said State Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland.

“If there are no drugs, Corrections must offer the inmate a choice between a firing squad and the electric chair — that is what we passed.”

South Carolina’s last execution was in May 2011.

(source: The State)

OHIO:

Rulli, others seek repeal of Ohio’s death penalty

The death penalty in Ohio appears to be on the ropes.

First, Gov. Mike DeWine late last year put a moratorium on all state executions for 2021, citing difficulty in getting a drug for lethal injections.

Now both houses of the state Legislature have taken up bills to repeal Ohio’s death penalty law.

Senate Bill 103, co-sponsored by Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, is being debated by the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, while House Bill 183 has seen debate in three separate House committees.

Multiple efforts over several days to reach Rulli for his comments on why he is one of 11 senators backing the repeal of the death penalty were unsuccessful.

Currently the House bill, which has no local co-sponsors, is being debated by the criminal justice panel.

While lawmakers debate, lobbying efforts are lining up on both sides of the issue. Emotion is playing a key role in the arguments from both sides.

LOCAL VIEW

Miriam Fife, 81, of Cortland, whose 12-year-old son, Raymond, was murdered almost 36 years ago in southwest Warren and whose killer’s execution is being hamstrung by an appeal pending in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court, said she was intrigued by recent action by the South Carolina Legislature.

“You know that if they can’t get a (execution) drug, they are going to let the inmates choose between the firing squad and the electric chair. I kind of like that solution,” Fife said.

The long-suffering mother said she has called several Ohio legislators to urge the South Carolina solution for Ohio’s death row inmates but has, so far, received no responses.

“I called (Sen.) Nathan Manning’s (R-North Ridgeville) office, and they told me to contact my local legislator. So I put in a call to (Sen.) Sandra O’Brien and she hasn’t gotten back to me. Maybe I should give a call to (state Rep.) Mike (O’Brien, D-Warren),” she said.

“I understand that the governor and the legislators are too busy with the pandemic and the recent violence to give consideration to this issue,” Fife said. “But for people like me who are victims, this is the priority.”

Fife said she doesn’t have a lot of faith in the political and legal processes anymore.

“The checks and balances all over the country are not the best right now,” said the woman who has waited about 35 years for the execution of her son’s killer, Danny Lee Hill.

OPPONENTS

Meanwhile, a news conference was held Tuesday seeking support for the anti-death penalty forces.

The Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr., executive director of Ohio Council of Churches and relative of a murder victim, said he can identify with those victims who are frustrated by the increasing number of violent acts.

“But our moral character has to govern us in our response,” Sullivan said.

Turning to his Christian faith, Sullivan said he cannot differentiate between a life-ending act on a Cleveland street and the same calculated response committed by the state in a Chillicothe prison.

“Killing is wrong,” he said.

To illustrate a response for an alternative to capital punishment, Sullivan said he remembered as a kid, a fire engines responding to a fire next door.

“The water was needed to extinguish the fire,” Sullivan said. “And Jesus responded by throwing water on the public execution process on the woman caught in adultery.”

2 members of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus participated in the news conference, including Sen. Hearcel Craig of Columbus and Rep. Stephanie Howse of Cleveland. The legislators indicated that they would work diligently to move SB 103 and HB 183 through the Legislature.

The president of the caucus, state Rep. Thomas West, D-Canton, said the bills had the “full support” of the caucus.

“Senate Bill 103 and House Bill 183 have received broader support than any prior repeal efforts,” West said.

During the conference, Craig spoke about many innocent people who have been sentenced to death in Ohio, as well as its disproportionate impact on black Ohioans.

Howse said of 6 innocent men who were sent to death row from Cuyahoga County, 5 were black.

“We can no longer ignore that black lives are consistently devalued by a justice system that should idealize fairness and accuracy,” Howse said.

Joia Thornton, national policy strategist for Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, noted that Hispanic and black people make up 31 percent of the U.S. population but account for 53 percent of the people on death row.

