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

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Iran: Three Inmates Including Afghan Citizen Executed on Drug Charges

Public execution, Iran
Three prisoners, including an Afghan citizen, were reportedly hanged on the morning of Monday July 24. One of the prisoners was reportedly under the age of 18 at the time of his arrest. Iranian official sources, including the Judiciary and state-run media, have not announced these three executions.

Iran Human Rights (JULY 25 2017): Three prisoners, including an Afghan citizen, were reportedly hanged at Isfahan Central Prison on drug related charges. According to close sources, the executions were carried out on the morning of Monday July 24.

The prisoners have been identified as Mohsen Abdi, Javad Mir and Habib. The last name of Habib, who is the Afghan citizen, is not known at this time. 

Close sources tell Iran Human Rights that Javad Mir was under the age of 18 at the time of his arrest and was 22 years of age at the time of his execution. 

These prisoners were reportedly transferred to solitary confinement on Saturday July 22 in preparation for their executions.

Iranian official sources, including the Judiciary and state-run media, have not announced these three executions.

The execution of prisoners with drug charges continues in Iran while the Iranian Parliament has approved a general plan to amend the law for combating drugs. 

The Parliament is scheduled to vote on the bill again following a two-week holiday. In the event of the final approval of the plan, the death sentences for many prisoners will be commuted to a prison sentence.

According to experts, those who are executed in Iran on drug related charges are not the main drug dealers, but individuals who sell drugs as a result of poverty.

There has been a surge in executions in Iran since the end of Ramadan. Most of the prisoners were executed on drug related charges.

Source: Iran Human Rights, July 25, 2017

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Set for execution, Texas death row inmate alleges legal fraud in hopes of a stay

The Walls Unit, Huntsville, Texas
The Walls Unit, Huntsville, Texas
With 2 days left before TaiChin Preyor's scheduled execution, his lawyers have tried just about everything to stop it. That includes alleging that his previous counsel committed fraud.

With 2 days left before TaiChin Preyor's scheduled execution, his lawyers have tried just about everything to stop it. That includes alleging that his previous counsel - a disbarred California attorney and a probate and real estate lawyer who reportedly relied on Wikipedia to research Texas legal procedure - committed fraud against a federal court.

So far, they've had no luck.

Preyor, 46, is set to be executed Thursday night for the 2004 killing of a 20-year-old San Antonio woman during a home invasion. If he doesn't receive a stay, it will be the state's 5th execution of the year - and end the unusually long 4-month lull in Texas' death chamber.

In recent weeks, Preyor's attorneys have filed a flurry of pleas, with the Texas governor and in state and federal court. They have argued Preyor should be spared the death penalty because his original attorney overlooked an abusive childhood and because his appellate attorneys were incompetent.

"Even if you are someone who believes that there is a role for the death penalty to play with respect to certain crimes, there has to be a baseline there that the person ... was capably and competently represented throughout all of his proceedings," said Cate Stetson, one of Preyor's current attorneys. "And that baseline clearly was not met here."

On Monday afternoon, both the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and a federal district court rejected Preyor's requests for a stay. Preyor will appeal now to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Texas and Bexar County have requested that the execution proceed, noting that it "has been postponed for over a year in order to accommodate [Preyor] and his attorneys, but at the expense of the victims and the state's interest in finality."

In court, Bexar County prosecutors accused Preyor of breaking into Jami Tackett's apartment in the early hours of a February morning. Tackett was in bed with Jason Garza, who testified that Preyor attacked and stabbed him before he ran away to call for help. With Garza gone, Preyor stabbed Tackett multiple times, killing her. He was arrested at the scene covered in her blood.

Preyor claimed he acted in self-defense. In a statement to police, he said Tackett, who sold him drugs, had invited him over and ambushed him with Garza. Preyor said he pulled out his knife after the 2 began attacking him and that he didn't intend to hurt Tackett "that bad."

A jury was unconvinced. They found him guilty and sentenced him to death.

Preyor's current attorneys aren't focusing on his conviction but on his death sentence. They argue the lawyer who represented Preyor during his sentencing, Michael Gross, failed to present evidence about Preyor's abusive childhood, which they argue could have swayed a jury to give him life in prison.

"Gross failed to hire a mitigation specialist, failed to investigate known red flags regarding Preyor's childhood, neglected to interview family members regarding Preyor's childhood and social history, and neglected to follow up on not 1, but 2, medical professionals' recommendations that Preyor be screened for mental illness or other executive-function issues affecting his capacity and judgment," Stetson and attorney Hilary Sheard wrote in a filing to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals last week. "The cumulative effect of these omissions was disastrous."

But Gross said in an affidavit filed to the court that he "adequately" represented Preyor, and talked to many family members, school officials, friends and even Preyor himself, none of whom mentioned abuse. "If they had given me any such information, I would have developed that evidence and presented it as mitigation at trial," Gross said in his affidavit.

Sheard and Stetson argue concerns about Gross' representation should have been raised during Preyor's appeals. Preyor blames this on his unusual appellate lawyers.

TaiChin Preyor
TaiChin Preyor
After becoming frustrated with Preyor's court-appointed lawyer during his post-conviction appeal, Preyor's mother turned to Philip Jefferson, a disbarred California attorney who claimed he was retired, according to Preyor's most recent court filing. Preyor claims Jefferson did most of the heavy lifting in the case and had Brandy Estelle, a California attorney who specialized in probate and real estate law, file documents to the court.

Estelle relied on Wikipedia to research Texas habeas procedures, Preyor alleged, and Preyor's appeals were denied in federal court.

"The federal habeas petition filed in this court ... was so abysmal that it subsequently became an exemplar, circulated among habeas attorneys, as an example of what not to do," Preyor's attorneys wrote.

Preyor also alleged that Estelle committed fraud against the court by hiding Jefferson's role and requesting payment for her legal services from the appellate court, even though Preyor's family had already paid her.

Estelle did not respond to requests for comment for this story, and Jefferson could not be reached for comment. But on Monday afternoon, a federal court dismissed that fraud allegation, saying Estelle "competently represented" Preyor.

