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

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Bali Nine member Michael Czugaj reveals how Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran changed his life

Michael Czugaj
Michael Czugaj
The youngest member of the infamous Bali Nine drug ring has spoken out about his agony on the second anniversary of the deaths of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Michael Czugaj was only 19 when he was arrested and thrown into a Balinese prison cell after he was found with 1.75kg of heroin strapped to his body at Denpasar Airport in 2005.

He was sentenced to life behind bars and the now 31-year-old was locked in Kerobokan Prison where fellow drug mules Chan and Sukumaran spent their last days.

Czugaj has held onto a glimmer of hope in the crowded, sweaty prison that he may be able to return home to Australia one day.

'I had many dark periods over the years and they helped me… took me under their wing,' Czugaj told Fairfax Media.

'I miss them. I want to live and I want to get home... for them and for myself.'

The former drug trafficker also laments that 'it could have been him' when he speaks about the brutal execution of the two Bali Nine members.

Chan and Sukumaran were labelled as 'model prisoners' after their decade behind bars was spent running art classes, counselling other inmates and - for Chan - preaching Christianity.

Australian officials fought hard to bring the reformed drug smugglers back home and begged Indonesian government for clemency, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.

Czugaj lodged an appeal for a more lenient sentence a year after he was arrested, and his jail term was reduced to 20 years on April 26, 2006.

But the promise of freedom was short-lived after the ruling was overturned and his original life sentence was reinstated five months later.

The former apprentice glazier was a keen surfer when he lived in Queensland - but Czugaj hasn't seen Australian beaches for over 12 years.

Kerobokan prison
Bali's Kerobokan prison
Like any typical adult man, the Brisbane-native dreams of having a wife and children.

Czugaj has also spoken about the trauma of being forcibly transferred from Kerobokan to a jail in East Java in 2016, a year after the execution.

At the time Kerobokan prison authorities alleged he was moved after being found with less than a gram of 'sabu sabu' or ice.

But the jail that received him in East Java said that was not the case, and it was reported he was transferred due to prison overcrowding.

Kerobokan has a long and notorious history of violence, rioting and corruption, and it has housed notable prisoners such as Schapelle Corby and the Bali Bombers.

But Czugaj claims his time there was almost like a holiday compared the cramped, squalid cells in East Java.

'I have good days and bad days. It is hard to sleep as it is very hot and sometimes there are 15 to a room,' he said.

Czugaj's fellow inmates include terrorists, gang members and murderers - people the convicted drug trafficker rubs shoulders with every day.

April 29 marks the two year anniversary of Chan and Sukumaran's death, and earlier this month marked the official arrest of the Bali Nine in 2005.

Source: Daily Mail Australia, April Glover, April 29, 2017

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Arkansas executes Kenneth Williams

Kenneth Williams
Kenneth Williams
State puts 4th inmate to death in 8 days

Witnesses describe execution; inmate was 'striving for breath,' AP editor says

3 minutes after his lethal injection began, Arkansas inmate Kenneth Williams began coughing, convulsing and lurching with sound that was audible even with a microphone turned off, media witnesses to his execution said.

State news editor Kelly Kissel said that Williams' body lurched forward at 10:55 p.m., 3 minutes after the midazolam was administered. He described the movement as "when you're on a bumpy road and you hit a bump." Williams lurched forward 15 times in a period of 10 to 15 seconds, Kissel said.

He then lurched forward more slowly 5 times and began "striving for breath," according to witnesses.

The "labored breathing" continued until 10:59 p.m., Kissel said.

An attendant performed a consciousness check at 10:57 p.m., checking Williams' pupils.

Williams was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m.

Kissel, who has witnessed 10 executions — including 2 in which midazolam has been used — said this is the most he's seen an inmate move.

A family member of Cecil Boren, who Williams killed after escaping prison in October 1999, said Williams showed "no change in his facial expression" to show any pain.

Jodie Efird added that “Any amount of movement he had was far less than any of his victims.”

Williams becomes the 4th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Arkansas and the 31st overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1990.

Williams becomes the 10th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1452nd overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Sources: Arkansas Online & Rick Halperin, April 28, 2017


Arkansas execution delayed as U.S. Supreme Court hears appeals


A plan by Arkansas to execute an inmate was delayed on Thursday as the U.S. Supreme Court heard last-minute appeals from the man convicted of murdering a cheerleader, who then escaped from prison and killed 2 other people before being captured again.

The state, which had not held an execution in 12 years until this month, has already put three inmates to death since April 20. It had planned to execute Kenneth Williams, 38, by lethal injection at 7 p.m. CDT at its Cummins Unit prison.

Arkansas had initially planned to execute eight inmates in 11 days in April, the most of any state in as short a period since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Four of those executions were halted by various courts.

The unprecedented schedule, set because a drug in the state's execution mix expires at the end of April, prompted criticism that Arkansas was acting recklessly. It also set off legal filings that raised questions about U.S. death chamber protocols, troubled prosecutions and difficulties in obtaining lethal injection drugs.