SUPPORTERS

Lou Tobin, president of the Ohio Prosecutors Association, said the death penalty still has a place in Ohio for the worst of the worst offenders and their heinious crimes.

“It is our position that the death penalty is important enough to put it to a vote of the people and find out what they really want,” Tobin said.

Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, in also rejecting this anti-death penalty legislation, takes the side for the victims.

“The law needs to have finality for everyone,” Watkins said — noting that the Feb. 16, 2022, execution date for Trumbull County multiple killer Stanley Ted Adams is drawing near.

(source: The Vindicator)

ARKANSAS:

True Crime: How DNA Evidence Suggests That An Executed Man May Have Been Innocent After All

On April 20, 2017, Ledell Lee was put to death by the state of Arkansas via lethal injection. He’d been convicted of murdering Debra Reese, a 26-year-old in Jacksonville, Ark., back in 1993. Lee had always maintained his innocence, insisting in an interview with the BBC the day before his execution that his last words would be the same words he’d been saying for 22 years: “I am an innocent man.”

Lee was the first death row inmate to be executed in Arkansas after 12 years of no executions at all. His was one of eight planned executions intended to be carried out in an 11-day period in April, critics said because the state was rushing forward with executions before one of the primary drugs used in their lethal injection cocktail reached its expiration date of April 30. Three executions ended up being cancelled due to court rulings, but three others were put to death that month.

New DNA Evidence

Patricia Young, Lee’s sister, always believed her brother wasn’t the killer. She fought for years to prove his innocence and save his life. Now, new evidence has emerged to suggest the brother and sister may be right.

Attorneys working in conjunction with the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union say that recent DNA testing of the murder weapon reveals genetic material belonging to another man — not Ledell Lee. The murder weapon had not previously been tested.

Young was able to obtain the murder weapon, which included a wooden club and a white shirt covered in blood, along with a few other pieces of evidence, after filing a lawsuit against the city of Jacksonville, Ark. in January of 2020.

The DNA info has been added to the national criminal database, which is maintained by the F.B.I., in hopes of identifying the owner of the newly discovered DNA, but not soon enough to save Ledell Lee’s life. The Innocence Project and the A.C.L.U. had requested further DNA testing on multiple occasions, even up to the day before Lee’s execution in April of 2017. Lee had requested a stay of execution from the judge and was denied by a federal judge who said he had “simply delayed too long.”

“No one should be executed when there is a possibility that person is innocent,” attorney Nina Morrison from the Innocence Project said after Lee was put to death.

It’s Too Late For Ledell Lee — But What Now?

The new evidence, according to Morrison, is inconclusive but still significant. The statement released early this May from the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union said that genetic material and fingerprints were found on the crime scene evidence, neither of which could be identified but did not belong to Ledell Lee. Experts were able to determine that the DNA from the murder weapon and the shirt did belong to the same man.

“While the results obtained 29 years after the evidence was collected proved to be incomplete and partial, it is notable that there are now new DNA profiles that were not available during the trial and post-conviction proceedings in Mr. Lee’s case,” Morrison said in a separate statement. “We are hopeful that one or more of these forensic law enforcement databases will generate additional information in the future.”

Despite the new evidence pointing to a perpetrator who wasn’t Lee, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson continues to defend the execution. “It’s my duty to carry out the law,” he said at a news conference on May 4. “The fact is that the jury found him guilty based upon the information that they had.” He said the new DNA evidence was “inconclusive.”

So far, the new DNA profile that was uploaded to the national criminal database hasn’t generated any “hits.” But that only means that the man in question has not been entered into the national database based on an arrest for or conviction of a violent crime.

