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Showing posts from December, 2007

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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Will Alabama execute an innocent man?

By Mary Shaw

I have written before about how we've seen more than 200 wrongfully convicted people released from U.S. prisons in recent years after proving their innocence via DNA or other evidence.

It is good that we can do this post-conviction testing, to ensure that we're punishing the right person. And, in the case of death row inmates, we certainly don't want to execute the wrong guy. Right?

Well, while most people of conscience would probably agree, Alabama Governor Bob Riley seems to have a problem with the concept.

Here is the story:

For more than 20 years, Tommy Arthur has been sitting on Alabama's death row for a crime he says he did not commit. Of course, many people in prison claim that they're innocent, and we can't just take their word for it. But those 200+ aforementioned exonerees prove that sometimes they really are telling the truth.

In Arthur's case, DNA is available that could either prove his innocence or confirm his guilt. Since last August, …

Support for Death Penalty Weak Among Blacks and Hispanics

According to new polling analysis from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, support for the death penalty among the general public has dropped to 62% (August 2007), down from a high of 80% support in the mid-1990s.

Among black respondents, 51% opposed the death penalty and only 40% were in favor.

Hispanics were about evenly split with 48% in favor of the death penalty and 47% opposed. Eighty-two (82%) percent of conservative Republicans support the death penalty, but only 41% of liberal Democrats. Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants had the highest support--74%.

In polls that ask respondents to compare the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole, support for the death penalty is considerably lower, and often below support for full life sentences.

Source: Death Penalty Information Center

Native Americans and the Death Penalty

David Baker has written a thorough and insightful analysis of how the death penalty in the U.S. has been used against Native Americans. In "American Indian Executions in Historical Context," Baker places the execution of Native Americans within the history of colonialism, slavery and the conquering of indigenous tribes in early America. The article traces these developments to the current era, about which the author concludes:

The trend in American Indian executions during the present historical period of self determination shows a significant increase in Indian executions during the 1990s. The 15 American Indian executions since 1973, in many cases, accent the problems endemic to contemporary capital punishment schemes—increasing rates of voluntary executions, botched executions, racist prosecutorial discretion, and ineffective capital defense counsel. In these cases, all the victims were white and the American Indian defendants largely suffered from severe alcoholism, drug …

Judge Issues Stay Of Execution For Paul Reid

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A federal judge has issued a stay of execution for Paul Dennis Reid, a death row inmate facing multiple death sentences for a series of slayings at fast food restaurants.

Reid, a Texas drifter who came to Nashville to be a country singer, was convicted of killing seven people in Nashville and Clarksville in 1997. Reid, 50, had been scheduled to be executed on Jan. 3.

U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell ruled late last week that the Reid execution should be delayed until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a Kentucky case on whether lethal injection procedures are cruel and unusual.

The nation's highest court is scheduled to hear arguments on the Kentucky case on Jan. 7, but it could be several months before it reaches a decision.

Attorney General Bob Cooper's spokeswoman Sharon Curtis-Flair said the state has no plans to appeal the stay.

Campbell said his order does not affect Reid's conviction or his death sentence.

Another Nashville federal judge earlier th…

At 60% of Total, Texas is Bucking Execution Trend

This year’s death penalty bombshells — a de facto national moratorium, a state abolition and the smallest number of executions in more than a decade — have masked what may be the most significant and lasting development. For the first time in the modern history of the death penalty, more than 60 percent of all American executions took place in Texas.

But enthusiasm for executions outside of Texas has dropped sharply. Of the 42 executions in the last year, 26 were in Texas. The remaining 16 were spread across nine other states, none of which executed more than three people. Many legal experts say the trend will probably continue.

Indeed, said David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston who has represented death-row inmates, the day is not far off when essentially all executions in the United States will take place in Texas.

“The reason that Texas will end up monopolizing executions,” he said, “is because every other state will eliminate it de jure, as New Jersey did, or de …

Outlaw lethal injection as a method of execution!

To: Justices of the US Supreme Court

We welcome the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of lethal injections as practiced in Kentucky.

36 of the 37 death penalty states authorize lethal injection for executions. Most of these states use the same 3-drug combination for lethal injections: sodium pentothal (an anesthetic), pancuronium bromide (a paralytic agent), and potassium chloride (stops the heart and causes death). Some states have not specified the drugs they use.

Scientists who studied the lethal injection noted in their report — published by the online journal PLoS Medicine — that there are procedural problems that could lead to insufficient anesthesia in executions and found evidence that the design of the drug scheme itself is flawed: “Thiopental does not predictably induce respiratory arrest, nor does potassium chloride always induce cardiac arrest. Furthermore, on the basis of execution data and clinical, veterinary, and laboratory animal studie…

ARAB PRESS IGNORES UN VOTE AGAINST DEATH PENALTY

December 19, 2007: the Arab press largely ignored the news on the UN General Assembly's non-binding vote on a death penalty moratorium.