Hours before Thursday's planned execution, however, lawyers for Williams filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking to halt the proceedings on grounds including that Arkansas failed "to provide Mr. Williams a forum to litigate his claim that he is intellectually disabled."

A U.S. District Court and courts in Arkansas have already rejected other motions seeking to halt the execution.

Williams, sentenced to life without parole for the 1998 murder of 19-year-old college cheerleader Dominique Hurd, broke out of a maximum-security prison in 1999.

He murdered Cecil Boren, 57 at his farmhouse, shooting him multiple times. Williams then stole Boren's pickup truck and fled to Missouri, where he slammed his vehicle into one driven by delivery man Michael Greenwood, 24, killing him.

"We've been waiting a long, long time for this," Genie Boren, the widow of Cecil Boren, was quoted as saying by local TV broadcaster Fox 16.

But Greenwood's daughter, Kayla Greenwood, sent Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson a letter on Thursday asking him to spare Williams.

"His execution will not bring my father back or return to us what has been taken, but it will cause additional suffering," the letter said.

In 2005, Williams sent a letter to a local Arkansas paper where he confessed to killing Jerrell Jenkins on the same day as the cheerleader.

Source: Reuters, April 27, 2017

⏩ Related content: Arkansas: Victim's family asks for state to spare murderer's life, April 26, 2017


After Arkansas Execution, Questions Are Raised About Drug’s Effectiveness


VARNER, Ark. — The State of Arkansas, which had rebuffed fears about its use of a controversial lethal injection drug, faced scrutiny early Friday about how well the medicine had worked during the state’s fourth execution in seven days.

Kenneth D. Williams, a convicted murderer, died at 11:05 p.m. on Thursday at the Cummins Unit, a state prison in southeast Arkansas. A news media witness reported that Mr. Williams briefly experienced “coughing, convulsing, lurching, jerking” after the state began to administer midazolam, the first of its three lethal injection drugs.

“This is my 10th execution,” said the witness, Kelly P. Kissel of The Associated Press. “This is the first time I’ve seen that.”

Mr. Kissel said Mr. Williams lurched forward 20 times — 15 of them in rapid succession — and emitted sounds that could be heard in an adjacent room. By then, a microphone in the execution chamber had been switched off. The execution was not unusually long.

Although Mr. Kissel and other witnesses depicted Mr. Williams’s last moments as unsettling, state officials appeared unbothered. A spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, J. R. Davis, said the authorities believed Mr. Williams’s movements amounted to “involuntary muscular reaction.” Mr. Davis, who did not witness the execution, added, “There was no testimony that he was in pain.”

The competing, immediate narratives about Thursday’s execution were certain to fuel debate about midazolam’s role as an execution drug in the United States. The medicine, a sedative, is intended to render prisoners unconscious before injections of other, more painful drugs that stop a person’s breathing and heart. The United States Supreme Court has upheld its use in executions, despite arguments that the drug is not powerful enough to mask the pain of some lethal injections.

In a statement early Friday, a lawyer for Mr. Williams, Shawn Nolan, requested a formal inquiry that Mr. Davis had already signaled was unlikely to be forthcoming.

“What’s important right now is that all the information about tonight’s execution must be meticulously documented and preserved so that we can discover exactly what happened in that execution chamber,” Mr. Nolan said.

Mr. Williams, 38, was expected to be the last Arkansas prisoner put to death for some time, chiefly because the state’s midazolam supply will expire within days.

Jodie Efird, a daughter of one of Mr. Williams’s victims, said she believed the state had “flawlessly” carried out the execution.

“Any kind of movement he had was far less than his victims,” she said after Mr. Williams was pronounced dead.

Source: The New York Times, Alan Blinder, April 28, 2017

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Arkansas: Victim's family asks for state to spare murderer's life

Kenneth Williams
Kenneth Williams
OZARK, Mo. (KSPR) - The family of a man from the Ozarks who was killed by an escaped murderer almost two decades ago said they do not want his killer to be executed.

"I believe justice has already been served. He hasn't been able to kill anyone else. Executing him is more of revenge," said Stacey Yaw, who was Michael Greenwood’s wife.

Kenneth Williams is set to die on Thursday. He's one of eight inmates who Arkansas scheduled for execution by the end of the month before its supply of a key execution drug expires. 

Four of the eight condemned men got judicial reprieves; three of them were put to death; only Williams is still set for execution.

Michael Greenwood of Springfield and his wife had just found out they were expecting twins when Williams escaped from an Arkansas prison. Williams led law enforcement officers on a chase in a stolen truck and crashed into Greenwood's work truck near Urbana, north of Buffalo, and killed Greenwood.

Now Greenwood's family asks for his killer's life to be spared.

"I miss him when I'm with my grandkids, I wish he was there to see them, too; little things they do, proud moments," Yaw said.

Greenwood's family feels his absence every day.