Other Problems With Lee’s Case

The Innocence Project maintains that no physical evidence in the case against him conclusively connected him to the murder of Debra Reese. The group also details a series of other horrible issues regarding the mishandling of Lee’s case, from a drunk, unprepared lawyer to unreliable witnesses to debunked “science” attempting to match Lee’s hair to hairs found at the crime scene. Fingerprints found in relevant areas of the crime scene did not match Lee’s fingerprints. Lee’s first trial ended in a hung jury, partially due to the credible testimony of alibi witnesses that suggested Lee couldn’t have committed the murder. Unbelievably, Lee’s defense did not call alibi witnesses for the second trial — the one that sentenced Ledell Lee to death.

After his arrest for murdering Reese in 1993, Lee was linked via DNA to 4 other violent crimes, including 3 rapes and a homicide. The prosecutor on Lee’s case, now a judge, said at the time of his execution, “I think what makes Ledell Lee particularly deserving — and no other penalty but the death penalty would be proportional to the crimes that he has committed — would be this pattern of being a serial rapist and a killer.”

Lee’s sister remains hopeful that the new DNA evidence will eventually yield more information.

(source: Yahoo News)

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Byron Williams: The acceptable error rate for capital punishment

For 22 years, Ledell Lee languished in an Arkansas prison maintaining his innocence. Lee was sentenced to death for strangling and fatally bludgeoning Debra Reese in 1993. On April 20, 2017, Lee was put to death by lethal injection.

4 years after Lee’s execution, DNA testing has revealed that genetic material on the murder weapon — which was never previously tested — belongs to someone else.

This revelation does not exonerate Lee, but it adds an additional layer of doubt. It gives rise to the most unthinkable question in a democratic society: Did the state execute an innocent person?

Capital punishment represents one of the few issues for which I do not consider nuance as a viable option. Death penalty laws can be traced back more than 2,000 years. Why does the wealthiest, most technologically advanced nation in human history still find it viable?

My uncompromising opposition to the death penalty is based largely on a single question: To support capital punishment, what would be the acceptable error percentage?

Lee does not represent the first time an innocent person was possibly executed in the United States. In 2004, Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham, who was convicted of murdering his three children by arson. Subsequent investigations, including a documentary, suggest Willingham may have indeed been innocent.

Even if it were proven that Willingham was the only innocent person executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, isn’t that an error percentage that exceeds acceptability?

There can be no authentic advocacy for the death penalty that does not include ghoulish possibilities. As macabre as the execution of the innocent may seem, it’s more gruesome to consider it may have occurred just four years ago, a time when reasonable persons might assume such actions would be a moral impossibility.

According to The New York Times, the Innocence Project and the ACLU pushed for additional DNA testing on several occasions, including on the eve of Lee’s execution. All requests were denied.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, responding to the DNA results, defended Lee’s execution. “It’s my duty to carry out the law,” he said, adding, “The fact is that the jury found him guilty based upon the information that they had.” The governor also suggested the new DNA evidence was “inconclusive.” But four years after being executed by the state, Lee’s guilt remains in doubt — exacerbated by DNA results the governor deems “inconclusive.”

Hutchinson’s remarks omit the dignity of human life. As governor, it is not enough to hide behind the decision of the jury. The failure of the governor to not exhaust every means of technology to reach a judicious conclusion is moral malfeasance. Isn’t the governor the final arbiter in this process of state-sponsored retribution?

Life without the possibility of parole is not only a sensible, less costly, alternative, but unlike the death penalty, it allows mistakes to be corrected as new evidence comes to light — an option denied to Lee.

But life without the possibility of parole doesn’t titillate, explaining its benefits cannot routinely be reduced to a 30-second sound bite or fit neatly within the contours of a bumper sticker.

How can anyone possessing a moral compass not be overcome by consternation with the possibility that the state has executed an innocent person? This is the ghastly reality for a nation willing to be mentioned along with China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, as among the nations that embrace capital punishment in the 21st century.

If it were proved that Lee was innocent, so what? Would there be a political price to pay for the wrongdoing? Does Lee simply represent the collateral damage for maintaining an ineffectual policy? Or should we just assume there’s an error percentage attached to capital punishment, rendering all in the system as potentially expendable?