Most of the space in the Arab press was instead dedicated to the Islamic feast of Eid al-Adha or the feast of sacrifice, which is celebrated on December 19, at the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Only a couple of news sources mentioned the issue briefly such as Qatari TV network Al Jazeera, who singled out Singapore as one of the countries who voted against the measure.

Sources: AKI, 19/12/2007

Inmate Hospitalized Just Before Freedom

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) -- A man who spent 20 years on death row before his sentence was overturned was hospitalized Thursday, just hours before he planned to enter a plea that would have freed him.

Ken Richey, 43, had been expected to plead no contest in a court hearing later Thursday and be sentenced to time served in the 1986 death of a toddler in an apartment fire.

His attorney, Ken Parsigian, said Richey was getting a heart catheter, but he was unsure about his client's medical condition.

''It's serious enough that he clearly won't be available today,'' Parsigian said. ''The good news is thank goodness it happened now, when he was close to a hospital.''

Richey had suffered at least one heart attack in jail and had been complaining about his heart hurting a couple weeks ago, said his brother, Steve Richey. He saw a doctor about the pain and was told everything was fine.

''I guess it was the stress. It had to have been,'' Steve Riche…

A Pause From Death

The United Nations General Assembly voted on Tuesday for a global moratorium on the death penalty. The resolution was nonbinding; its symbolic weight made barely a ripple in the news ocean of the United States, where governments’ right to kill a killer is enshrined in law and custom.

But for those who have been trying to move the world away from lethal revenge as government policy, this was a milestone. The resolution failed repeatedly in the 1990s, but this time the vote was 104 to 54, with 29 nations abstaining. Progress has come in Europe and Africa. Nations like Senegal, Burundi, Gabon — even Rwanda, shamed by genocide — have decided to reject the death penalty, as official barbarism.

The United States, as usual, lined up on the other side, with Iran, China, Pakistan, Sudan and Iraq. Together this blood brotherhood accounts for more than 90 percent of the world’s executions, according to Amnesty International. These countries’ devotion to their sovereignty is rigid, as is their perv…

Dec-17-07 Governor Corzine's Remarks on Eliminating Death Penalty in New Jersey

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NEWS RELEASE
Governor Jon S. Corzine
December 17, 2007

Governor Jon S. Corzine
Remarks as Delivered
December 17, 2007

Good morning everyone.

Thank you all for being here. Today, December 17th 2007, is a momentous day - a day of progress - for the State of New Jersey and for the millions of people across our nation and around the globe who reject the death penalty as a moral or practical response to the grievous, even heinous, crime of murder.

Today, through my signature on this bill, New Jersey abolishes the death penalty as a policy of our state.

For the people of New Jersey, I sign this legislation with pride.

I want to thank so many of those who join us today for their thoughtfulness and courage in making today a reality.

First let me cite the Death Penalty Study Commission, chaired by Reverend Bill Howard, pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, a group that was made up of a diverse set of individuals representative of prosecutors, law-enforcement, victims, religious groups and others.

Le…

NIGERIA. GOVERNMENT MISLEADS WORLD ABOUT DEATH PENALTY RECORD

December 17, 2007: Amnesty International revealed that secret executions have been taking place in Nigeria’s prisons, despite recent assurances by the government that Nigeria has not executed “in years.”

The organization uncovered evidence of at least seven executions in the last two years, but fears more may have taken place. All of the executions took place by hanging.

All those executed were convicted in a Kano state court and relocated to prisons across the country, including Jos, Kaduna and Enugu. Their death warrants were all signed by the current Kano state governor, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau.

On 30 May 2006, Kenneth Ekhone and Auwalu Musa were executed by hanging in Kaduna Central Prison. They were tried and convicted by a Robbery and Firearms Tribunal, but did not have lawyers throughout the proceedings. They were also not given an opportunity to appeal against the judgements. Until his death, Auwalu Musa denied he had anything to do with the crime.

On 15 June 2006, Salisu Babuga wa…

IRAN: TWO AFGHAN BROTHERS HANGED

December 17, 2007: Iran hanged two convicted Afghan nationals for murder in the central city of Isfahan, press reports said.

Two brothers, identified only as Afghan nationals, were executed in Isfahan prison for fatally stabbing a 25 year old woman and strangling her two and half year old son with a cable, the Etemad newspaper said.

Their motive for the killings was robbery.

Source: Agence France Presse, 18/12/2007

UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY CALLS FOR A UNIVERSAL MORATORIUM ON DEATH PENALTY

On 18 December, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted with an overwhelming majority a resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty worldwide.

“This is a historic moment for all those fighting for abolition of the death penalty throughout the world” said Liévin N’gondji, President of the DRC Coalition Against the Death Penalty and a member of the WCADP. “With this resolution, we will be in a position to challenge our government and to request a further commitment towards the effective abolition of the death penalty”.