“He was a great guy. He was a tough guy. He was a funny guy. He was a great guy," Yaw said.

They do not want anyone else to feel this pain, even Greenwood's killer.

"Sometimes the right thing is hard to do, but it is the best option," said Michael Greenwood’s son, Joseph Greenwood.

That is why they ask for Kenneth Williams' life to be spared.

"Everyone can change and I definitely believe in second or even third chances, because it's what's right," said Joseph Greenwood.

For them that chance is making sure the killer gets to see his family one last time. The victim’s family just bought Williams’ daughter and granddaughter plane tickets; so, they could get here before the execution.

"It's just not right. It's just not right. She didn't do anything ever and now she is going to be a victim," Yaw said.

They are helping Williams' last wish come true for the sake of his daughter, Jasmine.

"If I was Jasmine, I would want somebody there for me. We are all humans, we are all here together, we have to be here for each other," said Kayla Greenwood, who is Michael Greenwood’s daughter.

"We experience what she felt. She is getting ready to lose a father and me, my brother, and sister all lost a father. It sucks and we feel really bad for her. Even though he killed our father," said Joseph Greenwood.

This will be the first time that Williams has ever seen his granddaughter.

"At least that can be something good and beautiful that can come out of something so horrible," Kayla Greenwood said.

The Greenwood family invited us to drive along with them to meet Jasmine and her daughter on Wednesday.

Source: KSPR, Stephanie Garland, April 26, 2017

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Four militants executed in Pakistan

Military courts have sentenced 161 militants to death penalty since 2014 following Peshawar school attack

Another 4 militants, convicted by military courts for their involvement in terrorism, have been executed at a jail in northwestern Pakistan, an army spokesman said on Tuesday.

"Another 4 hardcore terrorists involved in committing heinous offenses relating to terrorism, including the killing of innocent civilians, attacking armed forces of Pakistan and law enforcement agencies have been executed at a jail in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [northwestern province]," the spokesman said in a statement.

The executed convicts Rehman ud Din, Mushtaq Khan, Obaid ur Rehman, and Zafar Iqbal were members of the Pakistani Taliban coalition, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Pakistan established controversial military courts to try "hardcore" militants following a deadly gun-and-bomb attack on an army-run school in Peshawar in December 2014, which claimed the lives of over 140 people, mostly students.

The military courts, which were given another 2-year extension by parliament last month, have sentenced 161 militants to the death penalty, 26 of whom have been executed.

Islamabad lifted a 6-year long de facto ban on capital punishment in 2014 following the Peshawar school attack.

According to official statistics, over 8,000 death row convicts are currently in jail.

Source: Anadolu Agency, April 25, 2017

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30 Men Arrested For 'Sodomy' In Iran Face Death Penalty if Convicted: Reports

More than 30 men were arrested after a private party in the Bahadoran region of Isfahan, Iran was raided by the police, Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees reported Thursday.

Their charges are sodomy, drinking alcohol and using psychedelic drugs and they face the death penalty if found guilty.

The men, between the ages of 16 and 30, the Canadian charity reports, were rounded up late April 13 amid gunshots and beatings from police, according to the Jerusalem Post.

"IRQR received several reports in last few days and were able to confirm that police attacked guests and physically beat them. Police detained them all at the Basij (Revolutionary Guard Militia) Station and then transferred them to Esfahan's Dastgerd Prison.

A few people managed to escape and we received reports that there were several heterosexual individuals among those arrested," IRQR reported.

IRQR also reported that those arrested were forced to name their LGBT friends to authorities. In Iran, homosexuality is punishable by death, according to the International Society for Human Rights.

IRQR reports that a special prosecutor has been named and that those arrested will be subjected to anal examination to prove the homosexuality charges.

In Iran, LGBT citizens are afforded very little, if any, civil rights. Presently, LGBT citizens cannot marry, cannot adopt, cannot serve openly in the military and are not protected from any discrimination, according to Equaldex.

In 2007, then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad infamously declared while at Columbia University that there were no gay people in Iran.

European civil rights leaders are calling for the EU to step in.

"While the Islamic State throws gays from rooftops, the Islamic Republic hangs them. Iran's regime forces homosexuals to flee the country and the EU turns a blind eye," Stefan Schaden, an LGBT rights activist and spokesman for the European "Stop The Bomb campaign" said in an email to the Jerusalem Post. "The EU is, however, required in their dealings with third countries to comply with binding guidelines laid down in the Union's 'LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or intersex] Toolkit' to combat state violence against LGBTI persons. The EU must clearly step up its efforts in this regard and consider more human rights sanctions against the Iranian regime."

This incident comes on the heels of reports that in Chechnya, gay men are being rounded up, tortured and in some cases even killed.

Source: towleroad.com, April 26, 2017

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Arkansas executes Jack Harold Jones and Marcel Willilams

Jack Harold Jones
Jack Harold Jones
Jack Harold Jones was put to death by the state of Arkansas Monday night by way of lethal injection.