Armchair executioners often debate the death penalty based on the nature of the crime. In doing so, they absolve themselves from any responsibility to examine capital punishment in totality. There are numerous examples of heinous crimes one can cite to justify support for capital punishment. None, however, validate state-sponsored execution of the innocent.

In 1992, during the New Hampshire primary, presidential hopeful and Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, in the throes of a sexual scandal, sought to change the narrative. He rushed back to Arkansas to oversee the execution of Ricky Lee Rector — a man so mentally insufficient he left the pecan pie provided for his last meal, informing the jailer he was saving it for when he returned to his cell. Nearly three decades later, we must ponder the possibility that another Arkansas governor has once again displayed the subjectivity of human decency, as it applies to capital punishment. (source: greensboro.com)

KANSAS:

Riley County deputy attorney arguing against Carr brothers in appeal in Wichita murder spree case

A Riley County deputy attorney on Monday will present oral arguments against a pair of brothers convicted for a murder, rape and robbery spree in Wichita in 2000.

Jonathan and Reginald Carr will be back before the Kansas Supreme Court seeking to avoid the death penalty.

David Lowden, who has been with Riley County since January 2000, previously served as an assistant Sedgwick County attorney and has been responsible for the appeals since the brothers’ convictions in 2002.

The brothers had been charged with 4 counts of capital murder, 1 count of 1st-degree murder and 13 counts of rape. The counts stemmed from multiple crimes including the Dec. 14, 2000 deaths of Jason Befort, 26; Brad Heyka, 27; Heather Muller, 25; and Aaron Sander, 29.

The Carrs had forced the group to perform sexual acts with them and each other for hours before being taking them to ATMs to drain their bank accounts. They then took the group to a frozen soccer field, made them kneel and shot them all in the back of the head.

Another unidentified woman was brutalized and shot during that incident, but a hair clip diverted the bullet, sparing her. She ran to a house for help and to report the murders. Police and prosecutors additionally linked the brothers to a carjacking and robbery of a 23-year-old man and the shooting death of Linda Walenta, all of which occurred earlier that same month.

Monday’s proceedings will consider 20 issues that had been brought up during the original appeal. The Kansas Supreme Court did not address them in 2014 because it had already decided on other grounds to overturn the Carrs’ death sentences.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 later overturned the state court’s decision, ruling that Kansas justices had improperly applied federal law in the case.

Some of the issues on appeal include whether the brothers’ Constitutional rights were violated when their penalty phases at trial were combined, as well as whether the trial judge correctly instructed the jury, among others.

(source: The Manhattan Mercury)

ARIZONA:

5 women, 2 men make up list of Arizona Supreme Court nominees

5 of the the 7 nominees to fill the Arizona Supreme Court position created by the April 1 retirement of Justice Andrew Gould are women.

Cynthia Bailey and Jennifer Perkins are current Arizona Court of Appeals judges.

Bailey was appointed by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey in April, 2020 when she was a Maricopa County Superior Court judge. Before becoming a judge, Bailey was a deputy Maricopa County attorney.

Perkins was serving as the Assistant Solicitor General for Arizona when Gov. Ducey appointed her to the Arizona Court of Appeals in October, 2017. When she first came to Arizona, Perkins reportedly worked for the Arizona chapter of the Institute of Justice, litigating civil rights cases.

Kathryn King is a partner at BurnsBarton PLC in Phoenix, where she specializes in labor and employment law and litigation. She was appointed to the Arizona Board of Regents by Gov. Ducey in March, 2020. At one time, Perkins served as Ducey’s deputy general counsel.

Adele Ponce and Patricia Starr are both Superior Court judges in Maricopa County.

Ponce was appointed by Gov. Ducey in September, 2018. Early in her career, she worked to prosecute those responsible for the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Starr was appointed in 2014 by Gov. Jan Brewer and won the retention vote last November. According to her bio at ballotpedia.org, from 2008-2011 she was a capital staff attorney for the Arizona Death Penalty Judicial Assistance Project.