"There has been no showing of any attempt to defile the court, much less egregious misconduct that rises to the level of bribery or fabrication of evidence," District Court Judge Fred Biery wrote.

Preyor has also requested that the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott grant him clemency and commute his sentence to life in prison. The board is expected to vote on his case Tuesday afternoon, but rarely recommends relief to the governor. Abbott has not stopped an execution since taking office in 2015. "Mr. Preyor experienced severe sexual and physical abuse as a child, but that compelling mitigation evidence has never been heard by any court," Stetson said Monday evening after the court rulings. "The appellate courts or the Governor should allow Mr. Preyor the opportunity to be represented by capable, competent, and licensed attorneys before his execution proceeds."

Source: Texas Tribune, July 25, 2017

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Arizona: Lawsuit Seeks Details on Suppliers of Death Penalty Drugs

Arizona's death chamber
Arizona's death chamber
News organizations will clash with Arizona prison officials over the First Amendment at a trial to determine whether the public has a right to know who supplies execution drugs and the qualifications of people who carry out the death penalty.

The Associated Press, Arizona Republic and other news operations are seeking the information in a lawsuit filed after the 2014 death of Joseph Rudolph Wood, who was given 15 doses of a 2-drug combination over nearly 2 hours in what his attorney called a botched execution.

The trial is set to begin Tuesday in Phoenix.

Similar challenges to the death penalty are playing out in other parts of the country that seek more transparency about where states get their execution drugs.

States are struggling to obtain execution drugs because European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products for lethal injections.

In the Arizona case, the news organizations say information about executions has historically been open to the public and that journalists witness executions as proxies for the general public.

They argued that the release of the information helps the public determine whether executions are carried out humanely and promotes public confidence in the criminal justice system.

"The public cannot meaningfully debate the propriety of lethal injection executions if it is denied access to this essential information about how individuals are being put to death by the state," lawyers for the news organizations said in the lawsuit.

The Arizona Department of Corrections didn't have an immediate comment Monday on the trial. The Arizona Attorney General's Office, which is defending the state at trial, didn't return phone calls and an email seeking comment.

State law prohibits the disclosure of information that would identify anyone serving on an execution team.

The state said that confidentiality extends to suppliers of the drugs used. An Arizona prisons official has suggested that previous disclosures about suppliers have led other vendors to refuse to provide the drugs.

Other plaintiffs in the case include the Guardian News & Media, Arizona Daily Star, CBS 5 (KPHO-TV) and 12 News (KPNX-TV).

The news organizations won a partial victory last year when U.S. District Judge Murray Snow ruled the state must let witnesses view the entirety of an execution, including each time drugs are administered.

Snow concluded that witnesses to Wood's death couldn't see that he was receiving additional doses of the drugs after the first ones failed to kill him.

A new execution protocol issued in January will let witnesses see the injections through a camera in a room where the drugs are loaded into an inmate's IV line.

Last month, the state settled a separate lawsuit filed by death-row inmates who alleged that Arizona's prisons chief had abused his discretion in the methods and amounts of drugs used in executions. The agreement limited the power of prison officials to change execution drugs at the last minute.

There are now 118 prisoners on death row in Arizona.

Source: Associated Press, July 25, 2017

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Group hopes to stop executions in Ohio, delivers petition with 100,000 signatures

A petition with nearly 100,000 signatures
A group delivered petition with nearly 100,000 signatures to the Governor's
office, hoping to stop executions resuming in Ohio. July 24, 2017.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Nearly a dozen anti-death penalty groups are hoping nearly 100,000 signatures will get Ohio Governor John Kasich to put the state's first execution in more than three years on hold.

Ronald Phillips, 44, is scheduled to die Wednesday for raping and beating his girlfriend's young daughter in Summit County in 1993.

"Any death penalty case has some pretty tough, terrible circumstances. You could also look at who is serving a life sentence without parole today and there really is no difference," said Kevin Werner, Executive Director with Ohioans To Stop Executions.

Phillips date with death was put on hold in 2014, after a federal judge stopped all state lethal injections, when a botched execution involving Dennis McGuire, who raped and killed a woman, gasped for breath after being given two drugs designed to take his life.

"Frankly, we don't have confidence, that the same mistakes made in the past won't be made again," said Werner.

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections says it's made changes to its execution protocol to prevent further mishaps. A third drug has now been added to the lethal injection cocktail.

Monday, the group dropped off nearly 100,000 signatures to the Governor's office, requesting Kasich doesn't go through with resuming the state's death penalty.

"Ohio doesn't need the death penalty anymore, most of the capital punishment cases end up with life in prison without parole, or less," said Werner.

Equal Justice U.S.A., The American Civil Liberties Union in Ohio, and Amnesty International, among the groups that gathered signatures that were delivered to Kasich. ABC 6/FOX 28 contacted Kasich's office after the signatures were dropped off. A spokesman for the governor says he has no plans to change his decision.

The Governor will be skipping opening day of the fair to monitor events in Lucasville at the statehouse

Last week, Phillips legal team made a second appeal to the US Supreme Court requesting an emergency stay of his execution claiming he was under 21 at the time of the murder. Phillips was 19 when he killed his young victim.

SourceABC 6, July 24, 2017

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Bangladesh: 3 JMB men's death penalty commuted to life term

Bangladesh High Court
The High Court yesterday commuted the death sentence of two activists of the banned Islamist outfit JMB to life imprisonment in a case filed for their involvement in the 2005 series bomb blasts in Shariatpur.

The two convicts are Kamruzzaman alias Swapan, now 31, and Malek Bepari alias Malek Zehadi, now 32.

The bench of Justice Jahangir Hossain Selim and Justice Md Jahangir Hossain delivered the verdict after hearing the death reference of the case and the appeal filed the convicts challenging their conviction and sentence handed down by the trial court.

The HC commuted the death sentence of JMB activists Kamruzzaman and Malek to life imprisonment considering that they have been in jail custody for long 12 years, and there was no casualty in the incident of bomb blasts in Shariatpur and they were very young during the incident on August 17, 2015, Abu Hanif, a defence lawyer for the convicts, told The Daily Star.