Authorities began administering the execution drugs at 7:06 p.m. and Jones was pronounced dead at 7:20 p.m., according to the Arkansas Department of Correction.

Asked if he had any last words, Jones said the following:

"Well, I just want to let the James family and Lacey [know] how sorry I am. I can't believe I did something to her. I tried to be respectful from the time I took and become a better person. I hope I did better. I hope over time you could learn who I really am and I am not a monster. There was a reason why those things happened that day. I am so sorry Lacey, try to understand I love you like my child."

Jones also gave a written statement to his attorney to read:

"I want people to know that when I came to prison I made up my mind that I would be a better person when I left than when I came in. I had no doubt in my mind that I would make every effort to do this. I'd like to think that I've accomplished this. I made every effort to be a good person - I practiced Buddhism and studied physics. I met the right people and did the right things. There are no words that would fully express my remorse for the pain that I caused."

Jones, 52, was convicted and sentenced to death in the 1995 rape and murder of 34-year-old Mary Phillips at her accounting office in Bald Knob. He was also convicted of the attempted murder of Phillips' 11-year-old daughter Lacy.

Following the execution, Lacy told the media, "I'm glad it's done."

The Supreme Court of the United States denied two requests for a stay for Jones, allowing for the execution to proceed.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released a statement following the execution:

"This evening, Lacey Phillips Manor and Darla Phillips Jones have seen justice for the brutal rape and murder of their mother, Mary Phillips. Mary was performing her job as a bookkeeper in Bald Knob on June 6, 1995, when she was strangled to death with a coffee pot cord while her 11-year-old daughter Lacey clung to life a few feet away after being choked and beaten. The Phillips family has waited far too long to see justice carried out, and I pray they find peace tonight."

Jones is the second Arkansas death row inmate to be executed in less than a week.

Jones becomes the 2nd condemned inmate to be put to death in Arkansas this year and the 29th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in
1990.

Jones becomes the 8th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1450th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Arkansas death row inmate Marcel Williams executed


Marcel Williams
Marcel Williams
Marcel Williams was the second death row inmate to be executed by the state of Arkansas Monday night.

Williams was put to death by way of lethal injection. The drugs were administered at 10:16 p.m. and Williams was pronounced dead at 10:33 p.m.

Marcel Williams did not have any last words.

Williams was convicted of killing Stacy Rae Errickson, a 23-year-old mother of 2, in Jacksonville in 1994.

Errickson's family declined to comment immediately following the execution.

Williams becomes the 3rd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Arkansas and the 30th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1990.

Williams becomes the 9th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1451st overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Sources: KATV news & Rick Halperin, April 25, 2017


Arkansas executions: 'I was watching him breathe heavily and arch his back'


Arkansas on Monday carried out the first double execution in the US in 16 years. Jacob Rosenberg witnessed the murderer Marcel Williams being put to death

At 9.34pm we entered the execution chamber. I passed through a door with a large sign on its front showing two letters, “EC”, and took a seat among a few rows of chairs that faced four large rectangular windows. Some lights were on, but it was mostly dim. A black curtain was drawn behind the windows in front of us.

Behind that curtain, strapped to a gurney in an even smaller room, was Marcel Williams.

In Arkansas, we do not get to see the placement of the IV for lethal injection. So, from the time we entered until the curtain opened, I saw nothing. We just stared forward at those windows, waiting for them to reveal Williams, 46, who was sent to death row for the 1994 rape and killing of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson, whom he kidnapped from a gas station.

We had done this earlier in the night, when a last-minute stay had us waiting in the chamber for over an hour. During that time, we later learned, Williams had been strapped down on the gurney. Now, as then, with the stay lifted, I simply looked at the black curtain, knowing almost nothing about what was happening to the prisoner.

The curtain created a reflection of the room behind me, like a mirror. I could see other witnesses, and myself, fidget.

At 10.16pm, after 32 minutes of IV placement, the curtain opened.

Light from fluorescent bulbs cast a strange yellow glow in the room in front. Marcel Williams’s eyes looked right up at the ceiling. He was on a gurney, tied down. His head was locked in place and the right side of his body was facing us, the viewers. He said no final words.

At this point, the first lethal injection drug – the controversial sedative midazolam, whose expiration date at the end of this month has prompted Arkansas’s unprecedented wave of judicial killings – was supposed to be administered. No one announced that a drug was being given . The process simply moved along. I watched and tried to follow.

His eyes began to droop and eventually closed (the right one lingered slightly open throughout). His breaths became deep and heavy. His back arched off the gurney as he sucked in air.

I could not count the number of times his body moved in such a way, rising off the gurney.

Procedure dictates that five minutes after the introduction of midazolam there should be no movements. But, at 10.21pm, Williams was still breathing heavily and moving. The man in the room checked his pulse and touched his eyes and said something. (The audio was cut off for us.)

At this point, it is likely another dose of midazolam was given. I cannot be sure it was administered. I was watching him breathe heavily and arch his back and then the breathing began to shallow out. By 10.24pm, Williams looked completely still.

