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Showing posts from October, 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…

Time for America to move past capital punishment

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How much more ghastly will the stories of torture in the Ohio execution chamber have to become before the federal government steps in to protect that state from itself?

It doesn’t appear to be enough that Ohio prison officials spent two hours fruitlessly digging in a convict’s arms for a vein last month to inject lethal drugs and execute the man. The convict, Romell Broom, was convicted of raping and stabbing to death a 14-year-old girl in 1984.

Even for those who believe that such heinous criminals deserve to die, our society becomes dangerously base if we promote these kinds of deaths.

Now, Ohio officials are looking at taking this grisly reprise even further. Officials there yesterday said they would investigate a way to inject the lethal drugs directly into the convict’s bones to reach bone marrow, in case a usable vein isn’t found by executioners.

This sordid plan is no nightmare from a Hollywood slasher movie, it’s what government officials are cooking up to prevent another executi…

Willingham: So many questions that refuse to go away

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Nearly 18 years ago, a long nightmare began for my family. Every time we think the truth is finally coming to light, a new twist reopens old wounds.

In 1991 my stepson, Cameron Todd Willingham, woke up to discover his Corsicana house on fire. The events that followed have been twisted by people with their own agenda. I am speaking out now because it is time for the truth in this case.

The evidence that was used to convict Todd has been discredited by experts and witnesses. Since Todd’s execution in 2004, several independent experts have concluded that the forensic analysis at Todd’s trial was wrong.

Gov. Rick Perry ignored an expert’s report about the evidence and refused to delay Todd’s execution. Five years later, Perry has interfered with the Texas Forensic Science Commission’s investigation of the case. It’s not clear when the commission will resume its work, but our family hopes it happens soon.

Meanwhile, Perry and others — including the man who prosecuted Todd, the defense attorne…

Extremism Spreads Across Indonesian Penal Code

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Under Islamic law, or Shariah, the religious police have administered public canings for such things as gambling, prostitution and illicit affairs. But under a new Islamic criminal code that goes into effect this month, the Shariah police will be wielding a new and more potent threat: death by stoning for adulterers.

Members of the Shariah police, standing, reprimanded women in Banda Aceh for wearing clothing they judged to be too tight.

Most of Indonesia still lives up to its reputation for a moderate, easygoing brand of Islam, and Islamist parties suffered heavy losses in this years national elections. But how Aceh went from basic Islamic law to endorsing stoning in a few short years shows how a small, radical minority has successfully pushed its agenda, locally and nationally, by cowing political and religious moderates.

Though extreme, Aceh is not an isolated case. In recent years, as part of a decentralization of power away from the capital, Jakarta, at least 50 local government…

UK: Amnesty slams death penalty call

Amnesty International has slammed a call by a DUP politician for the use of the death penalty in the UK and internationally.

Mass murderers like Ian Brady have sacrificed their right to life, according to East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell.

He added that there was a cosy political consensus to deny the people of the UK their wishes.

"There are times when the death penalty, operated within a robust legal framework, is an appropriate form of punishment," Mr Campbell said.

"We can all think of mass murderers who through their evil acts forfeited their right to life.

"I have no compunction at all in saying that someone like Ian Brady, the Moors Murderer who murdered 5 innocent children has forfeited their right to live through their actions."

'Sordid'

Amnesty International's Northern Ireland Programme Director Patrick Corrigan said: Beheadings, electrocutions, hangings, lethal injections, shootings and stonings have no place in the modern world. Any popular…

Chronicle sues Perry over clemency report

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The Houston Chronicle and Hearst Newspapers LLC are suing Gov. Rick Perry in an effort to force the release of a clemency report Perry received before denying a stay of execution to Cameron Todd Willingham.

The report is a summary and status of the case against Willingham that was given to Perry at 11:30 a.m. on the day of Willingham's 2004 execution in the fire deaths of his three daughters. Anti-death penalty advocates say modern fire forensics show the blaze cannot be proven as arson.

Perry's office has refused to release the report, claiming it is a privileged document. The clemency document was used by Perry in the process of deciding whether to give Willingham a 30-day stay of execution.

"When it comes to human life, there is no place the governor should be more transparent in his decision-making," said Jonathan Donnellan, an attorney for Hearst and the Chronicle.