He said both Kamruzzaman and Malek, who are now in Kashimpur jail, have to suffer in jail for 30 years from the day of their arrest, as the HC did not say that their imprisonment is until death.

As part of its countrywide terror campaign, the JMB on August 17 in 2005 simultaneously blasted several bombs at the office of Shariatpur deputy commissioner, court premises, in front of Dak Bungalow and in Palong Bazar area of the district. That day, the Islamist outfit exploded bombs in 63 districts out of 64.

Following the blasts, Shariatpur Sadar Police Station Sub-inspector Badruzzaman filed a case against some unidentified people.

Later, investigation officer of the case Kamal Hossain submitted the charge sheet accusing the two along with the then JMB chief Shaikh Abdur Rahman and its operations commander Siddikul Islam Bangla Bhai.

Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai were among the six militants executed in March 2007 for killing two Jhalakathi judges.

A Shariatpur court on January 28, 2013 sentenced Kamruzzaman and Malek to death in the case.

The death reference of the case reached the HC in seven days from Shariatpur court for examining the death sentence and the convicts then filed an appeal with the HC challenging the lower court verdict.

Meanwhile, a Dhaka court yesterday sentenced three JMB members to different terms of imprisonment in a case filed for blasts in front of Ananda Cinema Hall in Dhaka's Farmgate area during the series bomb blasts, reports our court correspondent.

The convicts are Abdullah-al-Fattah Shakil, Tarek Iqbal and Rezaul Karim Reza.

Shakil and Reza, now in jail, were given 17 years in jail and fined Tk 50,000, in default to serve six more months in jail.

Iqbal, now on bail, was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment and fined Tk 50,000, in default to serve another six months in prison.

The court cancelled bail of Iqbal and sent him to jail with conviction warrant. Two others were also sent to jail after the verdict.

Judge Kamrul Hossain Mollah of the Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court of Dhaka handed down the sentence in presence of the accused.

Following the bomb blast, police filed a case with Tejgaon Police Station accusing unknown persons.

Police then arrested -- Shakil, Iqbal and Reza -- in different places for their involvement in the incident. Of them, Shakil and Reza gave confessional statements before magistrates on different dates.

After an investigation, police pressed charges against the three on October 23 of 2007 while the court framed charges against them on December 27 the same year.

Meantime, Reza was given 10 years' imprisonment on October 14, 2014 in a case filed over the bomb blast in front of the then Hotel Sheraton on August 17 of 2005.

Source: The Daily Star, July 25, 2017

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India: Death penalty for Pandher, Koli in Pinki Sarkar case

Moninder Singh Pandher and Surinder Koli
Moninder Singh Pandher and Surinder Koli
Pandher and Koli were held guilty of kidnapping, rape and murder in the case, CBI spokesman R K Gaur said.

Describing the case as “rarest of rare”, CBI special judge Pawan Tiwari on Monday sentenced to death businessman Moninder Singh Pandher and his domestic help Surinder Koli in one of the 2006 serial Nithari rape and murder cases.

The duo was on Saturday convicted in connection with the case concerning 20-year-old Pinki Sarkar by the special CBI court in Ghaziabad. Pandher, who was out on bail, was taken into custody after the conviction.

Three cases closed


Public Prosecutor J.P. Sharma said the court held Pandher and Koli guilty under Sections 302 (punishment for murder), 376 (punishment for rape), 364 (kidnapping or murder in order to murder) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code. Mr. Sharma said the duo had already been convicted and sentenced in six cases, while nine were in various stages of trial.

Pandher and Koli were charge-sheeted in 16 of 19 cases and three cases were closed for want of evidence.

Koli has already been sentenced to death in seven of 16 cases probed by the CBI.

Pandher’s lawyer Devraj Singh had said on Saturday his client would appeal against the conviction.

“Pandher was never named in the CBI charge sheet in the Pinki Sarkar case. The investigation had also proved that he had left for Dehradun on October 5, 2006, from his Noida office and returned on October 10. This in turn proved that he was not involved in this case,” Mr. Singh said.

According to the CBI charge sheet, Koli confessed to having lured Pinki, who was returning from work, into the house on October 5, 2006, killing and dismembering her, and dumping parts of her body in a drain.

The police had discovered skeletal remains of 19 victims, mostly girls, from Pandher’s house in Noida’s Nithari on December 29, 2006.

Koli had also confessed to having lured 20-year-old Payal Sarkar, killing and dismembering her, and throwing parts of her body in the drain, which were later identified by her parents.

Between 2009 and 2016, Koli was sentenced to death for the murders of Rimpa Haldar, Aarti, Rachna Lal, Deepali, Payal, Nanda Devi and Nisha.

Meanwhile, there was a sense of relief among the family members of the victims. Jhabbu Lal, whose daughter Jyoti was one of those killed, said: “The harshest punishment should be meted out to both Koli and Pandher.”

Source: The Hindu, July 24, 2017


Nithari killings: Koli, Pandher get death sentence for murder of Pinki Sarkar


A CBI court awarded the death sentence to Moninder Singh Pandher and his aide, Surinder Koli, on Monday in one of the 16 cases of the macabre Nithari serial killings in 2005 and 2006.

The duo was arrested on December 29, 2006, after the discovery of bones and skulls from the backyard of Pandher’s Sector 31 home in Noida’s Nithari. Police found the mortal remains during investigation when children and young women disappeared mysteriously in the area.

The Nithari horror, in which victims were raped, killed and the corpses cannibalized, sent shockwaves and stirred the collective conscience of the country.

The verdict of the CBI court in Ghaziabad is significant as Pandher was earlier let off by the Allahabad high court in 2009 as his cell phone location was traced to Australia when the killings happened. The defence had successfully argued that he was no way involved in the crime as he was abroad.

But this time, the CBI found that he was in Noida’s Sector 2 till about 1.30pm on October 5, 2006, and then left for Dehradun. That day Koli lured Pinky Sarkar, a 20-year-old domestic help, to Pandher’s home.

The charge sheet states that Pinky worked at a house in Sector 30, where she watched a serial on television from 1pm. She left afterwards and disappeared. Her clothes were found at Pandher’s backyard.

The location and time were crucial to nail Pandher as investigators said he was in Noida when Pinky vanished. He returned to Noida on October 14.