➤⏮Click here to read the full article

Source: The Guardian, Jacob Rosenberg, April 25, 2017

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Neil Gorsuch and the State’s Power to Kill

Justice Neil Gorsuch
Justice Neil Gorsuch and Donald Trump
It’s not entirely fair to judge a Supreme Court justice based on his first vote. Urgent matters arise unexpectedly, and the court must sometimes act quickly.

Still, it’s worth paying special attention to Justice Neil Gorsuch’s vote late Thursday night to deny a stay of execution for Ledell Lee, an Arkansas man who was sentenced to death in 1995 for murdering a woman named Debra Reese with a tire thumper.

After Justice Gorsuch, along with the four other conservative justices, denied his final appeal without explanation, Mr. Lee, who maintained his innocence until the end, was executed by lethal injection.

He was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. Central Daylight Time, minutes before his death warrant expired. Arkansas had not executed anyone since 2005.

In short, the first significant decision by Justice Gorsuch, who was sworn in to office less than two weeks ago, was the most consequential any justice can make — to approve a man’s killing by the state.

That man, like so many others condemned to die around the country, was a walking catalog of reasons the American death penalty is a travesty. Evidence that Mr. Lee was intellectually disabled and suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome was never introduced into court, mainly because he had egregiously bad representation. One of his lawyers was so drunk in court that a federal judge reviewing the case later said he could tell simply by reading the transcripts.

In addition to raising these issues in his appeals to the justices, Mr. Lee challenged Arkansas’s lethal-injection drug protocol, which incorporates a sedative, midazolam, that has been implicated in multiple botched executions. For both moral and business reasons, drug makers have banned the use of their products for state-sanctioned killing, making it harder for states to get their hands on them. In fact, Arkansas initially scheduled Mr. Lee’s execution as part of an unprecedented killing spree — eight inmates over the course of 11 days — because the state’s old batch of midazolam was about to expire. (As of Friday afternoon, four of those executions had been placed on hold by the courts, for various reasons.)

This rush to kill based solely on a “use-by” date is “close to random,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote on Thursday in dissenting from the court’s refusal to stay Mr. Lee’s execution. The three more liberal justices agreed that the stay should have been granted, as they regularly do in such cases, just as the conservative justices regularly vote the other way.

That 4-to-4 split effectively gave the deciding vote over Mr. Lee’s life to Justice Gorsuch, sitting in a seat that by all rights should be occupied not by him but by President Barack Obama’s doomed nominee, Merrick Garland.

During his confirmation hearings, Justice Gorsuch talked a lot about his respect for the rule of law, and the importance of sticking to the plain text of the Constitution and of statutes. But he didn’t have to rewrite the Eighth Amendment to see, as Justice Breyer did, that Mr. Lee’s case exemplified “how the arbitrary nature of the death penalty system, as presently administered, runs contrary to the very purpose of a ‘rule of law.’ ”

Neil Gorsuch held the power of life and death in his hands Thursday night. His choice led to Ledell Lee’s execution, and gave the nation an early, and troubling, look into the mind-set of the high court’s newest member.

Source: The New York Times, The Opinion Pages, The Editorial Board, April 21, 2017

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Bearing Witness to Executions: Last Breaths and Lasting Impressions

VARNER, Ark. — They often enter in silence. They almost always leave that way, too.

The death penalty holds a crucial, conflicted place in a nation deeply divided over crime and punishment, and whether the state should ever take a life. But for such a long, very public legal process, only a small number of people see what unfolds inside the country’s death houses.

Witnesses hear a condemned prisoner’s last words and watch a person’s last breaths. Then they scatter, usually into the night. There is no uniformity when they look back on the emotions that surround the minutes when they watched someone die.

The most recent person to be executed, Ledell Lee, died at the Cummins Unit here in southeast Arkansas late Thursday. By next Friday morning, the state hopes to have executed three more men.

In separate phone interviews, five people who have witnessed executions — some years ago, one as recently as Mr. Lee’s — reflected on what they had seen and what it meant to them.

The interviews have been condensed and edited.

Gayle Gaddis


Mother of Guy P. Gaddis, a murdered Houston police officer

I wanted to be sure it was finished, and that’s why I went.

Before the execution, we were in a room without a clock. It’s a terrible experience. We were there, it seemed, like hours, while they were making sure he didn’t get a stay. We were all just miserable.

Then the warden came in and said, “Good news: There are no stays, and he’s going to be gone,” or something like that.

I went in the room, and I saw him strapped on that gurney. Then I couldn’t watch it. They gave me a chair, and I just turned it the other way. One son was kind of hitting his elbow against the glass. My other son asked why he was doing that. He said, “I want him to look at me.”

Edgar Tamayo was his name, and he wouldn’t look or speak or anything. I was hoping he’d say, “I’m sorry,” but he wouldn’t even look at us.