The UNGA resolution, which was supported by 104 member states, is a clear indication that the worldwide trend towards abolition of the death penalty is now becoming irreversible. At this time, 133 countries have abandoned the death penalty in law or in practice.

The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty calls on all member states of the United Nations to follow the recommendations of the resolution and apply a formal moratorium on executi…

Executions in U.S. Decline to 13-Year Low, Study Finds

The number of executions in the United States has declined to a 13-year low, according to a study by a research group that has been critical of the way the death penalty is applied.

The 42 executions recorded in 2007 are the fewest since 1994, when there were 31, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which compiled the report and released it Tuesday. In 1999, there were 98 executions, the highest number since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

Read more>>>

Source: The New York Times

Death Penalty Abolition Impact

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Any time an execution is suspended or commuted or the death penalty is abolished somewhere in the world, Rome illuminates the Colosseum for two days in gold light.

While some Democrats and most Republicans in our legislature voted to remain in the "axis of evil" club of nations that murder their own citizens (North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc), the majority voted to show the world (in the words of Sister Helen Prejean) that "life is stronger than death, that love is greater than hatred, and compassion and standing for the dignity of the human person is stronger than the need for revenge."

Tonight the venue that was once the site of mass torture and executions will shine in recognition of New Jersey's move towards a less barbaric world.

Read more...

Source: Blue Jersey

NJ Governor Signs Abolition Bill

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New Jersey Abolishes the Death Penalty

On December 17, 2007, Governor Jon Corzine signed a bill that abolishes the death penalty in New Jersey and replaces it with a sentence of life without parole. On Sunday, December 16th, Corzine commuted the sentences of the eight men on death row to life without the parole sentences. ("NJ Bans Death Penalty" Associated Press, December 17, 2007). The New Jersey Assembly approved this bill to replace the state's death penalty with a sentence of life without parole by a vote of 44-36 on December 13. The Senate approved the same legislation by a vote 21-16 on December 1. This is the first legislative abolition of the death penalty since it was reinstated in 1976. Iowa and West Virginia in 1965 were the last states to vote out capital punishment.
Among those testifying for abolition in the legislative hearings was Vicki Schieber. Her daughter, Shannon, was murdered in 1998. She and her husband stunned prosecutors by requesting that the defendant receive life in prison instead …

North Carolina Death Row Inmate is Second in U.S. to be Exonerated this Month

Prosecutors in North Carolina on December 11 dropped all charges against Jonathon Hoffman, who had been convicted and sentenced to death for the 1995 murder of a jewelry store owner.

Hoffman won a new trial in 2004 because information favorable to Hoffman was withheld from the defense. During Hoffman’s first trial, the state's key witness, Johnell Porter, had received immunity from federal charges for testifying against his cousin. The defense attorneys, jury, and the judge did not know of the deal.

Porter has since recanted his testimony, stating that he lied in order to get back at his cousin for stealing money from him.

Defense attorney Joseph Cheshire stated, "I think in the last five to six years, there's a fairly well-demonstrated pattern of wrongful convictions in North Carolina that are only now coming to light because of our new open discovery law."

Hoffman is the sixth North Carolina person to be exonerated of capital charges and the 126th in the nation since 1…

Barack Obama on the Death Penalty

(...) Obama waded into a complex capital-punishment debate after a number of exonerations persuaded then-Gov. George Ryan (R) to empty death row.

Obama wrote in his recent memoir that he thinks the death penalty "does little to deter crime." But he supports capital punishment in cases "so heinous, so beyond the pale, that the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage by meting out the ultimate punishment."

In proposing changes, Obama met repeatedly with officials and advocates on all sides. He nudged and cajoled colleagues fearful of being branded soft on crime, as well as death-penalty opponents worried that any reform would weaken efforts to abolish capital punishment.

Obama's signature effort was a push for mandatory taping of interrogations and confessions. It was opposed by prosecutors, police organizations and Ryan's successor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich, who said it would impede investigators.

Working under the belief that no inn…

Barack Obama on the Death Penalty

REP. ADAM SMITH (D), OBAMA SUPPORTER (answering on behalf of B. Obama): On the death penalty, he does not support completely banning the death penalty. What he supported was the moratorium that Illinois did when it was discovered that so many people had been falsely accused, had gotten very close to being executed on death row. He supports a more judicious use of the death penalty.TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC ANCHOR: Are these [his views]?SMITH: He's been clear on that for quite some time.CARLSON: So he's not against the death penalty philosophically. He just wants to make certain that it`s applied correctly and fair.SMITH: Exactly.CARLSON: OK.SMITH: That we don't execute innocent people.CARLSON: That's fine.More

Associate of the Bali Nine jailed for conspiracy

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A YOUNG man who accompanied members of the Bali Nine on an aborted drug run to Asia has been jailed for seven years.

