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Showing posts from March, 2009

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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…

Several States Abandon Death Penalty Because Of Cost

Facing huge budget deficits, eight states are considering repealing the death penalty to save money. Pennsylvania isn't one of them.

But there hasn't been an execution in Pennsylvania in nearly a decade, and that has critics questioning the program's cost.

Capital punishment has been debated in the nation's highest courts, fueled by political and moral arguments, with powerful influences from religion. But in some states, the death penalty is being abandoned for reasons that have nothing to do with right or wrong.

"This is the first time cost has taken center stage," said Richard Dieter.

Dieter is the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. He said studies show administering the death penalty is more expensive than keeping someone in prison for life.

"It's not that the execution costs much, but every step of a death penalty case is much more expensive than a typical trial," said Dieter.

Dieter said capital cases …

Emirates: death sentence upheld

March 29, 2009: the Dubai Court of Appeal in the United Arab Emirates upheld the death sentence of a Pakistani national convicted of the premeditated murder of his 24 year old Nepali car showroom colleague in Deira, on March 7, 2008.

The death sentence was the first by the court since 2005. The Criminal Court of First Instance sentenced the Pakistani to capital punishment on January 27, 2009.

Presiding Judge Eissa Al Sharif justified the death sentence saying, “the accused planned the theft motivated murder and prepared the crime tools.

He bought a knife, gloves and a hammer to murder the victim.”

Sources: Khaleej Times, 30/03/2009

Saudi Arabia : two executions

March 27, 2009: two Saudi Arabian men were beheaded by the sword after being convicted of the manslaughter of a Chinese man they robbed, the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by SPA state news agency.

Faisal bin Nasser al-Qahtani and Bandar bin Abdullah al-Ajmi were found guilty of a drive-by robbery in which they snatched a laptop-computer bag from the man as he walked in Riyadh.

The victim grabbed hold of their vehicle, lost his grip and hit the ground, fatally injuring his head.

Source: Khaleej Times, 27/03/2009

Montana to keep death penalty

Montana lawmakers decided Monday that the state will be keeping its death penalty, likely ending a strong push to ban the punishment this year.

A measure to end capital punishment had passed the GOP-controlled Senate, giving-death penalty opponents hope that it could clear the Legislature this year especially after New Mexico lawmakers passed a ban earlier this month.

But the Montana House Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 against the ban. It would be difficult, but not impossible, for those pushing the ban to bring the bill back this year.

Supporters of Senate Bill 236 argue that enforcing the death penalty costs more than mandatory life in prison without parole, and that the risk of executing an innocent man is too great. The supporters of a ban also said the death penalty is unethical and is hard on employees of the justice and corrections systems.

"We all have an obligation to make society safe, and I think life without parole does that," said Rep. Deborah Kottel, D-Great …

Judge Keller's disclosures omit nearly $2 million in real estate, public records show

The presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, while seeking state aid to defend herself against ethics charges, failed to abide by legal requirements that she disclose nearly $2 million in real estate holdings, according to an analysis of public records by The Dallas Morning News.

Sharon Keller has sought dismissal of the charges on grounds that it would be "financially ruinous" for her to pay private counsel to fight allegations brought by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct that she violated her duties in a death penalty appeal.

Keller, the state's highest criminal court judge, faces possible removal from office if a special master agrees that she blocked a condemned inmate's last-minute effort to stop his execution in 2007 by refusing to extend the court's 5 p.m. closing time to allow his lawyers to file their plea. The inmate, Michael Richard, was executed within hours.

Keller has denied any wrongdoing in the Richard case. She did not respond …

In China, a quiet push against executions

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Killed in 1994, Nie Shubin has become the face of a growing movement to ban the death penalty

BEIJING – Everyone knew Nie Shubin as a quiet young man, just 20 – gentle, shy, even introverted – the only son of Zhang Huanzhi and husband Nie Xuesheng.

He had a slight stutter when he spoke.

He was a welder at a factory near Shijiazhuang, an industrial town about a three-hour drive south of Beijing. And he owned a blue bicycle – which proved to be his undoing.

After a 38-year-old woman was raped and murdered in a local cornfield, children spoke of seeing a blue bike near the scene.

Police came for Nie, arrested him and beat him until he confessed.