"It should raise eyebrows that the governor is seeking to shield communications with his adv…

Texas: Reginald Blanton executed

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A man convicted of murder in a San Antonio robbery more than 9 years ago was executed Tuesday evening after proclaiming his innocence.

Reginald Blanton, 28, received lethal injection for the April 2000 shooting death of Carlos Garza at the 22-year-old man's apartment.

In a brief statement after he was strapped to the Texas death chamber gurney, Blanton insisted his execution was an injustice and he was wrongly convicted.

"Carlos was my friend," he said, looking at Garza's mother, wife and 3 sisters, who watched through a window a few feet from him. "I didn't murder him. What's happening right now is an injustice. This doesn't solve anything. This will not bring back Carlos."

Blanton also complained the lethal drugs that would be used on him weren't allowed to put down dogs.

"I say I am worse off than a dog," he said. "They want to kill me for all this. I am not the man that did this."

Then he told friends he loved them and…

Saudi Arabia: man beheaded for murdering elderly woman

October 23, 2009: Saudi Arabian man Ghanim bin Marzuq al-Dosari was beheaded by the sword in Riyadh for murdering an elderly woman in the course of a robbery and then violating her corpse, the official SPA news agency said.

No details were given on when the crime took place, but the interior ministry said Dosari had earlier robbed and raped other elderly women.

Sources: Agence France Presse, Hands Off Cain, 24/10/2009

Law of Parties all over again: Death row inmate hopes for Perry's intervention

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Robert Lee Thompson (pictured) didn't fire the shot that killed a Houston convenience store clerk; his accomplice did. But barring Gov. Rick Perry's intervention, Thompson will be the one headed to the Texas death chamber next month while the accomplice serves a life sentence.

Thompson, 34, and Sammy Butler, 32, were tried for capital murder for the Dec. 5, 1996 stickup of a Braeswood Boulevard convenience store in which clerk Mansoor Rahim was killed. Under Texas' law of parties, all participants in a such cases are eligible for the death penalty, regardless of who did the actual killing.

Thus, Thompson, who wounded but did not kill another employee, was convicted and sentenced to die. But prosecutors failed to prove Butler intended to kill his victim, leading to a noncapital conviction and a life sentence for the triggerman. Butler will be eligible for parole in 2036.

Thompson's lawyer Patrick McCann calls the situation “egregious,” and describes the case as a “legal C…

Freed death row inmate calls on Perry to halt executions

Ernest Willis, the West Texas man who spent 17 years on death row for an arson-murder he didn't commit, Monday called on Gov. Rick Perry to admit Texas may have erred when it executed Cameron Todd Willingham for setting a fire that killed his 3 children.

I think he should step up to the plate, call for a death penalty moratorium, listen to the experts and see what kind of situation we've got, Willis said in a telephone interview from his Midland home.

The cases of Willis and Willingham were among those to be discussed at an Oct. 2 meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission that was derailed when Perry unexpectedly removed the commission's chairman and 2 other members. Perry has insisted Willingham was guilty of setting a 1991 Corsicana house fire in which his young children died. Willingham's ex-wife also has expressed belief in his guilt.

But Willis, who talked with Willingham while both were on death row, said he is convinced the Corsicana auto mechanic was innoce…

Ohio can't find doctors to offer execution advice

Finding medical professionals willing to advise Ohio on the best way to put condemned inmates to death is proving difficult because of ethical and professional rules, the state's top attorney said.

The rules which generally prohibit doctors, nurses and others from involvement in capital punishment are deterring those professionals from speaking publicly or privately about alternatives to the state's lethal injection process, Attorney General Richard Cordray said.

"A small number of promising leads have emerged, but identifying qualified medical personnel willing and able to provide advice to the State regarding lethal injection options continues to be challenging and time-consuming," Cordray said in the Friday filing in U.S. District Court.

Executions are on hold in Ohio while the state develops new injection policies following a Sept. 15 execution that was stopped because the inmate had no usable veins.

The state has reached out to judges, police and lawmakers for help …

Scheduled execution of DC sniper stirs debate

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With November 10th set as the execution date for John Allen Muhammad (pictured), the man dubbed the DC Sniper, new interest in his case is growing, with people on both sides speaking out.