Khanh Thanh Ly, 27, pleaded guilty in the Brisbane Supreme Court to conspiring to import heroin into Australia just months before nine Australians were arrested in Bali in April 2005.

Six of the Bali Nine now face death by firing squad for their role in the foiled plan to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin from Indonesia to Australia.

The court was told Ly travelled to Bali twice in 2004 and was involved with Bali Nine ringleader Myuran Sukumaran.
Latest News about Bali Nine

Source: Perthnow.com

Murder Charges Dropped Against Former Death Row Inmate From Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A former death row inmate was cleared of first-degree murder and robbery charges Tuesday because prosecutors believed there wasn't enough evidence to retry the case.

Jonathan Hoffman, who was convicted in the 1995 shooting death of a Union County jeweler, spent seven years on death row before winning a new trial in April 2004. Hoffman has been held in a maximum-security prison in Raleigh ever since, and he could be released as early as Wednesday.

Defense attorney Joseph Cheshire said Hoffman was in disbelief when told about the dropped charges.

"He just couldn't believe it," Cheshire said. "He was surprised something so dramatic in his life could happen in such a low-key way."

Union County District Attorney John Snyder said he dismissed charges because of "insufficient admissible evidence." Two witnesses have died and the prosecution's star witness, Johnell Porter, Hoffman's cousin, eventually recanted his testimony.

"Wh…

U.S.: Botched executions

December 13, 2006. Florida. Angel Diaz. Lethal Injection. After the first injection was administered, Mr. Diaz continued to move, and was squinting and grimacing as he tried to mouth words. A second dose was then administered, and 34 minutes passed before Mr. Diaz was declared dead. At first a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Corrections claimed that this was because Mr. Diaz had some sort of liver disease. After performing an autopsy, the Medical Examiner, Dr. William Hamilton, stated that Mr. Diaz’s liver was undamaged, but that the needle had gone through Mr. Diaz’s vein and out the other side, so the deadly chemicals were injected into soft tissue, rather than the vein. Two days after the execution, Governor Jeb Bush suspended all executions in the state and appointed a commission “to consider the humanity and constitutionality of lethal injections.”

May 24, 2007. Ohio. Christopher Newton. Lethal Injection. According to the Associated Press, “prison medical staff” at the…

Stop the Death Penalty

Iran: four hanged

December 11, 2007: four men were hanged for drug trafficking in the city of Bojnord in the Northern Khorasan Province in Iran.

The court order for one the convicts, who had criminal record of dealing drugs, adultery and smuggling alcohol, was executed in public. The three others were hanged in the prison area.

These convicts had benefited from a number Islamic forgiveness orders in the past, but this time the Supreme Court approved their punishment.

Source: BBC, 11/12/2007

Kuwait's Emir Sheikh commutes death sentence of Filipina maid

December 9, 2007: Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah agreed to commute the death sentence on a Filipina maid to life in prison after a personal appeal by the visiting Philippine president.

"Normally I don't interfere in the judicial process. We have a separate judicial system," Philippines presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye quoted the emir as saying during a meeting with President Gloria Arroyo. "But since you are here to personally appeal for her, I will not sign the decree of execution. That is within my power," Bunye quoted Sheikh Sabah as telling Arroyo during their brief meeting.

Marilou Ranario was convicted of killing her female Kuwaiti employer in 2005.
Sheikh Sabah also vowed to "further reduce the penalty" when the parties sign a forgiveness letter, said Bunye in reference to an agreement by the victim's family to forgive Ranario.

Sources: Agence France Presse, 10/12/2007

THAILAND. ROYAL MERCY FOR THOUSANDS OF JAIL INMATES

December 10, 2007: convicted wife killer Wisut Boonkasemsanti and former public health minister Rakkiat Sukthana are among 25,000 prisoners whose sentences have been reduced or ended under a royal pardon given by His Majesty the King to mark his 80th birthday. Other infamous prisoners benefiting from the pardon include Maj Chalermchai Matchaklam.

The pardon frees inmates with less than one year of their sentence remaining, Corrections Department director-general Wanchai Roujanawong said. Chosen prisoners who received the death sentence have it commuted to life, while those with life sentences have their terms reduced to 40 years.

Wisut, a gynaecologist, was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court in July for murdering his wife Phassaporn in 2001, dismembering her body and flushing the parts down the toilet in a highly publicised case. Maj Chalermchai also received a death sentence for killing then-Yasothon governor Preena Leepattanapan in 2001.