He was convicted after a two-hour trial and executed in customary Chinese fashion: kneeling on the ground, with a single bullet to the back of the head fired at close range.

Nie Shubin's is an old case – the incident took place in 1994.

But what keeps the case current in Chinese legal circles is this: in 2005, another man confessed to the mur…

Pope might back Jindal on death penalty

New Mexico's Roman Catholic governor last week signed legislation that abolished the death penalty after discussing the issue with a Roman Catholic archbishop.

In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley also a Catholic marched against capital punishment in a failed attempt earlier this month to eliminate executions in his state.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who converted to Catholicism as a young man, said that despite efforts in other states to abolish capital punishment, he has no qualms about the death penalty, which is law in Louisiana. He wants to extend capital punishment to perpetrators who rape young children.

The issue of religion surfaced recently in an interview with Jindal after some church officials urged several other Catholic governors to support abolition of the death penalty in their states.

Jindal said the Catholic Church deems the death penalty to be permissible.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops disagrees with Jindal. But Pope Benedict may be in his corner.

"The…

Former Florida Warden Haunted by Botched Execution

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During my tenure as Warden at Florida State Prison it was my duty to oversee the executions of three men: John Earl Bush, John Mills Jr. and Pedro Medina. Remembering every gruesome detail of their deaths is haunting.

The flames that consumed Pedro Medina's head when the execution went seriously awry, the smoke, the putrid odor, and his death by inferno is deeply embedded in my brain.The memory of telling the executioner to continue with the killing, despite the malfunctioning electric chair, and being at a point of no-return, plagues me still.

When I became warden I learned that it was tradition for the "death team" to go out for breakfast the morning after an execution. On the early morning after John Bush's execution the 'traditional breakfast' was held 15 miles south of the death chamber at a Shoney's in Starke, Florida. This was my first execution and I felt that tradition was important and moreover, the well being of the 'team' was my responsi…

It is time to end the sentence of shame for family members of the executed

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Imagine you are ten. Imagine your father. A black hood covers his head. A rope around his neck. His arms, tied behind his back. The floor opens. The rope snaps. He's dead. Period.

But not the end of the sentence.

It was just the beginning of the sentence for my mother. She was that ten years old. She never actually saw her father's execution in Folsom Prison, in 1924, but she never stopped seeing it. The vision grew larger and larger until it blotted out the obvious-her art, her family, her life.

My beautiful mother was so intelligent and had such an imagination--she was capable of writing a best selling novel. But she only published two books. Her implosion began when I was 10, the same age that she was when her father was executed.

The rope snapped, the sentence continued.

When I was an adolescent, I would often find my mother, after my brother and father went to bed, in her rocking chair in the darkened living room, drinking Ancient Age, smoking Merits. The red coals swung in th…

Abolish the Federal Death Penalty: Support S.650

As momentum builds in states to abolish the death penalty, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold reintroduced legislation on March 19, 2009 to abolish the death penalty at the federal level. Feingold's Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act of 2009 would put an immediate halt to federal executions and forbid the use of the death penalty as a sentence for violations of federal law. The use of the death penalty has been questioned by a range of prominent voices across the country, recently repealed in New Mexico and New Jersey. Feingold's bill would stop executions on the federal level, which are part of a death penalty system that has proven to be ineffective, wrought with racial disparities, and alarmingly costly.

"I oppose the death penalty because it is inconsistent with basic American principles of justice, liberty and equality," Feingold said. "Governor Bill Richardson and the New Mexico legislature's action to abolish the death penalty in that state adds to the growin…

Death penalty drains justice system resources

I served as chief special prosecutor for the state of Montana for 21 years. During that time I was involved with the prosecution of many homicide cases, including five death penalty cases involving homicides committed by prison inmates against other inmates. I also managed the prosecution of 14 inmates for the 1991 prison riot homicides.

I believed at the time that the death penalty was needed to keep correctional officers safe from inmates serving a sentence of life without parole. Without the threat of execution, I thought, there would be no deterrent to prevent such inmates from taking the life of a correctional officer.