Muhammad was tried in Virginia Beach for the murder of Dean Meyers in Prince William County on October 9, 2002. Convicted, the jury recommended death, and a Virginia judge issued the death sentence in March 2004.

Marion Lewis’ 25-year old daughter, Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, was killed by Muhammad and his teenage accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, during a three week shooting spree in October 2002 that crossed two states and the nation’s capital and saw ten people killed by the snipers. Malvo was sentenced to life for his role in the shootings. Lewis says that he wishes he could dispatch Muhammad himself, but will settle for just being present at the execution.

Other victims’ family members also wish to be present. The director of the Victim/Witness Program in Prince William County, Patricia D. Allue, says tha…

Uganda: Anti-homosexuality Bill -- Time to denounce death penalty

In January, the Supreme Court of Uganda delivered a judgement in the case of Susan Kigula & 417 Others, in which it rejected the claim that the imposition of the death penalty violates the Constitution of Uganda.

However, rather than leaving matters there, the Supreme Court went on to urge the legislature to "reopen debate on the desirability of the death penalty in our Constitution, particularly in light of findings that for many years no death sentences have been executed yet the individuals concerned continue to be incarcerated on death row without knowing whether they were pardoned, had their sentences remitted, or are to be executed."

Despite this encouragement from the Supreme Court, the chances of such a debate transpiring anytime soon seem unlikely: The political agenda in any country is rarely dictated by actual need and more by political will. However, the likelihood of a legislative debate on the merits of capital punishment has recently dramatically increased w…

Tehran sends message with death sentence

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Iran has condemned 5 men to death for anti-government unrest, including at least 4 who were arrested months before the country's disputed presidential elections, human rights activists say.

Hadi Ghaemi, director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, said the 4 were purported members of a small group, the Iran Monarchy Committee, which advocates restoring the system overthrown by the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The fifth condemned man was said to have ties to the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a Marxist-Islamist militant group that has several thousand adherents in Iraq, he said.

Mr. Ghaemi said all 5 were lumped in with the postelection protesters and sentenced to death after show trials.

"The government is picking on the least popular anti-government groups and claiming they are the same as the election protesters," Mr. Ghaemi said. He said the government's intent is to show that the opposition is a marginalized minority segment and "put the counterrevolu…

Illinois: Death penalty moratorium leaves 15 in holding pattern

Fifteen Illinois inmates sit in limbo on death row, sentenced to pay the ultimate price for their crimes yet unsure whether a 9-old moratorium on state-sponsored executions will ever be lifted.

James Degorski narrowly missed joining their ranks last week when two jurors refused to support the death penalty for his role in the 1993 Brown's Chicken massacre.

In a hearing that continues this week, convicted child killer Brian Dugan could still be sent there if a DuPage County jury unanimously agrees that he deserves to die for the abduction, rape and murder of Naperville schoolgirl Jeanine Nicarico in 1983.

Former Gov. George Ryan made death row a prison purgatory when he enacted the moratorium in 2000 following the exoneration of the 13th prisoner found to have been wrongfully convicted in a capital case. In 2003, he commuted the sentences of 167 condemned inmates to life in prison.

Since that time, 16 people have been sentenced to death. One committed suicide, and the rest are wadi…

Tibetan Executions Reported

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At least 3 Tibetans are said to have been executed in connection with an anti-Chinese uprising in 2008.

Tibetan exiles and residents of the region say Chinese authorities have executed at least 3 people convicted of rioting during last year's widespread uprising against Chinese rule.

These would be the 1st reported executions in connection with rioting that erupted in March 2008 in Lhasa. Capital punishment is administered only rarely in Tibet, experts say.

A source in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) capital, Lhasa, identified 1 of the men executed as Lobsang Gyaltsen, age 22 or 23, from Lhasas Lubuk township.

"His mother's name is Yudon-la and he has a stepfather. Their living conditions are extremely poor, and they are dependent on food assistance from Lhasa city committee," the source said.

"He was executed for allegedly killing a Chinese national by setting a shop on fire in Lhasa. He was detained around March 14, 2008," the source said.