Source: Bangkok Post, 12/12/2007

Kentucky Governor Commutes Death Sentence Before Leaving Office

Gov. Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky commuted the death sentence of Jeffrey D. Leonard for the 1983 murder of a Louisville store clerk before leaving office. Governor Fletcher reduced Leonard's death sentence to life without parole. He had been convicted under the name of James Earl Slaughter. The Governor noted in his commutation that Leonard was not provided with adequate representation and that Leonard’s attorney did not even know his client's real name during the trial. The governor’s general counsel, David Fleenor, stated, “We're not going to execute somebody who clearly was denied a basic right."

Governor Fletcher said he spent considerable time reviewing the almost 1,000 cases of individuals who requested pardons and commutations. "None of those decisions that we have to make are easy but I feel like I can lay my head down and say we've done our very best to carry out the duties of the governor till our last day," he said.

Source: Death Penalty Informati…

Kadhafi gets red carpet treatment in France

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New Jersey Moves to Abolish Death Penalty

TRENTON, Dec. 10 — The New Jersey Senate voted Monday to make the state the first in the country to repeal the death penalty since the United States Supreme Court allowed executions to resume in 1976 and established the nation’s current system of capital punishment.

Passage in the Senate was seen as the bill’s biggest obstacle, and in the end it was approved 21 to 16, receiving the bare minimum number of votes required.

Legislators on both sides of the debate expect the measure to pass easily on Thursday in the Assembly, where the Democrats enjoy a 50-to-30 majority, .

Gov. Jon S. Corzine, a staunch opponent of the death penalty, has repeatedly said he would sign a measure ending executions..

For those opposed to capital punishment, New Jersey’s repeal would represent a victory that has so far eluded them in the modern history of the death penalty.

Though legislatures across the country have tried to abolish capital punishment since 1976, none have succeeded. This year alone, the legislatu…

New Jersey Abolishes the Death Penalty

The New Jersey Senate approved bill S-171 which will replace the state's death penalty with a sentence of life without parole.

The measure was approved by a vote of 21-16 and now moves to the State Assembly, where approval is also expected in a vote on Thursday.

The governor has indicated he will sign the bill into law, making New Jersey the first state to legislatively abolish the death penalty in over 40 years.

Around the country, the death penalty is declining in use and other states are examining their own capital punishment statutes.

More (DPIC's Press Release):

New Jersey Senate to Vote on Death Penalty Abolition

Today, December 10, 2007, the New Jersey Senate will vote on a bill (Senate Bill 171) to replace the death penalty with the sentence of life without parole. Earlier, the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission held extensive public hearings that culminated in a report calling for an end to the death penalty. The Commission consisted of a wide range of perspectives, including law enforcement, victims, and attorneys. Some of the key findings of the report included:

- Abolition of the death penalty will eliminate the risk of disproportionality in capital sentencing.

- The penological interest in executing a small number of persons guilty of murder is not sufficiently compelling to justify the risk of making an irreversible mistake.

- The alternative of life imprisonment in a maximum security institution without the possibility of parole would sufficiently ensure public safety and address other legitimate social and penological interests, including the interests of the families of murder v…

N.J. death penalty debate a struggle for many lawmakers

New Jersey Sen. Stephen Sweeney has been battling himself as he contemplates whether to support a proposal to abolish the state's death penalty.

"I've hung around most of my adult life being a proud supporter of the death penalty, a proud supporter, believing an eye-for-an-eye,"said Sweeney, D-Gloucester.

Politics pervades state legislatures, but some New Jersey lawmakers find themselves struggling with their consciences as they debate the death penalty. The reason: While many have supported capital punishment, they realize New Jersey's death penalty law has been toothless.

New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982 and has eight men on death row, but hasn't executed anyone since 1963.

Yet after hearing testimony and studying the issue, Sweeney said he's ready to support making New Jersey the first state to eliminate the death penalty since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated it 31 years ago.

"It has been an eye-opening experience because the false hop…

Japan: three hangings

December 7, 2007: Japan hanged three convicted murderers in the country's first executions in more than three months, but in one concession to critics it disclosed executed inmates'names for the first time.

The hangings bring to nine the number of executions this year in Japan.

"We decided to release a bit more information. I made the decision," said Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama, who signed off on his first executions since assuming the post in August.

The inmates were Noboru Ikemoto, 75, who was hanged in the western metropolis of Osaka, and Seiha Fujima, 47, and Hiroki Fukawa, 42, who were executed in Tokyo, a justice ministry statement said.

Source : AFP, 07/12/2007

Leading Criminologist Recommends Halt to Executions as Public Policy Priority

The journal of Criminology & Public Policy recently asked leading experts to recommend important policy changes needed in the area of criminal justice and to provide the evidence to support such change.

Although most of the articles addressed various prison and treatment issues, the first article by Prof. James Acker of the University at Albany called for an immediate moratorium on executions.

Prof. Acker examines the United States' long history of grappling with the death penalty. He concludes that “sufficient evidence now exists regarding the effectiveness of the death penalty and evaluating its administration to call, at a minimum, for an immediate halt to executions” while states re-evaluate their death penalty policies.