“Such culprits deserve hard punishment so that others think a thousand times before committing such crimes. Koli lured victims inside the house where he raped and attempted to rape before murdering them and later threw their body parts and ate some of them in a heinous manner,” CBI special judge Pawan Kumar Tiwari said, pronouncing the sentence.

He said Pandher was part of the conspiracy. “There is no scope for their reform or rehabilitation. This case falls under the category of rarest of rare and both deserve death penalty.”

Pandher’s lawyer argued that there was no evidence against the ailing man and he has spent eight years in jail already.

Koli, who is from Mangrukhal in Uttarakhand, made his closing arguments on Saturday.

“You give me any punishment as you feel like ... there is no evidence against me. The CBI has framed me. The court should be equal to both sides and I feel I have been denied justice,” Koli said.

“There is no eyewitness in the case and the victim’s family never made any allegations against me. The DNA test of the victim did not confirm I committed the rape.”

Of the 16 cases filed against the duo, eight were decided and the Ghaziabad court awarded death penalty to prime accused Koli in each of its verdicts.

They were handed copies of the judgment on Monday and sent to Dasna jail.

“The concept of blood for blood cannot be made applicable in society. Still, the work of the state is to strive for a decent society. This is possible only when such people, who have become dangerous for society, are punished with death,” special judge Tiwari said.

Pandher walked out of Dasna jail in September 2014 after getting bail in all cases. But Koli was never let off.

Families of the Nithari victims are not convinced with the verdict as the cases have dragged for years.

“No one is hanged even after 11 years. It is a relief that Koli is in jail. Pandher may get relief from higher courts,” said Karanveer, the father of young girl Madhu whose bones were found in Pandher’s backyard.

“The Nithari families have lost faith after years of legal battle ... no one is hanged till date.”

Pinky’s family searched the whole area the day she disappeared.

“We could find only her clothes and slippers. We left Nithari after she was presumed dead, as we had to pass Pandher’s house on the way to work. I couldn’t bear the sight of it. Every time I passed the house tears streamed down my eyes. We waited 11 years for them to be hanged,” said mother Bandana Sarkar.

Source: Hindustan Times, July 24, 2017

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Police claims there are up to 1.2 million drug users in Jakarta

Drug user
President Joko Widodo recently made headlines around the world when he told the Indonesian police they shouldn’t hesitate to shoot foreign drug smugglers if they resist, seemingly echoing the policy espoused by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte in his bloody drug war. 

Jokowi, like Duterte, often speaks about his country’s supposed “drug emergency” to justify such harsh talk, but how bad is the drug situation in Indonesia really?

According to the director of the Jakarta police narcotics unit, Nico Afinta, the situation is pretty bad, but especially in the capital.

“In Indonesia, there are 1-5 million drug users, while there are 600,000-1.2 million drug users in Jakarta,” Nico said at Jakarta Police Headquarters yesterday as quoted by Kompas.

The notion that there could be as many as 1.2 million drug users in Jakarta is especially worrying considering the capital has an estimated population of just over 10 million, meaning over 10% of all Jakartans could be drug users.

But if instead of worry you are feeling skeptical that the percentage of illegal narcotic users could possibly be that high in the capital, well, you’d be right to think so.

Nico said the estimate was based on information from the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) but did not elaborate on what data was used to calculate those numbers.

However, it’s likely that those figures were derived from similar data to the kind cited by President Joko Widodo and others officials to claim that the country’s drug crisis is causing up to 50 Indonesians to die from illegal narcotics every day. 

Statisticians have demonstrated that the data used to produce that scary statistic is terribly flawed, being based not on verified medical cases but rather indirect, unverifiable data from survey questions such as “Do you know anybody who ever died because of drugs?”

Similarly flawed methods and cherry picked data have been shown to been used in estimating the number of drug users in the country in the past.

Surveys show stiff drug punishments and especially the death penalty for foreign drug smugglers are popular policies amongst Indonesians and many have accused President Joko Widodo of exaggerating the country’s drug problems and reviving the use of the death penalty for his own political benefit. (Is it purely coincidence that Jokowi’s talk of shooting drug dealers came soon after mounting criticism regarding his presidential decree to unilaterally ban radical groups?)

So how many drug users are there in Jakarta? We have no idea, but we’d recommend you take any figures from the government with a grain of salt.

Source: Coconuts Jakarta, July 25, 2017


Philippine President Duterte Doubles Down on Abusive ‘Drug War’


Rodrigo Duterte Joko Widodo - posters
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed on Monday that his “war on drugs” will continue “unremitting as it will be unrelenting” into his second year in office.

Duterte issued a stark warning to suspected drug dealers, whom he characterized as “beasts and vultures,” that they had a choice of “jail or hell” if they persisted in allegedly illegal activities.

In his second State of the Nation Address, Duterte accused activists who have documented serious human rights violations linked to his drug war of “trivializing” the campaign by demanding respect for legal process. He also declared he would require presidential approval for any investigations by the official Commission on Human Rights of alleged security forces abuse and the Office of the Ombudsman. He also pledged to push for the reinstatement of the death penalty, justifying it as “not only about deterrence, but also retribution.”

Duterte’s drug war, which Human Rights Watch research has shown to be a police-led extrajudicial execution campaign, has resulted in the deaths of more than 7,000 people since he took office in June 2016. Duterte has glorified those deaths as proof of the “success” of anti-drug measures that have disproportionately targeted urban slum dwellers. Human Rights Watch has shown government claims that the deaths of suspected drug users and dealers were lawful are false. Interviews with witnesses and victims’ relatives and analysis of police records show a pattern of unlawful police conduct designed to paint a veneer of legality over extrajudicial executions.

More positively, Duterte expressed strong support for the enforcement of the country’s Reproductive Health Law and for women to be able to obtain family planning hormonal implants, the sale and distribution of which are currently under a Supreme Court restraining order. He also urged the full implementation of the Magna Carta of Women, a comprehensive women’s rights law, and made a commitment to increase assistance for overseas migrant workers. With respect to the environment, he promised to strictly check the operations of mining companies.