But my direct experience prosecuting prison homicides changed my mind. I have come to believe that the death penalty is an incalculable drain on our limited criminal justice resources. It makes bizarre celebrities of the sentenced inmates while essentially ignoring the suffering that victims' families must endure through decades of legal scrutiny. And frankly, it…

Kazakhstan: amendments to legislation on capital punishment

March 25, 2009: the Majilis of Kazakhstan’s Parliament approved the draft law “On amendments to some legislative acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on the issues of capital punishment”.

According to Kazakh Vice Minister of Justice Dulat Kustavletov, it proposed to outlaw capital punishment and replace it with life imprisonment.

The death penalty will be imposed only for terrorist crimes causing people's death and for heavy and especially grave crimes committed in time of war, with granting a sentenced person the right to intercede for mercy.

At present 18 crimes carry the death penaly, this will be reduced to 8 after the amendments are passed.

Sources: inform.kz, 24/03/2009

Belarus closer to moratorium on death penalty

March 25, 2009: Belarus is moving closer to a moratorium on the death penalty, a senior judicial official said.

"We have in essence come closer to a moratorium on the death penalty," said Valery Kalinkovich, deputy chairman of the Supreme Court. "The death penalty was carried out on two people in 2008."

Amnesty said in a report that four people were executed last year.

Sources: Reuters, 25/03/2009

Iran considering the death penalty for 'offensive' bloggers

Al Jazeera's Nazanin Sadri reports that Iran is considering a new law that would allow the death penalty for "offensive" bloggers:

Under a strict interpretation of Islamic law, individuals can be sentenced to death for two main categories of crime. The 1st is murder. The 2nd is known as 'fasad,' which means spreading mischief or undermining the authority or stability of the state. What that constitutes is open to interpretation.

In the past it has been applied to rape, adultery, drug-related offenses, and homosexual behavior. Iran now wants to introduce the death penalty for bloggers who write about and promote illegal activities.

Source: ThinkProgress, March 26, 2009

Montana Death Penalty Ban Heads Toward Crucial House Votes

The debate over the death penalty is ramping up as a proposed ban heads toward crucial votes in the Montana House.

The death penalty ban has already cleared the Republican-controlled state Senate. On Wednesday it came before a House committee split between the parties.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer has not ruled out signing the bill.

The ban would replace the death penalty with a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A long line of people advocating the ban included judges, former prosecutors, the Catholic church and other clergy, families of murder victims and others.

They argued, as they did in earlier Senate hearings, that it is more expensive to enforce a death penalty than it is to pay for life in prison, that the risk of accidentally executing an innocent man is too great, that it is unethical and is tough on justice and corrections system employees.

"We just don't need to do this. We are better than this," said John Connor, who successfully pro…

New Mexico: Roosevelt farmer still faces death penalty

Even though the death penalty was repealed in New Mexico, a Roosevelt County farmer accused of arranging a murder-for-hire still faces possible execution.

Prosecutors filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty against William "Billy Joe" Watson last August.

Watson is accused of conspiring with the Aryan Brotherhood in the 2005 shooting death of Jimmy Bo Chun.

And though the governor signed a repeal of the death penalty Thursday, Watson is still facing possible execution because of a grandfather clause that allows the death penalty for crimes committed prior to July 1.

Chun, 71, was shot in his home around July 4, 2005.

The issue has set the stage for a debate over Watsons life between defense attorney Gary Mitchell and the state.

A hearing is scheduled for April 8 and 9 in district court in Portales, to determine if probable cause exists that 1 of 7 aggravating circumstances occurred to justify seeking the death penalty against the 44-year-old.

Murder-for-hire is a qualifyi…

Japan under fire for 'secretive, inhumane' death penalty

Amnesty International has renewed its calls for Japan to abolish its use of the death penalty, accusing the country of shrouding the practice in secrecy.

The calls come as the human rights organisation releases its annual report card on the death penalty around the world.

Amnesty said there were 15 executions in Japan last year - the highest known number since 1975. The group says 100 people are estimated to be on death row in the country, which performs executions in secret, usually by hanging.

Amnesty's Asia-Pacific director, Sam Zafiri, says people in Japan are not well informed about the capital punishment system, under which inmates are not told of their impending execution until the morning of their death, and their family is not told until after the execution.

"I think people would be surprised to hear that Japan, one of the most industrialised nations in the world, is still carrying out executions in this way," he told ABC's Radio National Breakfast.