Acker finds flaws with some common perceptions used to support the death penalty. He notes that studies on the deterrent effect of the death penalty have been inconclusive.

Likewise, capital punishment fails to provide closure or a sense of justice to the fami…

Another Inmate is Exonerated, After 16 Years on Death Row

On December 5, a Tennessee jury acquitted Michael Lee McCormick of the 1985 murder of Donna Jean Nichols, a crime for which McCormick spent 16 years on death row.

In his first trial, the prosecution introduced hair evidence from Nichols’ car that the FBI said matched McCormick. DNA testing later found that the hair did not match McCormick and this evidence was not permitted in the new trial.

McCormick’s attorney, Karla Gothard said after the trial, "We have been living with this case for years, and we are immensely relieved. I can't imagine what Michael McCormick is feeling."

Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood commented, "The way this case has lingered on, there has not been closure for Michael McCormick for 20 years. This system is not perfect, but somehow it works itself out."

Source: Death Penalty Information Center

France : Indignité carcérale

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"Traitement inhumain et dégradant". La formule revient à plusieurs reprises dans le rapport que le Comité pour la prévention de la torture et des peines ou traitements dégradants (CPT) du Conseil de l'Europe va rendre public. Ce ne sont pas les geôles d'un Etat mis au ban de la communauté internationale pour ses atteintes répétées aux droits de l'homme qui se trouvent ainsi fustigées. Non, le rapport traite de la France et de ses prisons - où sont enfermées, dans des conditions souvent indignes, 64 000 personnes, soit 120 détenus pour 100 places en moyenne - et, plus particulièrement, des problèmes de santé, de placement à l'isolement et, encore une fois, de surpopulation carcérale.

Les observations des visiteurs du CPT, qui se sont rendus dans plusieurs prisons françaises à l'automne 2006, sont accablantes. Sait-on qu'en France, en 2007, des détenus "particulièrement surveillés", quand ils reçoivent des soins dans leurs chambres sécurisées, …

Makwan Mollodzadeh Executed for Alleged Sex Crime

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New York, Wednesday December 5, 2007) - The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has learned today that despite an order by the Iranian Chief Justice to nullify his death sentence, Mr. Makvan Mouloodzadeh was executed in Kermanshah Central Prison at 5 a.m. this morning,Iranian time.

Neither Mr. Mouloodzadeh's family or his lawyer were told about the execution until after it occurred. IGLHRC is still investigating the factsin this case. "This is a shameful and outrageous travesty of justice and international human rights law," said Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC's executivedirector. "How many more young Iranians have to die before the international community takes action?"

Mr. Mouloodzadeh was a 21-year-old Iranian citizen who was accused of committing anal rape (ighab) with other young boys when he was 13 years old. However, at Mr. Mouloodzadeh's trial, all the witnesses retracted their pre-trial testimonies, claiming to have lied to…

The Myth of Deterrence: Death penalty does not reduce homicide rate

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In theory, the death penalty saves lives by staying the hand of would-be killers. The idea is simple cost-benefit analysis: If a man tempted by homicide knew that he would face death if caught, he would reconsider.

But that's not the real world. The South executes far more convicted murderers than any other region yet has a homicide rate far above the national average. Texas' murder rate is slightly above average, despite the state's peerless deployment of the death penalty. If capital punishment were an effective deterrent to homicide, shouldn't we expect the opposite result? What's going on here?

Human nature, mostly. Murder is often a crime of passion, which by definition excludes the faculties of reason. The jealous husband who walks in on his wife and another man is in no position to deliberate rationally on the consequences of killing his rival. The convenience store robber who chooses in a split-second to shoot the clerk has not pondered the potential outcom…

The Living Conditions on Texas Death Row

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Prisoners on Texas Death Row are confined in isolation, 24hrs/day, 7 days/week. They only leave their cell to go to recreation, to shower or to the visiting room when they have visitors. Meals are brought to the cell doors.
Since the move from the Ellis Unit, operated between June 99 and March 2000, the prisoners no longer have access to the following:
- Group recreation - Craft Workshop - Religious Services - Television - Work Program
Texas Death Row prisoners are classified and confined in 3 categories, level I, II and III. Level I prisoners have privileges that are taken away when transferred to level II and III.
Click here to read more.
Click here to see recent annotated pictures of the 'living' conditions on Texas' Death Row. These photos were obtained through a lawyer's Freedom of Information request.

Source: Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

Egypt: top cleric says death penalty should not be abolished

December 4, 2007: One of Egypt's prominent Muslim leaders has rejected calls to abolish the death penalty, saying it is an intrinsic part of Islamic law.

Muhammad Sayd Tantawi is the grand sheikh of the Egyptian Islamic University of al-Azhar, one of the most presitigious Islamic universities in the world.

