Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saudi Arabia beheads Turkish man for drug trafficking

His execution brings to 70 the number of beheadings in the kingdom this year

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia on Thursday beheaded a Turkish man convicted of drug trafficking, the interior ministry said, in the latest execution in the conservative Gulf kingdom.

Ali Agridas had been convicted of receiving a “large amount of drugs” and was executed in the Saudi capital Riyadh, the ministry said in a statement.

His execution brings to 70 the number of Saudis and foreigners beheaded in the kingdom this year, according to an AFP count, despite international concern.

Rape, murder, apostasy, drug trafficking, homosexuality and armed robbery are all punishable by death under the kingdom’s strict version of Sharia.

Source: Agence France-Presse, November 21, 2014

Federal judge overturns sentence of Wyoming's death row inmate

A federal judge on Thursday overturned the death sentence of the lone inmate on Wyoming's death row, saying his trial lawyers had failed to give jurors sufficient reason to spare his life.

Lawyers handling the federal appeal of Dale Wayne Eaton, 69, didn't dispute that he had killed Lisa Marie Kimmell, 18, of Billings, Montana.

Instead, they argued that his previous attorneys from the Wyoming Public Defender's Office failed to present factors that might have given jurors a reason to consider sparing his life, such his low intelligence and abuse he suffered as a child.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson in Cheyenne gave Wyoming a choice of either granting a new sentencing hearing for Eaton within 120 days in Natrona County or keeping him locked up for life without parole.

Casper District Attorney Michael Blonigen, who initially prosecuted Eaton in state court, said Thursday he's ready to argue again that Eaton deserves the death penalty, although he hopes the attorney general appeals the judge's ruling.

"It's very important that Wyoming make a decision here whether we have the death penalty or whether we have the death sentence," Blonigen said. "To sit here ten years later and undertake a 20-20 hindsight review of what an attorney did 10 years ago ? OK, that's the challenge that faces us."

Eaton was sentenced to death in 2004 for the 1988 rape and murder of Kimmell. She had disappeared in 1988 while driving across Wyoming, and her body was found in the North Platte River.

Authorities say Eaton kept Kimmell captive in a rundown compound in Moneta, west of Casper, before killing her and burying her car on the property.

The investigation stalled until 2002, when DNA evidence linked Eaton to the case while he was in prison on unrelated charges. Investigators then unearthed the missing car on his property.

Eaton was convicted in state court and sentenced to death. His new lawyers appealed the sentence to Johnson after the Wyoming Supreme Court upheld the sentence.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that defendants facing a possible death sentence have a constitutional right to undergo a full investigation into their life circumstances so jurors will have that information as they decide a penalty.

Johnson held a two-week evidentiary hearing last year that featured testimony from relatives and mental health professionals about Eaton. Eaton's lawyers said the material could have been developed and presented to the state jury by Eaton's original defense team -- but it wasn't.

Johnson ruled Thursday that Eaton's state defense was deficient, falling below standards set by the American Bar Association and failing to satisfy constitutional requirements.

For example, Eaton didn't have two experienced death-penalty lawyers on his team, as the ABA recommends. While the association recommends separate investigators and mitigation experts, his team had one person handling both jobs.

If Wyoming chooses to hold a new sentencing hearing for Eaton, Johnson specified that the state must appoint experienced death-penalty lawyers not associated with the Wyoming Public Defender's Office to represent him.

An appeal would go to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Attorney General Peter Michael issued a statement Thursday that although he holds the court in the highest regard, he was disappointed by Johnson's order.

"Wyoming prosecutors recognize the seriousness of capital punishment and seek it in only the most egregious cases," Michael stated. "Mr. Eaton's kidnapping, rape and murder of Lisa Marie Kimmell is one such case."

Eaton was represented in his federal appeal mainly by Cheyenne lawyer Terry Harris and Sean O'Brien, a Missouri lawyer who specializes in death-penalty cases. Attempts to reach Harris and O'Brien were not immediately successful on Thursday.

In 2009, Harris and O'Brien succeeded in persuading a judge to overturn the death sentence of prison inmate James Harlow in the stabbing death of a correctional officer at the state penitentiary in Rawlins. That decision left Eaton as the only man on Wyoming's death row.

Harris and O'Brien raised similar issues in Harlow's case as they did in the appeal involving Eaton, saying the state public defender's office did an inadequate job and failed to put up enough money to investigate Harlow's case and background.

Wyoming last carried out the death penalty in 1992, when it executed convicted murderer Mark Hopkinson. Several other death sentences have been overturned on appeal since then.

Source: AP, November 20, 2014

Bryan Stevenson on Executions and Civil Rights: "Lynching Stopped But the Mindset Didn't"

Watch our extended interview with Bryan Stevenson, founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative. He discusses pending executions, the history of lynching, and how Rosa Parks and others inspired him to "stand with the condemned and incarcerated." His new book is Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. We continue with our guest, Bryan Stevenson, founder and director of the Equal Justice initiative. His new book is Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

I want to turn to a case right now. A Texas judge on Wednesday refused to postpone the scheduled execution of a convicted killer who suffers from mental illness and is set to face lethal injection December 3rd. Scott Panetti has had schizophrenia for decades. He won support for his case from groups like Mental Health America, psychiatrists, former judges, prosecutors and evangelical Christians. At the trial, Panetti acted as his own attorney. He wore a cowboy outfit and tried to call his witnesses, the pope, John F. Kennedy and Jesus.