It didn’t hurt him: I would have liked to have stoned him to death or something horrible. He just got a shot like you were going to have some surgery. It was too easy, for all of the pain he caused my family all of these years.

Right at the end, all of a sudden, there was the sound of motorcycles revving up that went through the walls. I realized it was the motorcycle policemen — support from the policemen — and it made my heart feel good.

As we walked outside, his daughter was across the big driveway. She was holding up a great big sign: “Don’t kill my dad.” I did feel sorry for her. He just ruined all of these lives for so long.

I always thought the death penalty was right when there was no doubt that somebody was guilty. When this happened to me and my family, I was very supportive of the death penalty, and I still am.

They caught him right there where he shot my son. I just don’t understand: 20 years before they killed him.

Jennifer Garcia


Assistant federal defender in Phoenix who witnessed one execution

He was my client. His name was Richard Stokley, and he was executed in December 2012.

Often for our clients, they didn’t have people they could depend on, or who fought for them. Once we get on a case, we will stay on it, usually, until the end.

The reason why we witnessed was, he asked us to. If he needed reassurance, he’d be able to see one of us smile at him.

By the time we got in there and walked into the witness room, I was just so tired, and I was so emotional, and I knew I had to hold it together for him, and I had to make sure he was O.K. through the process.

The execution itself was surreal. I cannot even tell you how unbelievable it was to see people deliberately get ready to kill your client. With Mr. Stokley, they couldn’t find a vein. We just sat there for a long time while they started with his hands and worked their way around the body, trying to get a vein. I was trying to maintain my composure because I didn’t want him to look at me and seeing me upset or crying. But it was so hard to watch somebody do that to your client and be powerless.

When they pronounced him dead, I think I felt happy that he was no longer being hurt as part of the process. The fact that I knew it was over and there was nothing else worse that was going to happen as part of the execution, that part was a relief. But over all, you feel shellshocked.

I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily haunted by it, but I’m very aware of it. If I have a client who asks me to be there, I will be there. Until you are trapped there in that room under such tight control by the prison, and there is no way you can react to that somebody is killing somebody right in front of you, it’s hard to know how you’ll feel. But there is nothing you have already done in your life that will make you go, “Oh, this is fine.”

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Source: The New York Times, Alan Blinder, Manny Fernandez, April 23, 2017

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A closer look at capital punishment in Vietnam

'We are prepared to kill, and have done so more than most people thought.'
Beware Vietnam's Death Machine

One Thursday in July 2013, Barack Obama and his Vietnamese counterpart, Truong Tan Sang, sat down in the Oval Office to discuss Thomas Jefferson. Sang brought to this historic meeting between the 2 nation's presidents a letter Ho Chi Minh had sent Harry Truman, prior to the Vietnam War, seeking cooperation with the United States. Uncle Ho's words, said Obama, were "inspired by the words of Thomas Jefferson." In fact, when the Proclamation of Independence was read by Ho in 1945, he chose to begin with an extract from America's Declaration of Independence, its principal author being Jefferson.

While a visit to the White House by the Vietnamese president was an occasion for historical reflection, the here-and-now was what really mattered. Indeed, diplomacy and trade were the main talking points, signaling the start of an emboldened relationship between the 2 nations. But the U.S. president did at least mention Vietnam's human right's record.

"All of us have to respect issues like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly. And we had a very candid conversation about both the progress that Vietnam is making and the challenges that remain," Obama said after the meeting. Sang's only comment was that the 2 men "have differences on the issue."

Little reported afterwards was the execution of a 27-year old Vietnamese man named Nguyen Anh Tuan, a convicted murderer, which took place on August 6, just 2 weeks after Sang's visit to White House. Tuan's execution was the 1st in years, and the 1st since Vietnam replaced firing squads with lethal injections in 2011. However, a ban on importing "authorized" lethal drugs meant it had to use untested domestic poisons. Tuan took 2 hours to die, reportedly in harrowing pain.

Between the date of Tuan's death and June 30, 2016, Vietnam executed 429 people (or an average of 147 executions per year; or 12 each month). Additionally, 1,134 people were given death sentences between July 2011 and June 2016. The number remaining on "death row" is not known.

These figures only came to light after the public security ministry decided to release them in February. They are normally classified as state secrets and rarely revealed. Surprising many around the world who thought the numbers to be much lower, Amnesty International reported this month that Vietnam is now the world's third-most prolific executioner of prisoners. Only China and Iran are thought to have executed more people.

In June 2016, the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights provided a lengthy report on the death penalty's mechanisms in Vietnam, explaining that capital punishment is applied for 18 different offenses, down from 44 in 1999.

Like many of its Southeast Asian neighbors this includes harsh drug laws, and Vietnam metes out the death penalty for those caught in possession or smuggling 100 grams or more of heroin or cocaine, or 5 kilograms or more of cannabis and other opiates. Other crimes, including murder and rape, also carry a death sentence.