"The death penalty is one of the orders of Allah, abolishing it means abolishing one of the rules dictated by Allah," Tantawi said in an interview with the local newspaper al-Ahram.

"We at al-Ashzar will fight this proposal in every way through our experts should it become a legal proposal."

According to the Egyptian imam, the presence of the death penalty in the judicial system of the country does not exclude the possibility of defending human rights.
"This penalty is part of the guarantees given by Sharia for people's protection, for their well-being and their honour," Tantawi said.

"The Koran says this is one way of making life more secure.&qu…

Toy row teacher speaks of ordeal

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher jailed in Sudan for allowing a class teddy bear to be named "Mohammed" has spoken for the first time about her ordeal after arriving back home in England.

An Emirates airlines plane carrying the 54-year-old touched down in the dark at London's Heathrow airport at around 0700 GMT (0205 ET) according to a CNN reporter on the flight.

Gibbons was sentenced to 15 days in jail last Thursday after a member of school staff complained to the authorities after she allowed her students at a private school to name a Teddy bear after the Muslim prophet.

Asked if she had been shocked by the punishment handed out to her, she said: "I am just an ordinary middle-aged primary school teacher. I went there to have a bit of adventure and got a bit more than I bargained for."

Gibbons, smiling and gripping the hand of her son John in the arrival lounge at the airport, said she was overwhelmed by the support she had received fr…

Tennessee: no executions until next summer

November 29, 2007: Tennessee isn’t likely to execute any prisoners on death row until next summer, Gov. Phil Bredesen said.

Bredesen, a Democrat, said the state will wait until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the case of two Kentucky death row inmates who argue the method amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Bredesen said he doesn’t expect the high court to rule until May or June. “And that’s going to give a huge amount of guidance to governors, and to federal judges and district attorneys, and to an awful lot of people involved in this process,” he said.

U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger ruled in September that Tennessee’s method of lethal injection is unconstitutional and ordered the state not to execute a death row inmate using that method.

Attorney General Bob Cooper has said he plans to appeal, but Bredesen noted that appellate judges are likely to wait until the Supreme Court rules before deciding how to proceed.

“From my perspective everything is essentially on hold until the Su…

Sudan pardons teddy bear teacher

KHARTOUM, Sudan (CNN) -- Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir pardoned a British teacher convicted of insulting religion, presidential palace sources said.

Gillian Gibbons is expected to be freed Monday afternoon, sources told Time magazine's Sam Dealey Monday.

She will then leave Khartoum on a flight later in the day, along with the two British lawmakers who arrived there Saturday to secure her release.

Gibbons, 54, was sentenced to 15 days in jail last Thursday for having allowed her students at a private school to name a teddy bear "Mohammed."

Without a pardon, she would have remained in jail another six days.

The pardon came following efforts by Nazir Ahmed and Sayeeda Warsi, Muslim members of the House of Lords, to persuade the Sudanese government that releasing Gibbons would create international goodwill toward their country.

Ahmed, who is a member of the House of Lords --the UK's upper parliamentary chamber, told CNN that Sudan's president was impressed that Gib…

My friend's execution - witnessing an execution confirms feelings about capital punishment

JUST AFTER MIDNIGHT on Wednesday September 24, 1997, I watched as the state of Missouri put Samuel McDonald to death by lethal injection. I had never wanted to witness an execution, and I was devastated by what I saw. How did I come to be at the Potosi Correctional Institute on that night? It had to do with friendship, and with the unforeseen and frightening implications of taking even the smallest step forward in faith.

Since my late teens I have opposed the death penalty. I have had many reasons: Poor and minority defendants are executed in grossly disproportionate numbers. Innocent people are sometimes sentenced to death. There is no evidence that the death penalty reduces the rate of violent crime. The rest of the Western world has managed to function without executing criminals.

But the heart of my opposition grew out of my religious commitments. As a Christian, it seems to me that the death penalty violates the essence of Christ's teachings to choose mercy over revenge, to lov…

No humanity in capital punishment process

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In the hours preceding an execution, the San Quentin California State Prison offers its doomed prisoner every measure of lukewarm comfort. The inmate is provided with Valium (optional), clean clothes and slippers (mandatory), access to radio and television and, of course, as extravagant a last meal as $50 can buy.

At midnight, he or she is ushered into the execution chamber, strapped on a gurney and given alcohol swabs to prevent an infection that would never affect the inmate.

The warden gives the signal, the three-drug cocktail is administered, and somewhere between three minutes and half an hour, the inmate's heart finally gives out.

This is the ostensible beauty of lethal injection: quick, painless and, most importantly, easy for the onlookers.

The needle has often been lauded as the humane alternative to capital punishment; there is no cringe-inducing crack of the neck, no smell of seared flesh, no shots fired.