"People …

Amnesty: Almost 2,400 executed in 2008

Amnesty: China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, U.S. account for nearly all executions.

Stoning, hanging often used in Iran's executions, Amnesty report finds.

United States carried out 37 executions, lowest since 1995, report finds.

Almost 2,400 people worldwide were executed last year, but most countries moved a step closer toward abolishing the death penalty, Amnesty International said Tuesday.

China carried out more executions than the rest of the world combined, with 1,718 people put to death, the human-rights group said.

With China, 4 other nations -- Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States -- accounted for 93 percent of the 2,390 executions, according to the group's report "Death Sentences and Executions in 2008."

"The good news is that executions are only carried out by a small number of countries, which shows that we are moving closer to a death-penalty free world," Irene Khan, Amnesty International's secretary general, said in a statement.

&…

Report Says Executions Doubled in 2008

The number of executions worldwide nearly doubled last year compared to 2007, according to Amnesty International, and China put to death far more people than any other nation.

Amnesty International: Death Sentences and Executions in 2008 in Asian countries accounted for more executions than the rest of the world put together, the rights group said Tuesday in its annual report on the death penalty.

The group chronicled beheadings in Saudi Arabia; hangings in Japan, Iraq, Singapore and Sudan; lethal injections in China; an electrocution in the United States; firing squads in Afghanistan, Belarus and Vietnam; and stonings in Iran.

In all, 59 countries still have the death penalty on their books, but only 25 carried out executions last year. Two nations, Uzbekistan and Argentina, banned the death penalty last year. Amnesty said at least 2,390 people were executed worldwide in 2008, compared to its 2007 figure of at least 1,252.

With at least 1,718, China was responsible for 72 % of all execut…

Amnesty International: Call for end to death penalty as global execution rate soars

THE number of executions across the globe almost doubled in 2008, and Asian countries led the world in the use of the death penalty, Amnesty International revealed yesterday.

The findings, released in the human rights organisation's annual survey of global death penalty use from January to December last year, show that at least 2,390 people were executed in 25 countries last year, up from 1,252 in 2007.

Meanwhile, at least 8,864 death sentences were handed down in 52 countries.

On the one hand, said Amnesty, there was comparatively good news in that only 25 or 1 in 8 countries carried out executions last year. Slightly more than one in four, or 59, retain the punishment.

However, the organisation warned that executions were carried out at a rate of about 7 a day during 2008. China alone was known to have carried out 1,718 executions, although Amnesty said the total figure was "undoubtedly" higher.

10 other countries from Asia Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Japan, North…

Reflections on the Death Penalty: An innocent man spared execution speaks

Since I arrived in New York 2 years ago and began reporting continuously on the issue of the death penalty, I have asked myself every day what I ought to think about the state taking human lives.

With the start of the lay judge system in Japan this May, regular citizens will have to confront the death penalty directly, which I think is a chance for us to begin thinking about the death penalty as our problem. In Japan, however, there is a dearth of information citizens need to engage in such discussions. Is not the death penalty an issue concerning the public, and not solely the Ministry of Justice?

I recently went to Dallas, Texas, to visit Kerry Cook, a former death row inmate with a broad, easy smile that showed his gentle nature.

In 1977, Cook was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a 21-year-old woman he did not commit. It wasn't until 1997 that the dubious nature of the investigation was recognized and Cook's innocence proven beyond a doubt by DNA ev…

Idaho Senate takes aim at firing squad option

The Idaho Senate voted to take the firing squad off the law books as an alternative method of execution.

The bill passed 33-2 Monday. It's already cleared the House and now goes to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter for signature.

According to the Idaho State Historical Society, the state has never executed someone by firing squad.

But it remained a possibility, as a backup should a Department of Correction director decide lethal injection was impractical.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, two people in the United States have died by firing squad, both in Utah: Gary Gilmore, made famous in a book by Norman Mailer, in 1977 and John Albert Taylor in 1996.

But Utah did away with firing squads in 2004.

"We're the only state left with it," said Sen. Denton Darrington, a Declo Republican, before the Senate vote.

Source: Associated Press, March 24, 2009

Iran: one hanged

March 20, 2009: One man was hanged last week in the prison of Sirjan (south-east Iranian province of Kerman) reported the state run news agency ISCA news.