David Euchner serves as a public defender for Pima County.

David Weinzweig is an Arizona Court of Appeals judge.

Currently, Vice Chief Justice Ann Scott Timmer is the only female Arizona Supreme Court justice.

The nominees are selected by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments.

Records show Ducey’s last 5 Supreme Court appointments have all been men.

Gov. Ducey reportedly has 60 days from Tuesday, when the names of the nominees were released, to decide who Arizona’s newest Supreme Court Justice will be.

(source: Northeast Valley News)

NEVADA:

Mixed signals from governor, election considerations blamed for failure of death penalty repeal effort

After more than 20 years of trying to ban the state’s death penalty, and following former death penalty stronghold Virginia’s repeal of capital punishment in mid-March, activists hoped that the 2021 legislative session would finally be the time for Nevada to end capital punishment.

But in spite of the state’s Democratic trifecta, those efforts culminated in one of the biggest heartbreaks of the session for criminal justice reform advocates when the bill was spiked by Gov. Steve Sisolak and legislative Democratic leaders earlier this month.

Though no one has been executed in the state since 2006, the Clark County district attorney’s office is now pushing for the execution of Zane Floyd, who was convicted of killing 4 people inside a Las Vegas grocery store two decades ago. Advocates said the move made passing a repeal even more urgent this session.

So why did repeal fail?

No single cause of death is named on the legislative coroner’s report, but interviews with involved parties suggest a combination of factors — ranging from personal belief, mixed gubernatorial signals, potential election-related considerations and the fact that the two senators responsible for hearing the bill work for the Clark County district attorney — helped kill the measure and keep Nevada as one of 24 states with the death penalty.

The entire debate takes place against the backdrop of a state still closely divided in party registration, with some top senators — including Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) — winning election by a single percentage point. Republicans flipped several legislative seats in the 2020 election, and Gov. Steve Sisolak’s expected re-election challenger in 2022 is Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo — a candidate likely to highlight a message of law and order.

Those political dynamics make public opinion a key consideration, but the data has been somewhat inconclusive. A 2017 poll commissioned by The Nevada Independent indicated that most Nevadans support the death penalty, but advocates have long questioned whether the solid tilt toward capital punishment had to do with the way the poll question was phrased.

Anti-death penalty activists commissioned a new survey released earlier this year that showed much closer results — and even a slight lean toward abolition — when questions were phrased differently.

Past legislative sessions have often seen a small group of progressive Democrats introduce capital punishment repeal bills, but the measures never advanced far, with leadership hesitant to push a politically dicey issue through the process in the face of a likely veto. In 2017, Gov. Brian Sandoval signaled opposition to a repeal bill, and after getting one committee hearing it was never brought up for a vote.

So, when Assembly members this session voted on party lines to abolish the death penalty, with Republicans opposed, activists celebrated the measure’s move out of committee to a floor vote, the furthest the concept had ever traveled in the Legislative Building. They said the bill was essential to doing away with an “eye for an eye” mentality and a practice they say does not help hurting families move on from violence, disproportionately affects people of color and is an expensive endeavor that could lead to killing innocent people.

Opponents, including Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson and individuals who have have lost loved ones to violence, however, pushed back against the repeal, saying the death penalty is necessary as a prosecutorial tool and should be an option for individuals who committed atrocities such as the October 1 shooting.

“There are differences between perpetrators and crimes,” Wolfson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in April. “I strongly believe that the death penalty should be reserved for the very rare and extreme circumstances. … The solution is to engage and refine the law, not abandon an option the voters support.”

During a hearing on the measure in late March, lawmakers also heard from Jennifer Otremba, who described the murder of her 15-year-old daughter Alyssa in 2011 near her Las Vegas home. Javier Righetti, who was 19 at the time of the killing, received a death sentence in 2017.