With President Duterte, it seems calls to enforce the law can share the same speech with exhortations to run roughshod over it.

Source: Human Rights Watch, Carlos H. Conde, July 24, 2017

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Fourteen men at imminent risk of beheading as Saudi Arabia continues bloody execution spree

Medieval punishments: Public execution in Saudi Arabia
Medieval punishments: Public execution in Saudi Arabia
The Saudi Arabian Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the death sentences of 14 men after a grossly unfair mass trial is a worrying reminder of the country’s lethal crackdown on dissent, said Amnesty International today. The men who were found guilty of protest-related crimes now face imminent execution.

“By confirming these sentences Saudi Arabia’s authorities have displayed their ruthless commitment to the use of the death penalty as a weapon to crush dissent and neutralize political opponents,” said Samah Hadid, Director of campaigns for the Middle-East at Amnesty international.

“King Salman’s signature is now all that stands between them and their execution. He must immediately quash these death sentences which are a result of sham court proceedings that brazenly flout international fair trial standards,"

At least 66 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia since the start of 2017, including 26 in the past three weeks alone - more than one execution per day.

Hussein al-Rabi’, Abdullah al-Tureif, Hussein al-Mosallem, Mohamed al-Naser, Mustafa al-Darwish, Fadel Labbad, Sa’id al-Sakafi, Salman al-Qureish, Mujtaba al-Suweyket, Munir al-Adam, Abdullah al-Asreeh, Ahmad al-Darwish, Abdulaziz al-Sahwi, Ahmad al-Rab’i were transferred from Dammam in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province to the capital, Riyadh on 15 July 2017 without prior notice.

Now that their sentences have been upheld by the Supreme Court the 14 men are at risk of execution as soon as the King ratifies their sentences. Due to the secrecy surrounding the Saudi Arabia judicial process, the families are given very little information, if any, about the current state of the case and usually not told about the scheduled execution of their relatives.

Yesterday, families of the 14 men learned that the death sentences were upheld after contacting the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) and they fear that the executions will take place imminently. The 14 men were initially sentenced to death on 1 June 2016 by the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) in Riyadh, following a grosslyunfair mass trial. They were convicted of a range of charges that included “armed rebellion against the ruler” by, among other things “participating in shooting at security personnel, security vehicles”, “preparing and using Molotov Cocktail bombs”, “theft and armed robbery” and “inciting chaos, organizing and participating in riots”.

Court documents show that the 14 men told the court they were subjected to prolonged pre-trial detention and had been tortured and otherwise ill-treated during their interrogation to extract their “confessions”, however the judge failed to order investigations into their allegations. The SCC appears to have largely based its decision on these forced “confessions”.

Background:


Amnesty International has recorded a worrying increase in death sentences against political dissidents in Saudi Arabia since 2013, including the Shia Muslim minority.

Amnesty International also learned on 23 July 2017 that the SCC court of appeal has upheld the death sentences of 15 men accused of spying for Iran and the case was transferred to the Supreme Court on 20 July 2017. The men were initially sentenced to death on 6 December 2016.

Amnesty International has documented the cases of at least 34 members of Saudi Arabia’s Shia community – making up 10 to 15 percent of the population – who are currently facing the death penalty. All were accused of activities deemed a risk to national security.

Source: Amnesty International, July 24, 2017

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Monday, July 24, 2017

15 Professors of Pharmacology Tell High Court: Ohio’s Execution Drug is “Profoundly Troubling”

Midazolam
Today, fifteen prominent professors of pharmacology filed an amicus curiae brief at the U.S. Supreme Court stating that the “record of midazolam-protocol executions is profoundly troubling” and that the sedative midazolam, which Ohio plans to use in the scheduled execution of Ron Phillips on Wednesday morning at 10:00 a.m., is “unsuitable…because it is incapable of inducing unconsciousness and cannot prevent the infliction of severe pain.” (pp. 14-15)

The pharmacologists’ brief references an amicus brief of pharmacologists filed in Glossip v. Gross, and how the scientific consensus that midazolam is not an appropriate drug for use in executions has grown since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in that case, stating:

“Amici previously asserted that there is ‘overwhelming scientific consensus… that midazolam is incapable of inducing’ the intended ‘deep, comalike unconsciousness’ because of its physical properties and mechanism of action. As the District Court’s findings of fact reflect, the evidence supporting this scientific consensus has grown since Glossip. Neither the parties’ legal arguments nor dosage can change the material properties of this drug. ‘An excessive dose of midazolam will not result in unconsciousness.’ From amici’s perspective, the Sixth Circuit’s decision improperly shuts down the judicial scrutiny that this critical issue deserves.” (p. 7)

The Brief of Fifteen Professors of Pharmacology as Amici Curiae in Support of Certiorari: http://bit.ly/2v0hJj1

Attorneys for Mr. Phillips have filed Petition for a Writ of Certiorari and an Application for a Stay of Execution due to the substantial risk of a botched lethal injection execution using midazolam. 

Ohio plans to use midazolam as the first drug in a three-drug procedure, along with a paralytic that could mask any pain and distress. Mr. Phillips’ filings at the U.S. Supreme Court can be accessed here:

The Petition for a Writ of Certiorari can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/2u5MCk5

The Application for a Stay of Execution can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/2velXAe

Ohio officials have not carried out an execution for three-and-a-half years, since the 26-minute problematic midazolam execution of Dennis McGuire, where he gasped for air and choked. In Mr. Phillips’ stay motion, attorneys argue that the en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit used the wrong standard of review in overturning the federal district court’s preliminary injunction against Ohio’s controversial lethal injection protocol. The stay request was also filed on behalf Gary Otte and Raymond Tibbetts, the next Ohio prisoners scheduled for execution after Mr. Phillips.

In addition to Mr. McGuire’s execution, midazolam has been implicated in other problematic executions, including that of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma. On April 29, 2014, Mr. Lockett took 43 minutes to die after being administered the drug. In Arizona, Joseph Wood gasped over 600 times like “a fish on land” during his nearly two hour execution, even after being given fourteen times the legal dose of midazolam on July 23, 2014. Arizona has since announced it will no longer use midazolam. In Alabama, on December 8, 2016, media eyewitnesses to the execution of Ronald Smith reported that he gasped, heaved, coughed, clenched his fists, and appeared to be speaking or trying to speak, for thirteen minutes after midazolam was administered, and moved during his execution in response to the second consciousness check, when he should have been unconscious. At that point, the paralytic and painful, heart-stopping drugs were administered.