Before his executi…

Texas: Death penalty demonstrators march at State Capitol

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Hundreds rallied Saturday afternoon [Oct. 24, 2009] at the State Capitol (picture, left) as part of the 10th annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty. They came certain an innocent man was executed and called for an end to the death penalty.

The protesters drew attention to the controversial case of Cameron Todd Willingham. He was tried, convicted and in 2004 executed for setting a fire to his house, killing his 3 young daughters. Despite not having a clear motive, investigators accused him of arson. But a new report, commissioned by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, says the expert evidence was wrong.

Elizabeth Gilbert, a playwright and Willingham's former pen pal, is convinced of his innocence and was instrumental in helping his family find a fire investigator to examine his case. She believes an innocent man was put to death.

"We executed a person who didn't commit a crime," she said. "I am hoping to bring attention that if 1 person is executed, thats mor…

Todd Willingham: Ex-wife says convicted killer confessed

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The former wife of a man whose 2004 execution in Texas has become a source of controversy has said he admitted setting the fire that killed their three daughters during a final prison meeting just weeks before he was put to death, according to a Texas newspaper.

Stacy Kuykendall, the ex-wife of Cameron Todd Willingham, said in a statement to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published Sunday that Willingham told her he was upset by threats to divorce him after the new year. The fire that killed the couple's three girls was Dec. 23, 1991.

Her last threat to divorce him, she said in a statement, occurred the night before the fire.

"He said if I didn't have my girls I couldn't leave him and that I could never have Amber or the twins with anyone else but him," according to the statement from Kuykendall to the newspaper.

Willingham went to his death proclaiming his innocence.

And over the years, she has offered differing accounts.

A Tribune investigation in 2004 showed the indi…

E.U. will not extradite suspects who face death penalty in U.S.

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October 23, 2009: The European Union finalized an extradition deal with the United States that excludes suspects who may face the death penalty across the Atlantic.

'Extradition to the US will henceforth only be possible under the condition that the death penalty will not be imposed or, if for procedural reasons such a condition cannot be complied with, that the death penalty will not be carried out,' EU ministers said in a statement.

The current prevailing practice is for the US to provide guarantees that it will not carry out an execution on a case-by-case basis only.

The agreement, initiated in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the US, was sealed in Luxembourg by the bloc's justice ministers. It is due to come into force on February 1.

The EU is strongly against the death penalty and regularly criticizes foreign countries, including the US, that execute their criminals.

The agreement also aims to improve the exchange of information between th…

Mark Clements: Abolish the death penalty today

After spending 28 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Mark Clements was finally set free in August. Here, he comments on the case of Reginald Blanton, who is scheduled to be executed on October 27 by the state of Texas.

October 23, 2009

TEXAS IS still under fire for the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, but on October 27, 2009, the state is scheduled to execute Reginald Blanton, despite his claims of innocence.

In the Willingham case, Texas Gov. Rick Perry carried out the execution. Now that new evidence has surfaced that strongly suggests Perry killed an innocent man, he wishes to insist that he do likewise in the Blanton case.

Gov. Perry has ignored the opinion of millions around this nation who firmly believe that Willingham was indeed innocent. He has called him a "monster" even as he has disregarded key evidence by fire experts that Willingham never set the fire that killed his children, but rather that it was caused by some kind of accident.

In the Reginald B…

China Executes Four Tibetans In Lhasa Over Spring 2008 Protest

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The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) has received confirmed information from reliable sources that Lobsang Gyaltsen, Loyak (pictured), Penkyi and an unnamed Tibetan were executed on Tuesday, 20 October 2009 under the supervision of the Lhasa Municipality Intermediate People’s Court for their alleged involvement in last year’s mass protest in the Tibetan capital. Further information is awaited. No information on their execution was reported anywhere in the Chinese state media.

According to sources, the dead body of Lobsang Gyaltsen, from Lubug on the outskirt of Lhasa city, was handed over to his family and his dead body was later known to have been immersed in Kyichu River.

There is no information on whether the defendants appealed their sentences to the Supreme People’s Court after Lhasa Municipal Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Lobsang Gyaltsen and Loyak to death on 8 April 2009.

According to the Chinese official mouthpiece dated 8 April 2009, Lhasa Municipa…

Nine Uighurs executed in China

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October 20, 2009: exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer said she had learnt that "out of the 11 Uighurs who were sentenced to death [over the bloody unrest that erupted on July 5 in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi] ... nine people have been executed.”