“He did not consider Alyssa’s life. Why should his life be considered?,” Otremba said. “I waited five and a half years for justice for my daughter, and if I have to continue to fight politicians for the rest of my life to ensure that justice is served, then I will do that.”

The measure had faced an uncertain future in the Democrat-controlled Senate — which is helmed by Cannizzaro, a prosecuting attorney for the Clark County district attorney. Cannizzaro was repeatedly noncommittal when asked whether she would allow the bill to get a hearing if it passed the Assembly, including in a Nevada Independent forum ahead of the session in January, and maintained that noncommittal stance for months.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas), a fellow prosecutor in the district attorney’s office and the key gatekeeper on the decision to give the bill a hearing, had appeared willing to give the bill a chance. Prior to the session, she had indicated her support for efforts to abolish the death penalty, and said just 2 weeks before the bill died that she would be willing to hear it if an amendment was brought forward addressing the concerns expressed by Sisolak.

During a brief interview with The Nevada Independent on Thursday, Scheible said she would have considered an amendment with a broad base of support, but that nothing came to fruition.

Schedules are constantly moving, she said, adding that she tries to make sure there is always time to hear a bill, but “it takes a lot of people in this government to make such a sweeping change and so without full consensus, we weren’t able to.”

Scott Coffee, a public defender, said a proposed amendment that had been drafted but never released publicly tracked closely with what the governor said was palatable — making exceptions for mass shootings and terrorism. The organization Gun Violence Archive has set a definition of mass shooting as four people shot but not necessarily killed in a single event.

That’s partly why an abrupt announcement — memorialized in a series of synchronized press releases from the governor and legislative leaders — that Nevada leaders were scrapping the bill came as a shock to those working on the cause.

Branden Cunningham and Mark Bettencourt, leaders of the Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty, told The Nevada Independent that there were ongoing conversations surrounding an amendment to the bill prior to its demise.

“[Scheible] had been a public supporter of the death penalty and from everything we heard, she was willing to to work and hear the bill,” Cunningham said. “We had heard that she had set time aside to hear the bill … the calendar was open … and instead of a hearing we got the three statements that came out.”

Coffee said the press releases announcing that the bill would not advance were a surprise to him. Up to that point, advocates were actively working on the issue, hoping to connect lawmakers with the pollster commissioned by the coalition to assuage concerns.

“I have to believe the concern was over losing Senate seats,” Coffee said. “There’s always another election. There’s always another excuse.”

He said he wishes the governor would have shown more initiative on the matter but ultimately blamed senators for not hearing the bill.

“The Senate got accommodated on everything they asked for,” Coffee said. “It’s laughable to talk about how good we did on criminal justice reform when we can’t get a vote on a platform issue.”

Shortly after the announcement that the bill was dead, Cannizzaro defended the progress the Legislature had made on bail reform and police use of force, challenging people who say the Legislature was not doing enough. Asked whether she was personally in favor of a bill with a carveout for crimes such as mass shootings, Cannizzaro demurred.

“I don’t think that I am opposed to having conversations on this topic. That has been happening,” Cannizzaro said. “Obviously Chair Yeager worked to try to come up with some compromise, and we’re just not going to be able to get there.”

Though she supports the abolition of the death penalty, Scheible said the decision to not hear the bill was part of a broader discussion.

“I do work in a team and part of my job as the chair of a committee is to ensure that I am making good policy decisions, not pushing my own personal agenda,” she said. “Sometimes I get to do the things that I personally want, sometimes I do the things that we need as a state, the things that my body supports, that our coalition supports, and so it’s a group effort.”

That group effort started and ended with Sisolak, the state’s first Democratic governor in two decades after his election in 2018, but who also was chair of the Clark County Commission when the worst mass shooting in American history took place in his jurisdiction. Sisolak was at the forefront of the response to the 1 October massacre and has talked about the effect the incident had on him personally and on his views of capital punishment during his 2018 campaign and beyond.