Background Re: Lethal Injection Litigation in Ohio


On June 28, 2017, in a closely divided 8 to 6 decision on the Eighth Amendment issue, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned the preliminary injunction against Ohio’s controversial lethal injection protocol. That preliminary injunction, issued earlier this year by a federal district court, was initially affirmed on appeal by a divided panel of the Sixth Circuit.

Attorneys for Ohio death row prisoners had argued that the three-judge Sixth Circuit panel correctly upheld the federal district court’s preliminary injunction issued in January 2017. The district court issued a preliminary injunction because it found that the prisoners were likely to succeed at trial on their claim that the use of midazolam as the first drug in a three-drug protocol creates a substantial risk of unconstitutional pain and a substantial risk of serious harm.

On April 6, 2017, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the lower federal court’s preliminary injunction against Ohio’s controversial lethal injection protocol that uses the three drugs midazolam, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride.

The ruling upheld a January 26, 2017 order of Magistrate Judge Michael R. Merz of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. Judge Karen Nelson Moore and Judge Jane B. Stranch, noted that “the district court in this case evaluated evidence that was not available to the Oklahoma district court in Glossip [v. Gross] (p. 14.)” The opinion states:

“The district court found that Plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their claim that the use of midazolam as the first drug in a three-drug protocol creates a substantial risk of severe pain. There is no dispute that the suffocation caused by the paralytic and the intense burning sensation caused by potassium chloride are excruciatingly painful, just as in Baze [v. Rees] it was ‘uncontested that ... there is a substantial, constitutionally unacceptable risk of suffocation from the administration of pancuronium bromide and pain from the injection of potassium chloride’ if a proper dose of an effective anesthetic is not administered first. This case, like Baze, ‘hinges on’ the efficacy of the first drug in the three-drug protocol. (p. 10)”

The decision from the 3-member panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/2o6WyH5

On January 26, 2017, after a five-day evidentiary hearing that included testimony from 14 witnesses, Judge Merz issued a 119-page decision granting a preliminary injunction against Ohio’s new lethal injection protocol. The district court’s opinion and order can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/2jtAqV5

In addition to rejecting Ohio’s use of midazolam, Judge Merz also rejected Ohio’s proposed three-drug lethal injection protocol, given prior sworn representations by state officials that it would never again use a three-drug execution method that included a paralytic and potassium chloride.

On October 3, 2016, Ohio officials announced their intention to begin carrying out executions using midazolam plus the two painful drugs they had abandoned in 2009. Since 1994, Ohio's statute governing lethal injection has specified that execution procedures must "quickly and painlessly cause death." Midazolam cannot meet this requirement, since it does not relieve pain and cannot reliably keep a prisoner from regaining consciousness.

For more information, please contact Laura Burstein, Laura.Burstein@Squirepb.com; @LauraBurstein1

Source: Ohioans To Stop Executions, July 24, 2017


Ronald Phillips Set to Die in Ohio's 1st Execution in 3 Years


Ohio's death chamber
Ohio's death chamber
Father Lawrence Hummer had been told the lethal injection of Dennis McGuire would probably take about 5 minutes. Just about that much time had passed when something ghastly happened.

"He started struggling for breath," said Hummer, who knew McGuire from Masses he celebrated for Ohio's Catholic death-row prisoners and volunteered to be a witness at his January 2014 execution.

"I was trying to calm his children down when all of a sudden I heard audible gagging. I thought it was another witness, but when I looked back to [McGuire], he was the one gagging," Hummer said. "Your instinct is to help or stop it, but of course nobody could do a thing."

According to multiple witnesses, McGuire gasped, snorted and heaved for up to 15 minutes before he was finally pronounced dead, ending Ohio's longest execution - and its 1st using an untested 2-drug cocktail.

More than 3 years later, Ohio has not put another prisoner to death. But after a tangled journey through the court system and an international search for chemicals, that could be about to change.

Unless the U.S. Supreme Court steps in, child-killer Ronald Phillips will be strapped to a gurney at the state prison in Lucasville on Wednesday evening and given an injection of 3 chemicals - 1 of which was used on McGuire and in several other executions that did not go as planned.

Phillips, 44, was convicted of raping and beating to death his girlfriend's daughter, Sheila Marie Evans, in 1993. The Ohio parole board said it was "clearly among the worst of the worst capital crimes."

"Its depravity is self-evident," the panel said in denying clemency. "Words cannot convey the barbarity of the crime. It is simply unconscionable."

Phillips was originally scheduled to die in 2013, but Ohio ran out of the drug it used, the barbiturate pentobarbital, and was unable to buy more because opponents of capital punishment convinced pharmaceutical companies to stop selling it to executioners.

The state adopted a new protocol: the sedative midazolam, followed by a massive dose of the opioid hydromorphone. Phillips would have been the 1st to receive it, but he won a delay with a request to donate his organs to relatives.

The state eventually rejected the donation idea, but it bought Phillips some time. The result was that in the meantime, McGuire became the 1st and only Ohio inmate executed with the experimental combination.

A review by prison officials concluded that McGuire - who raped and fatally stabbed a woman who was 8 months pregnant - did not suffer any distress. But after McGuire's family sued and midazolam came under fire for botched executions elsewhere, Ohio abandoned the 2-drug injection.

Its plan was to instead use a drug it relied on for more than a dozen years, sodium thiopental. But that drug is no longer made in the United States, and the Food and Drug Administration warned the state to drop plans to import it from overseas.

Switching gears, Ohio then adopted a 3-drug injection that several other states have been using: midazolam for sedation, following by a paralytic and the heart-stopping potassium chloride.

Despite its newfound popularity - Arkansas used it to kill 4 prisoners in 8 days - the formula is controversial. Critics say midazolam doesn't protect inmates against the pain of the other 2 drugs and thus violates the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

A challenge out of Oklahoma was taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to ban midazolam. But in January, a federal magistrate judge halted plans to restart executions, finding the use of the sedative created "a substantial risk of serious harm."