Recent challenges to the alleged painlessness of this mode of kil…

Vietnam: 11 sentenced to death for heroin trafficking

November 29, 2007: a Vietnamese court sentenced 11 people to death in a major drug trafficking case, state media reported.

The defendants, all Vietnamese, were convicted of trafficking 440 kilograms of heroin in Vietnam and China, Vietnam News Agency said.

At the end of a nine day trial, the Hanoi People's Court also sentenced seven defendants to life in prison and three others to 20-year jail terms, the report said. The ring was uncovered in December 2004 when Chinese police arrested alleged ring leader Nguyen Thi Nga in Guangxi province and seized 8.5 kilograms of heroin, it said.

Based on her confession, police arrested her sister, Nguyen Thi Thom, and 19 others between March and December last year, the report said. Nga was accused of running the ring's China operations, while Thom ran the Vietnamese operations, it said.
Court officials were not immediately available for comment.

Sources: Associated Press

North Korea has resumed frequent public executions

November 27, 2007: North Korea has resumed frequent public executions, after a decline since 2000 amid international criticism but have been increasing, targeting officials accused of drug trafficking, embezzlement and other crimes, the Good Friends aid agency said in a report on the North's human rights.

In October, the North executed the head of a factory in South Pyongan province for making international calls on 13 phones he installed in a factory basement, the aid group said. He was executed by a firing squad in a stadium before a crowd of 150,000.

Most North Koreans are banned from communicating with the outside world, part of the regime's authoritarian policies seeking to prevent any challenge to the iron-fisted rule of Kim Jong Il.

The North has carried out four other similar public executions by firing squad against regional officials and heads of factories in recent months, said the aid group. Good Friends, which did not say how it obtained the information, gave no exac…

Lybia: four Nigerians executed

November 22, 2007: according to a Nigerian recently deported from Libya, who wished to remain anonymous, about 50 Nigerians were in Libyan jails. Ten were on death row, and four had been executed. He said some of them spent almost 10 years in Libyan prisons without adequate trial and prosecution.

He gave the names of those on the death row to include Malam Abdalla Nuhu, Mr. Noel Soba Chucks, Alhaji Musa, Mr. Alex Onyekachi Chinweze, Simon Emmanuel Abaka, and Jonah Okafor Onyema.

He called on the Federal Government to intervene in the continuous incarceration of the remaining Nigerians by the Libyan government. The Libyan government recently deported about 1,000 illegal Nigerians resident in the country.

Sources: Nigeria Tribune, 24/11/2007

Two Sudanese men escape the hangman's noose by just three minutes

November 28, 2007: two Sudanese men sentenced to die in Khartoum for raping and murdering a four year old girl escaped the hangman's noose by just three minutes after winning an appeal, local media reported.

Sudan's highest legal authority ordered a delay "three minutes before the scheduled hanging," wrote Al-Rai Al-Am newspaper, quoting a judge who was due to observe the execution. Lawyers for the defence managed to win the last-minute reprieve by saying the rights of their clients were not respected during a trial that saw massive media coverage and incited huge public interest.

Sudan's highest legal authority must now decide whether to authorise another trial or reject the appeal and send the convicts back to the gallows.

Mutassim Khairallah, 35, and Imad Tabben, 18, were found guilty of raping and then suffocating Muram Awad Sadiq during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr last October at the end of the Ramadan fast, before dumping her body in a well.

They were sen…

Belarus: death sentence carried out

November 28, 2007: a police officer turned serial killer was executed, the Supreme Court of Belarus announced. The execution was carried out by shooting, according to the court.

Alyaksandr Syarheychyk, 37, a company chief with the Hrodna district office of the interior ministry's Guard Department, was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court on May 22.

He was convicted of six murders, although he had confessed to having killed 12 people, 11 women and one man, between 1992 and 2006.

The court found that there was not sufficient evidence to prove the other six murders.

The policeman allegedly invited young women to join him for recreation on the landscape and then choked them to death and burned or sank the bodies.

"He could not live without killing," commented Alyaksandr Nawrodski, an investigator with the Prosecutor General's Office.

The man's nephew was found to be complicit and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The case had been tried by a Supreme Court panel behind cl…

China: death penalty guidelines for fake drugs

November 29, 2007: a draft judicial interpretation spells out the circumstances in which life sentences or the death penalty can be meted out to producers or sellers of fake drugs who cause "very serious damage" to public health.

If fake drugs cause serious deformities or bodily harm to more than three people, or slight injury to more than 10 people, producers or sellers may have to be subject to such penalties, according to a draft rule made public by the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) for public comment.

The move comes amid intensified efforts to strengthen drug safety. The Criminal Law stipulates that producers and sellers of fake drugs could face life imprisonment or capital punishment if their drugs cause "very serious damage" to public health or death, but it fails to define what the "very serious" damage is, posing difficulties for courts handling such cases.

The draft was jointly written by the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme Pe…