Sisolak had previously affirmed without qualification that he opposed the death penalty, but he never formally endorsed the legislation. Asked about the bill as the session progressed, Sisolak stuck tightly to talking points — even reading from a prepared statement when asked an impromptu question about the Assembly passing the bill — to emphasize that he opposed capital punishment but believed the measure is necessary for specific situations, such as mass shootings.

Sisolak’s hesitation over the legislation was likely heightened by the coming entrance of Lombardo into the 2022 governor’s race, where Democrats — with Joe Biden in the White House — are generally expected to suffer some midterm losses. Republicans in state and nationwide have used a pro-police campaign message in recent election cycles, so a death penalty repeal may have added more fuel to that campaign fire.

Past governors — such as Brian Sandoval in 2015 and Kenny Guinn in 2003 — opted to wait until their second term in office, post-midterms, to tackle high-profile policy goals.

Activists and advocates criticized lawmakers for not giving the bill a public hearing, though, calling the decision “undemocratic” during a protest and vigil last Monday.

“You have to answer to the people,” Leslie Turner with the Mass Liberation Project said during the protest. “It doesn’t make sense that the death penalty bill is dead now, with no explanation, no checking in with the community.”

Cunningham said those pushing for the abolition of the death penalty spoke with various senators and that it seemed as though most of them were open to considering the legislation.

At least one Republican lawmaker was a likely supporter of the bill — Sen. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas).

“Generally I’m in favor of repealing it,” he said in an interview on Tuesday. “I think it makes a lot of fiscal sense, I think it makes a lot of moral sense.”

Though she was disappointed and frustrated by the death of the bill, Monique Normand, an anti-death penalty activist whose uncle was murdered in 2017, told reporters after the vigil and protest that the death penalty would not have brought her uncle back and the fight is far from over.

“People’s lives are on the line,” she said. “We do have to hold [lawmakers] accountable and we can’t just let them get away with, ‘you’re gonna vote for us.’ No, we don’t have to vote for anyone, we can withhold our votes, our votes matter. Our lives matter.”

(source: The Nevada Independent)

CALIFORNIA:

Prosecutors will no longer seek death penalty in the Anthony Avalos torture case

Prosecutors will no longer seek the death penalty for the mother of Anthony Avalos and her boyfriend, who are accused of torturing the 10-year-old Lancaster boy for days before his death in 2018, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón’s office confirmed Saturday.

A grand jury indicted Heather Maxine Barron, 31, and Kareem Ernesto Leiva, 35, in October 2018 on charges that they murdered the boy and abused 2 other children in the household.

Barron and Leiva are being held without bail. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors have said the couple poured hot sauce on Anthony’s face and mouth, whipped the boy with a looped cord and belt, and held him upside down and dropped him on his head repeatedly. They also alleged that the couple alternately withheld food and force-fed him, slammed him into furniture and the floor, denied access to the bathroom, and enlisted other children in the home to inflict pain.

Anthony’s wounds stretched from head to toe as bruises, abrasions, red dots, scabs, cuts and a traumatic brain injury, prosecutors have said. In addition to the injuries suffered by Anthony that resulted in his June 21 death, prosecutors have said that Leiva previously struck one of his brothers so hard that the boy required a trip to the hospital and staples on his head.

The decision not to seek capital punishment came as a shift from the strategy pursued by the office of Gascón’s predecessor, former Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey. Prosecutors had announced in court in 2019 that they would pursue the death penalty against Barron and Leiva.

Gascón unseated Lacey after running on a progressive platform of criminal justice reform. He issued a directive barring prosecutors from seeking the death penalty in new cases as part of a series of sweeping policy changes he enacted after taking office last year. The move fulfilled a campaign promise but sparked backlash from some current and former prosecutors, local law enforcement officials and crime victims. A campaign to recall Gascón was launched soon after he was elected.

A spokesman for Gascón’s office noted that there is a moratorium on executions in California, where no one has been put to death since 2006.