An appeals panel upheld that ruling, but was then reversed in a decision by the full court, which gave Ohio the green light to move ahead with Phillips' execution. Although he and other inmates have appealed to the nation's highest court, chances for a reprieve are increasingly slim.

In a response to Phillips' appeal, Ohio's attorney general argued its latest formula has a reliable track record.

"Ohio, a late adopter of the midazolam 3-drug protocol, chose it only after it was adopted by several States, used in over a dozen prior executions, authorized by many courts, and upheld by this Court," the state wrote in its brief.

Not all the executions have been problem-free, however, as 15 pharmacologists pointed out in a brief filed Monday. Last year, witnesses in Alabama reported that Ronald Bert Smith coughed and heaved for 13 minutes. Arizona swore off midazolam after Joseph Wood took 2 hours to die after getting the same kind of injection used on McGuire.

The coalition Ohioans to Stop Execution says it's just too risky for Ohio to restart its execution machinery with midazolam in the mix. It delivered petitions signed by 100,000 state residents to Gov. John Kasich's office on Monday.

Last week, the group released a statement from a retired judge who headed a court-appointed task force on the death penalty in Ohio and who complained that most of the panel's major recommendations have not been implemented - although none of those centered on execution drugs.

The state is saying little beyond its legal papers. Kasich's office referred inquiries to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which issued a brief statement: "Ohio intends to fulfill its statutory obligation of carrying out court-ordered executions in a lawful, humane and dignified manner."

The last time the state came close to executing Phillips, a prison medical team had trouble identifying a good spot for the injection, he later told a court.

"I guess the Lord hid my veins from them," he said.

Whatever happens Wednesday could have implications for the future of executions in Ohio. If there's a glitch or worse, prison officials will be under pressure to once again retool the protocol. If it unfolds as planned, the state will have momentum to move forward with more executions.

That's a prospect Hummer, the Catholic priest who witnessed McGuire's execution, dreads. He said he is still haunted by what he witnessed in the death house 3 years ago.

"It was a horrendous experience," he said. "It's something that never goes away."

He may be called upon to do it again.

"I have 2 guys who come to mass every week who are due to be executed next year, and I told them, 'I'll be there for you if you wish,'" Hummer said. "I can't abandon the guys I've been with. I mean, how can I not do it?"

Source: NBC News, July 25, 2017


Resuming Executions in Ohio Will Not Serve Justice


After a 3-year hiatus, the state of Ohio is scheduled to resume executions this week. Ronald R. Phillips is scheduled to be put to death on July 26, despite outcry from groups including human rights organizations, faith leaders, correctional officers, and exonerated former death-row prisoners.

"While much of the country moves away from the death penalty, Ohio will be taking a devastating step backward should they move forward with this execution," said James Clark, senior campaigner with Amnesty International USA. "The capital punishment system is broken beyond repair, and must be abandoned."

Source: Amnesty International USA, July 25, 2017


Diocese of Southern Ohio objects to reinstatement of death penalty


Despite much objection, the state of Ohio will end its current hold on the death penalty and proceed with its first execution in 3 1/2 years on July 26th, 2017.

The Diocese of Southern Ohio, in partnership with other community faith leaders, and a host of death row exonerees, is urgently encouraging Governor Kasich to reconsider the reinstatement of this punishment given the state's questionable history of wrongful convictions and botched executions.

"While certain crimes can be difficult to forgive, we must remember that we are all children of God," Bishop Thomas Breidenthal said. "As Christians, we should respect human life as precious, and not sanction death via our very human, and sometimes flawed, criminal justice system."

Those looking to learn more or get involved with the movement are encouraged to contact their respective congress person or senator and ask them to halt this process, or by signing the petition via the link below:

http://otse.org/faith_leader_letter/?

About the Diocese of Southern Ohio


The Episcopal Church is home to more than 25,000 people in Southern Ohio. Our communities of faith can be found in Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton, and in farm towns and county seats all across the southern half of Ohio.

We are led by the Rt. Rev. Thomas E. Breidenthal. As bishop, he offers spiritual leadership in partnership with the clergy and people of this diocese.

We are part of a larger, global community. The Episcopal Church has its roots in the Church of England and is part of the Anglican Communion. There are about 2.4 million Episcopalians in the United States and sixteen other countries and more than 70 million Anglicans worldwide.

Source: The Global Dispatch, July 25, 2017

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No hangman for Zimbabwe: Recruitment blocked

Alfred Mashamba
Alfred Mashamba
Dozens of job desperate seekers have applied for the vacant post of Zimbabwe’s hangman, but the country’s vice-president has blocked the recruitment process because he narrowly escaped the hangman’s noose as a teenager during the liberation struggle in the 1960s.

Virginia Mabhiza, a permanent secretary in the Ministry of Justice, says the post, which fell vacant more than 10 years ago, has not been filled since Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who doubles as Justice minister, is strongly opposed to the death penalty.

The vice-president’s refusal to appoint a hangman is stoking controversy in a country whose constitution still upholds capital punishment. More than 70 convicts are currently on death row.

Mabhiza says more than five aspiring hangmen have applied for the job since 2013. Previous reports show that more than 20 men have eyed the post – no females have sought the unusual job.

“The hangman’s post is yet to be filled and we continue to receive applications. The constitution still allows the death penalty,” Mabhiza said.

Last year, there were reports that a “suitable candidate” had been found for the post of hangman. It now emerges that the vice-president is blocking the appointment.

One of the men vying for the job is Alfred Mashamba, a bearded 47-year-old who says he is growing increasingly impatient over delays in recruiting a hangman.

“I guarantee, I will diligently execute my duties,” Mashamba has vowed. “If you have lost someone dear to you because of murder, someone who the whole family looked up to, then you will understand my decision,” Mashamba adds.

Mashamba says when he was a young boy, his father was forced to quit his job and look after his ailing mother. An uncle then took over the responsibility of fending for the extended family. Tragically, the uncle was murdered and the killers were never found.