After reforms during the 2000s, "the death penalty was effectively abolished on certain crimes, such as robbery, disobeying orders or surrendering to the enemy. But in other cases, crimes were simply re-worded to mask their appearance and deceive international opinion," the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights report reads.

Particularly troubling is the fact that the Vietnamese regime wields capital punishment for vaguely-defined crimes of "infringing upon national security," explains the report. These include carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people's administration (Article 109 of the reformed Criminal Code), rebellion (article 112), and sabotaging the material-technical foundations of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (article 114).

Returning to the recent execution figures, it is worth considering why the regime would choose to announce them in February - knowing the reaction they would cause - and whether they are not masking a far larger number of executions.

One problem is that they came with no information as to what the prisoners were being executed for. We might assume that most were for drug offenses or murder, as has been the case in the past, but it is by no means certain. That leads one to wonder whether any of the people executed were arrested for simply protesting against the regime.

Even if they weren't, capital punishment and human rights are by no means detached issues, as some claim. What is the connection between the drug trafficker, the murder and the human-rights activist in the regime's eyes? They are all a risk to national security. Indeed, in his famed essay, "Of Crimes and Punishments," Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria described the death penalty as a "war of the whole nation against a citizen whose destruction they consider necessary."

But what is the "nation" in Vietnam? It is not just an arbitrary land defined borders. No - according the regime's own laws, it is defined as akin to the "people's administration." Since the Communist Party and the Nation are effectively the same under the law, an attack on the Party becomes treasonous. Indeed, the law makes "no distinction between violent acts such as terrorism, and the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression," the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights report reads.

Moreover, what is a "citizen" in Vietnam? And if it is to be treasonous to attack the Party, and thereby the Nation, does this mean the person who wishes the end of the Party is not a citizen? When France did away with the peine de mort in the early 1980s, Francois Mitterrand's Minister of Justice said the scaffold had come to symbolize "a totalitarian concept of the relationship between the citizen and the state." It is this same totalitarian relationship that knots capital punishment and human rights in Vietnam.

What also catches the eye is the hubristic nature of Hanoi's release of the execution figures, coming as they do as criticism of the regime increases. They might be better read as a boast, not an admission. The overriding message is: We are prepared to kill, and have done so more than most people thought.

Following the 2013 meeting between Obama and Sang, some pundits thought Obama's ambition was to embolden Vietnam's reformist politicians through diplomatic engagement and improved trade links. This became America's foreign policy towards Hanoi for the next 3 years. It didn't work, however, and suppression has remained as essential as ever for the Communist Party, perhaps even more so, especially as criticism of the Party's rule nowadays swells on issues such an environmentalism.

So while Vietnam's economy has flourished since Obama's rapprochement, its civil society has languished somewhere between desperation and enviable bravery. Obama's administration bears responsibility for this, and the strategic patience it gambled on played only into Hanoi's hands. Naive, perhaps. Or just willfully remiss, as Vietnam's amity was necessary for America's counter-Beijing Asian 'pivot'. Maybe, then, Vietnam's activists were jettisoned for the sake of geopolitics - an unexceptional component of America's Janus-faced foreign policy.

Today, however, U.S. trade links are far from assured. U.S. President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the TPP has jeopardized the free-trade bounty Hanoi was counting on. Vietnam now appears keen to formalize a bilateral free-trade agreement with the US, and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said last month that he wants to visit Washington as soon as possible

In a perverse situation, Trump's administration now wields the stick that Obama chose not to use. Moreover, it has the ability to bargain in a way Obama couldn't: No trade pact without improved human rights. Since the Communist Party's legitimacy depends on a growing economy - and 1/5 of all Vietnam's export are to the United States, which could be further hampered if Trump pushes through trade tariffs and increased taxes on imports - Hanoi might be strong-armed into opening up space for criticism, in return for the United States opening more trade links.

Still, this depends on how much Trump values a human-rights laden foreign policy, which some analysts claim he doesn't. That said, the State Department's decision to give the imprisoned Vietnamese activist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh the "International Women of Courage Award" certainly irked Hanoi.

Perhaps this explains the adroit use of executions statistics by the Vietnamese regime, and the appropriate timing of their release. The numbers will raise hairs in Europe; the European Union (EU) bars membership for countries with capital punishment, though not for countries with which it agrees free-trade agreements, it seems. The EU-Vietnam FTA that should become effective next year but contains no condition regarding Vietnam abolishing the death penalty (surely patronizing, given that the EU has higher expectations of European countries than others).

The execution figures, however, put the United States in an awkward position. It cannot condemn Vietnam when it is still a practitioner in capital punishment, as well as the loudest proponent of drug prohibition internationally, too. As is to be expected, the White House has been silent on the matter. If the Washington can stomach the totalitarian ethos behind Vietnam's capital punishment then why can't it overlook Vietnam's human right's record, Hanoi may well argue. Indeed, the moral lecturer on human rights has the mirror turned on it when capital punishment arises.