"Punishing people who demonstrated peacefully is not necessary," she said, speaking with Agence France Presse during a visit to Japan.

Kadeer added that "according to new information we have obtained, from July 5 to October 1 more than 10,000 Uighurs have been arrested and jailed, but how many have died, or been killed, how many have been jailed, nobody knows the exact number."
Source: AFP, 21/10/2009

Saudi man executed for murder

October 21, 2009: a Saudi Arabian man convicted of murder was beheaded by the sword in the northern town of Sakaka, the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by SPA state news agency.

Mohammed bin Saqer al-Quwaykabi was found guilty of shooting dead Faisal bin Shraytah al-Rawily following a dispute.

Source: Agence France Presse, 21/10/2009

Tibetan protesters executed for Lhasa riot killings

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Tibetan exiles have reported the first executions of those convicted for rioting last year in Lhasa, with at least two people put to death in a rare implementation of capital punishment in the restive region.

Two Tibetans convicted of arson and sentenced to death in April were executed on Tuesday morning in Lhasa, reported The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, which is based in the Indian town of Dharamsala — the home in exile of the Dalai Lama.

It said that Lobsang Gyaltsen and Loyak had been sentenced to death for their part in setting fire to five shops in the Tibetan capital, killing seven people, in the riot that rocked Lhasa in March last year. Officials say that 21 people — including three Tibetan protesters — died in the violence, which embarrassed Beijing just as it was preparing to stage the Olympic Games and prompted a security crackdown across the Himalayan region.

The body of Mr Gyaltsen had been returned to his family and then submitted to a river burial — an …

Iran Lawyer Seeks Cash to Spare Young on Death Row

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TEHRAN (Reuters) - An Iranian human rights lawyer has launched an appeal for money to help avert the executions of juvenile offenders in the Islamic Republic, saying $200,000 (121,000 pounds) could spare the lives of four young people now on death row.

Under Iran's Islamic law, sharia, the family of a murder victim can pardon the convicted killer in exchange for financial compensation, so-called blood money, although they can also refuse it and demand the death penalty. For most people in Iran it would be difficult to raise the amount needed on their own.

Iran has executed at least 42 juvenile criminals since 1990, according to rights groups which say Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the only other countries to put juveniles to death. Iran says it carries out the death penalty only when a prisoner reaches 18.

"Right now a few of my clients who committed crimes when they were under 18 are awaiting execution ... By collecting 200 million tomans ($200,000), you can save the lives of thr…

Texas Gov. Could Face Criminal Charges for Interfering with Death Penalty

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Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) is facing questions about his responsibility for wrongfully executing Cameron Todd Willingham, convicted of arson for a fire that killed his daughters, despite new expert analysis showing there was in fact zero evidence of arson. An investigation into the execution has already found that Perry was given the new evidence to review —which should have shown him that all the evidence of guilt was actually scientifically unfounded testimony— but chose not to stay the execution pending review of the trial process and evidence.

When the investigation began looking into Gov. Perry’s review of the process, what he knew and when he knew it, he refused to reappoint the sitting chair of the commission and replaced him and two other members with conservatives sympathetic to his point of view. The new commissioner has canceled testimony from a leading arson expert that would discredit the case used to execute Willingham.

Gov. Perry is locked in a serious challenge within his ow…

Uncomfortable jokes about executing prisoners by former Texas Death House warden

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Joking about executions was more than some students and college professors were ready to hear, especially when the stand up comic was in charge of executing so many Texas prisoners.

The warden who oversaw the Walls Unit in Huntsville, giving the order to go ahead with 89 executions, joked about sending inmates to their death as he spoke to a University of Houston Downtown lecture Tuesday night, but some students and staff expressed discomfort as they talked about it outside the event.

Jim Willett (pictured) had copies of his two books for sale as he addressed the UHD Criminal Justice Lecture Series.

Now head of the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville, he never focused on one single theme or message as he addressed a room full of around 80 students, faculty and visitors. He began telling several stories and then stopped, midway, and told the audience he needed to back up or he had forgotten details.

In answering one student's question, Willett said an inmate had clearly told the prison …