The man was identified as "Reza" and was convicted of a murder 8 years ago according to the report. His age was not mentioned in the report.

Source: IHR, 21/03/2009

Japan: Death Penalty and the Media

When I tell people that 10 years ago the death penalty in Japan was re-instated, most people probably would respond, "What? Haven't we been applying the death penalty all this time?"

The United Nations General Assembly passed the "International Agreement to Abolish the Death Penalty" resolution in December, 1989. Because of such world-wide social pressure, Japan had already suspended the death penalty in November of that year. On February 26, 1993, however, 3 people were executed under orders of Gotoda Masaharu, the Minister of Justice. This was only 3 years and 4 months after suspension of the death penalty in Japan. Since then, in the last 10 years, the Ministry of Justice has applied the death penalty almost once every 6 months.

In contrast to Japan, the movement to abolish the death penalty has never stopped in the rest of the world. According to a survey taken by Amnesty Japan, as of January 1, 2003, the number of nations that have abolished the death penalt…

Bali 9 families tell their stories

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The nights are the worst, say the families of the Bali Nine ringleaders, clinging to hope as their loved ones launch final appeals against their death sentences.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are two of nine young Australians arrested on April 17, 2005, in Denpasar over an attempt to smuggle more than eight kilograms of heroin from Indonesia to Australia.

Another - Scott Rush - also is facing the death penalty, while the other six were given sentences of 20 years in jail or life imprisonment.

Chan and Sukumaran have had previous appeals rejected.

If their appeals to the Supreme Court fail, their last resort is a bid for clemency from Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, which is unlikely to be granted.

Their families say sleep comes hard - as they think of what might await their loved ones.

"The nights are the worst time, when I go to bed," Sukumaran's mother Rajini has told the ABC TV program Compass.

"I just can't (sleep), I just lie there and think abou…

New Mexico: Darren White looking for ways to bring back the death penalty

It is less than 24 hours after Gov. Bill Richardson announced he would sign the death penalty abolition bill. The death penalty has been replaced with life without the possibility of parole.

But already those who support capital punishment are looking for ways to bring it back. Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren white indicated today on his Twitter account.

"Repeal the Death Penalty Repeal: Researching constitutional initiative to overturn freshly signed legislation. Stay tuned!!!" White wrote.

It should be noted that the death penalty isn't completely dead yet. The 2 men who are on death row right now can still be executed, and Richardson said he will not commute their sentences.

Richardson called the decision to sign the bill "the most difficult decision of my political career." New Mexico became the 15th state in the United States to abolish the death penalty.

In announcing he would sign the bill, Richardson cited the fact that the criminal justice system is not pe…

New Mexico: Governor's Statement after Signing Bill Abolishing the Death Penalty

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SANTA FE - Governor Bill Richardson today signed House Bill 285, Repeal of the Death Penalty. The Governor's remarks follow:

Today marks the end of a long, personal journey for me and the issue of the death penalty.

Throughout my adult life, I have been a firm believer in the death penalty as a just punishment - in very rare instances, and only for the most heinous crimes. I still believe that.

But six years ago, when I took office as Governor of the State of New Mexico, I started to challenge my own thinking on the death penalty.

The issue became more real to me because I knew the day would come when one of two things might happen: I would either have to take action on legislation to repeal the death penalty, or more daunting, I might have to sign someone's death warrant.

I'll be honest. The prospect of either decision was extremely troubling. But I was elected by the people of New Mexico to make just this type of decision.

So, like many of the supporters who took the time to m…

New Mexico abolishes the death penalty

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SANTA FE — Tonight, Gov. Bill Richardson (pictured next to Barack Obama in 2007) signed his name to a law that abolishes the death penalty in New Mexico, saying “This has been the most difficult decision of my political career.”

With his signature, Richardson made the Land of Enchantment the 15th U.S. state to ban capital punishment and pushed it into the worldwide community of states and nations that have abolished the death penalty, including many countries in the European Union.

“I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime,” Richardson said. “If the State is going to undertake this awesome responsibility, the system to impose this ultimate penalty must be perfect and can never be wrong.”

The news excited supporters who had been pushing for the repeal.

“This is a great day for New Mexico” said Juan Melendez, who spent 18 years on Florida’s death row before being exonerate…