One might assume, then, that with little international support for capital punishment abolition in Vietnam, the cogs will no doubt continue rotating on the death machine, at least until a true separation between the Nation and the Party, and between the State and the Citizen, takes place.

Source: The Diplomat, April 21, 2017

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Florida Supreme Court denies new DNA analysis in death row inmate William 'Tommy' Zeigler's case

William "Tommy" Zeigler
William "Tommy" Zeigler
William "Tommy" Zeigler, the 71-year-old man who has spent the last 4 decades on death row for the murders of 4 people, will not be allowed to test evidence in his case with touch DNA technology, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Zeigler was convicted of killing his wife, her parents and another man at his Winter Garden furniture store on Dec. 24, 1975. 

The case has long attracted those skeptical of the evidence against Zeigler, including 1 of the original investigators and a former Orlando Sentinel newspaper editor. 

It was also the subject of a 1992 book called Fatal Flaw.

In 2015, his attorneys filed a motion seeking court approval to use a special DNA test to examine evidence, such as clothing and the guns found at the scene, presented at the trial. 

A circuit court denied the motion, and his attorneys appealed to the state's highest court. 

While Zeigler sits on death row awaiting an execution date, he is also sentenced to serve the rest of his life in prison.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, April 22, 2017

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Arkansas rushed to put to death Ledell Lee despite widespread concerns around the use of capital punishment in America

Ledell Lee
Ledell Lee
Arkansas executed Ledell Lee on Thursday night, after it fought and won a complex and sometimes confusing legal battle. The state executed him in spite of Lee's insistence that he was not guilty of murdering Debra Rees, a crime committed more than 20 years ago. It did so despite doubts about whether he had sufficient intellectual capacity to be "eligible" for the death penalty.

The state rushed to put Lee to death before its supply of midazolam expired, claiming that it had a compelling interest in carrying out the "lawful" decision of the jury which sentenced him and that the execution would bring closure to the Rees family. Yet the way it went about doing so hardly seems likely to bring consolation to those who grieve at that family's terrible loss - and raises many concerns about the potential miscarriage of justice.

A 2014 report by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 1 in every 25 people given a death sentence are in fact innocent of the crime for which they are sentenced. Moreover, we know that more than 150 people have been exonerated since the death penalty's return in 1976.

Because of such problems, public confidence in the fairness of the death penalty process is eroding. Thus, a 2013 Gallup poll found that only 52% of the American public believed that the death penalty was administered fairly.

These doubts surfaced in dramatic fashion when Arkansas announced its plan to execute 8 people in 10 days and explained that it was doing so to meet the deadline imposed by its drug expiration problem.

The problems that plague the death penalty system have persisted for decades. It was 45 years ago, in Furman v Georgia, that the US supreme court called attention to the way in which death sentences are carried out in the US and halted all executions in this country. It did so not because it found anything inherently problematic about the death penalty. Instead it focused on difficulties in the way it was administered.

The court found defects in the process through which some capital defendants were sentenced to death while others were spared. It described death sentencing as fraught with arbitrariness. As Justice Potter Stewart put it in his concurring opinion: "These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual."

The court allowed the death penalty to resume four years after Furman. It did so once it was satisfied that procedures had been put in place to insure that when juries made decisions in death cases that they would be given sufficient guidance so that sentences would no longer be imposed or carried out arbitrarily.

Indeed, because death is different in kind from any other punishment, the court insisted that states wishing to execute would have to insure that heightened standards of reliability, what some have called "super due process", would be accorded to those accused and convicted of capital crimes.

While much has changed in death penalty jurisprudence and in American attitudes toward that punishment since the mid-1970s, when those standards were put in place, the continuing legitimacy of capital punishment depends on insuring that they are met.

Responding to those who questioned Arkansas' assembly-line style of execution, Governor Asa Hutchinson acknowledged that he would have preferred a more deliberate pace but insisted that the time had come to bring closure to the families of those who had been murdered so long ago.

As he put it in a recent television interview: "There's been a 25-year nightmare for the victims that had to deal with this and now it's time for justice to be carried out."

After Thursday night's execution, Leslie Rutledge, Arkansas' attorney general, reiterated this concern, saying: "I pray this lawful execution helps bring closure for the Reese family."

But surely it was no favor to those who mourn the loss of a loved one to proceed with an execution without having resolved all doubts about the guilt of the condemned. And it can hardly bring the solace they so profoundly deserve to know that Lee's execution was shadowed by so much controversy.

Instead of focusing on the loss that occasioned last night's execution, the world's attention was focused instead on what seemed to be the unseemly process that led to it.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who dissented from the supreme court's last-minute decision to allow Lee's execution to proceed, got it right when he highlighted "the arbitrariness with which executions are carried out in this country" and noted that allowing the expiration date of Arkansas' supply of midazolam to be "a determining factor separating those who live from those who die is close to random".

When Arkansas put Lee to death, it seems that lightning struck again.

Source: Associated Press, April 22, 2017

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