“Seeking death in these cases subjects victims to decades of appeals — forcing them to relive their trauma repeatedly — for a sentence that will simply never be imposed,” the spokesman said in a statement. “It is also extremely expensive, with California spending over $5 billion on the death penalty since 1978 — a cost to taxpayers of nearly $400 million per execution.”

But Gascón has made at least one exception, writing in court papers in February that he would not order lawyers to ask for dismissal of the death penalty jury verdict in the case of Michael Gargiulo, who was convicted in 2019 of killing two women and seriously injuring another in a series of knife attacks.

In the same filing, however, Gascón also ordered prosecutors to read a statement that notes the district attorney “does not believe the death penalty is an appropriate punishment in any case,” and asks the judge to consider his opposition to capital punishment before he sentences Gargiulo later this year.

An advisor to the district attorney said at the time that the move did not represent a change in policy but rather a rare exception necessitated by a complicated legal situation. Gargiulo was convicted while Lacey was still in office, but his sentencing hearing was delayed by a number of post-conviction hearings and the courthouse backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anthony’s case struck many people as having similarities to the 2013 death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez of Palmdale, whose mother and her boyfriend were convicted of his torture murder.

Both the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services have come under criticism by some of Anthony’s family members and community protesters for not permanently removing the boy from the home and not arresting Barron and Leiva on suspicion of child abuse.

Both agencies received calls about abuse in the household, with school administrators, a teacher, a counselor, family members and others contacting law enforcement or the county child abuse hotline more than a dozen times.

They included a referral in April 2014 alleging that Leiva hit Anthony and 3 siblings with various objects, including a hose. The caller alleged that Barron screamed at the children and locked them in their rooms for hours.

In September 2015, a caller said Anthony and his siblings were being hit by Leiva and a brother was dangled upside down from the staircase. Another caller the same month said Leiva and Barron made the children squat for long periods. Yet another caller that month said Leiva slammed Anthony and one of his brothers onto the floor and locked the children in a room where he threw dirty diapers at them.

In April 2016, another caller said Leiva was again physically abusing the children and withholding food from them.

After his death, Anthony’s biological father and siblings filed a lawsuit against the county, the DCFS and one of its contractors, alleging that social workers willfully disregarded concerns about abuse and failed to protect Anthony.

(source: News Nation USA)

VIETNAM:

Ho Chi Minh City court sentences 3 to death for drug offenses

The Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court on Wednesday imposed the death penalty upon 3 men for a series of drug-related crimes.

Phan Phi Long, 33, Hoang Anh Vu, 27, and Vo Tuan Tai, 36, were sentenced to death for illegally transporting, trading, and possessing narcotics.

Long and Vu are residents of the north-central province of Ha Tinh, while Tai lives in District 7, Ho Chi Minh City.

According to the indictment, Long hired Vu to pick up four kilograms of crystal meth from a Laotian man in Ha Tinh and transport the drugs to Ho Chi Minh City on September 20, 2019.

Vu was promised VND60 million (US$2,600) for completing the job.

After transporting the meth to the southern metropolis, Vu stored it in a hotel room in Ward 2, Tan Binh District.

He was later caught by police officers.

Aside from the 4 kilograms of meth, officers also found 1.6 grams of heroin which Vu said was for personal use.

When police arrested Long, he was in possession of 11 ecstasy pills, 3.8 grams of synthetic drugs, and several guns and bullets.

At the police station, Long admitted to hiring Vu to transport the drugs.

He also claimed to have sold 1.5 kilograms of drugs and 1.7 kilograms of ketamine to Tai on 3 occasions.

Officers raided Tai’s house and found a large amount of drugs and 6 guns.

Tai said he had purchased narcotics from Long and resold them in Ho Chi Minh City for profit.

Huynh Ngoc Anh Quyen, Tai’s wife, received a one-year jail term for failure to report a crime, but was given a suspended sentence.

(source: Tuoi Tre News)

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