Before the family had found closure on the uncle’s murder, another killing rocked the clan. “Last year, my niece was raped and murdered after she had gone to sell fresh milk to fend for her family,” Mashamba said.

Officials would not reveal to African Independent whether Mashamba is one of the frontrunners for the job. Jobs are difficult to find in Zimbabwe, where the International Labour Organisation estimates the rate of formal unemployment at 95 percent.

Mnangagwa (70), one of the senior Zanu-PF securocrats accused of spearheading the 1980s genocide which claimed the lives of 20 000 civilians from the minority Ndebele tribe, is considered a leading contender in the race to succeed President Robert Mugabe.

During his early days as a political activist against the colonial regime in the 1960s he was sentenced to death for participating in the bombing of a Rhodesian train. He was spared the noose after arguing that he was only 17 years old. Instead of going to the gallows, he served 10 years in prison for sabotage. He has vowed to resist any attempt to hang condemned killers.

Source: African Independent, Brezhnev Malaba, July 24, 2017

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Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's sons reinvestigate their parents' case

Michael Rosenberg, right, and his brother, Robert, on June 19, 1953 -- the day their parents were executed.
Michael Rosenberg, right, and his brother, Robert, on June 19, 1953,
the day their parents were executed.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's sons tell Anderson Cooper how it felt to be the children of the infamous spies, in a story that sheds new light on a central event of the Cold War

It was called "The Crime of the Century," one of the most famous espionage cases of the Cold War. In 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sent to the electric chair for conspiring to provide the secrets of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. They left behind two little boys, Robert and Michael, just 6 and 10 years old at the time.

The brothers Rosenberg were the orphans of Communist spies at the height of the McCarthy era. Relatives were afraid to take them in. One town blocked them from attending its schools. What ever happened to those two little boys? It's a remarkable story, a piece of American history that hasn't been fully told.

Anderson Cooper: People would ask you?

Michael Meeropol: Oh yeah, "Are you related to those two spies?" "No." But I really hated myself.

Anderson Cooper: Hated yourself because you were—

Michael Meeropol: I was denying-- I was too scared to-- admit that my parents were my parents.

Robert Meeropol: We were the children of Communist spies. Being the Rosenberg's children in 1950 was almost like being Osama bin Laden's kids here after 9/11.

Today, they're known by their adopted names, Michael and Robert Meeropol, but in 1950, they were Michael and Robby Rosenberg, ages 7 and 3, living in New York City's Lower East Side, with their parents Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were ardent Communists but Michael doesn't recall his parents ever using that word. Ethel was a stay-at-home mom who loved to sing. Julius – an engineer who ran a small machine shop. That's Michael on his shoulders.

Michael Meeropol: My father would take me to places like Prospect Park and, you know, get some peanuts and feed squirrels.

Anderson Cooper: What was he like?

Michael Meeropol: He was very energetic. He had a smile on his face a heck of a lot of times. And I remember traveling around with him. In fact, I rode on the subway with him so often that I kind of wondered, you know, when he was working.

Anderson Cooper: And your mom? What was she like?

Michael Meeropol: She was very affectionate. A lot of hugging and kissing. And I remember that she was often cooking. The thing I remember is just a normal life.

But then, in the summer of 1950, FBI agents began rounding up a network of alleged Communist spies. On July 17th, they knocked on the Rosenbergs' door.

Michael Meeropol: I'm listening to "The Lone Ranger." And the door opens. And there is all these people in the room, who, you know, I guess-- friends of daddy's. But then my mother yells, "I had-- I want a lawyer." And I knew something was weird. And then the radio's turned off. Well, I'm a brash 7-year-old and I turned it back on. Somebody turned it off again. After about three times, I gave up, 'cause, you know, the attention was on my father. And then he disappears. He's gone.

Julius was accused of running a spy ring that tried to help the Soviet Union make an atomic bomb. After he refused to talk to the FBI, Ethel was arrested too.

Michael Meeropol: All I remember is I'm on the phone with her. And she says, "I'm under arrest." And I say, "You can't come home?" She says, "No, I can't." And I don't remember anything else about the phone call, but the story is that I screamed and that it gave her nightmares for the rest of her life.

Anderson Cooper: That scream?

Michael Meeropol: Yeah. It tore her heart.

Their grandmother put them up for a few months, but Michael and Robby say she resented their presence. When other relatives refused to care for them, they were sent to a children's shelter in the Bronx.

Anderson Cooper: Why didn't other family members take you in?

Robert Meeropol: They were terrified. Like, for instance, my father's older sister wanted to take us in. But her husband owned a small grocery store. And he said, "If people find out I've taken in the children of the Rosenbergs-- they won't buy food from my store."

Anderson Cooper: So then you're sent, essentially, to an orphanage?

Michael Meeropol: Yeah.

Anderson Cooper: What was that like?

Michael Meeropol: I remember it as horrible. Like something out of Dickens. The staff was pretty free with the slaps and the abuse. I felt like I was in prison.

Michael, left, and Robert Meeropol
Michael, left, and Robert Meeropol
More than 20 years after their parents' execution, the brothers decided to step back into the limelight and reinvestigate the Rosenberg case.

Before Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for conspiring to provide atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, Ethel wrote a letter to their sons Michael and Robby saying, "always remember that we were innocent." So perhaps it's not surprising that when the boys grew up, they wanted to try to clear their parents' names. What is surprising is how much new information they and independent historians have been able to uncover over the years -- secret messages, intercepted cables, long-forgotten files from the archives of the FBI, the CIA, and the KGB. The new information has changed the way this chapter of American history is viewed and, last year, the brothers asked President Obama to exonerate their mother.

The little boys who disappeared from public view after their parents were executed in 1953, re-emerged as grown men in 1975 determined to uncover new information in their parents case. They sued the FBI and the CIA under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking full access to the government's files on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Anderson Cooper: Did you think you might be able to prove your parents' innocence?

Michael Meeropol: Oh, absolutely. I was absolutely convinced that we would find virtual proof.

Anderson Cooper: You were sure they were innocent?

Robert Meeropol: As sure as one-and-one equal two.

➤ Click here to read the full article (+ video & photos)

Source: CBS News, 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper, July 23, 2017

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