Well, you write about many cases. Talk about what this case represents.

BRYAN STEVENSON: We have in our prisons about 2.3 million people, half of whom are believed to have mental illness. About 20 percent have severe mental illness. The criminal justice system, the prisons have become the repository for people with disability that have no place else to go. And that is part of the story behind this case.

The other part of the story is that we've created a system that is much more concerned about finality than fairness. The reason why no one's prepared to look carefully at the clear evidence of mental illness that should block the state from carrying out this execution is that we seem like we're in this rush, that if we don't execute people fast, it's almost as if it loses its potency, its value, its virtue. But my view is that if we execute people unfairly or wrongly, then we do a great deal of injustice to our whole system. And so, I think it's tragic that we get caught up in this finality kind of focus. And you see that playing out in this case.

The Supreme Court has banned the execution of people with intellectual disability, people with mental retardation. And obviously, if you recognize that there are disabilities that can make you someone who should not be executed, you have to look more carefully at a case like this. And I think there are actually hundreds of people who have been sentenced to death when they are clearly very severely mentally ill. And a just society wouldn't want to execute people for their disability, because that's cruel. That's not a decent thing to do. It's not what a just community should do. But we're going to do that in Texas, if we don't take the time to think more carefully about what that case represents.

And too often, unfortunately, we don't learn the details of these tragedies until very close to the execution time, because it's very hard to get anyone's attention in the death penalty space until there's a crisis, until there's an execution date. And that undermines the fair consideration that we often need in these cases. And sadly, it doesn't happen at trial, because we have a criminal justice system that treats you better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent. Wealth prevents many poor people and disabled people from getting their story presented in a way that might allow us to get to a just outcome. And so then we have years of appeals and litigation where maybe that story might unfold, and that's what you're seeing in Texas today.


Source: Democracy Now, November 20, 2014

Iran: Man hanged in public a day after UN condemns regime's "high frequency of executions"

Photo of the execution
A day after the United Nations General Assembly's 3rd committee adopted the UN's 61st resolution condemning human rights abuses in Iran and urged the regime to stop the executions, a man was hanged in public in a northern city.

The prisoner identified as H. Mirjani, 32, was hanged in Velayat Square in the city of Qaemshahr.

The execution that comes after the adoption of the resolution that expressed its "deep concern at serious ongoing and recurring human rights violations" in Iran, notably the "alarming high frequency of executions and increase of the carrying-out of the death penalty in the absence of internationally recognized safeguards, including public executions," demonstrates the Iranian regime's disregard for international concerns.

Since the start of Hassan Rouhani's presidency a year ago, the executions in Iran have taken on an unprecedented scale with over 1000 executions.

Source: NCR-Iran, November 20, 2014

Judge Refuses To Dismiss Lawsuit Challenging Tennessee’s Use Of The Electric Chair

A judge on Friday blocked the state’s attempt to derail a lawsuit filed by death row inmates attacking Tennessee’s use of the electric chair.

In August, attorneys representing ten death row inmates sued the state alleging the electric chair is “cruel and unusual punishment.” The suit contends that electrocution inflicts agonizing pain and that its use should be considered torture.

The state replied by filing a motion to dismiss, a matter that was taken up during Friday’s hearing.

Assistant Attorney General Linda Kirklen argued, in part, that “this court lacks jurisdiction.” In other words, she said questioning the sentence of a criminal case should not be litigated in civil court. She noted the inmates have brought challenges to their cases in criminal court already, which have not been successful. “They have already had their day in court,” Kirklen said.

Kelley Henry, a federal public defender representing the inmates, responded that an attack on the method of execution is not the same at an attack on the conviction.

In addition, Henry pointed out that last spring’s law establishing the electric chair as the official backup has no formal time schedule. That is, if an inmate’s method of execution is changed due to the scarcity of lethal injection drugs, the inmate might not have time to appeal.

After two-hours of deliberations, Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman took a short break before coming back with a decision: the lawsuit is aiming at the protocol of execution, not the criminal conviction, so it does fall under the state’s civil court.

After the hearing, defense attorney Henry said Bonnyman’s decision keeps the lawsuit on track, and that the substance of the suit – whether the electric chair is in fact constitutional – will be dealt with during the trial.

“Tennessee is an outlier amongst any government in the world to impose the electric chair on one of its citizens. We’re the only one that does that,” Henry said. “Our experts say that the inmate actually feels that searing, burning pain prior to death and for a substantial period of time prior to death.”

The state attorney general’s office has not responded to the heart of argument in legal filings. Instead, they have countered with procedural maneuvers.

A trial date in Davidson County Chancery Court determining whether the electric chair will continue to be an optional form of execution in Tennessee is on hold. It will be set once a case pending before the state’s supreme court is settled. This one over whether the identities of those involved in a state-sanctioned lethal injection — including the pharmacist who provides the drugs — must be publicly revealed.

For now, both methods of execution are unavailable until the lawsuits are resolved.

The last execution in Tennessee occurred in 2009. And although no executions have occurred while Gov. Bill Haslam has been in office, the attorney general’s office requested execution dates for 10 death row inmates, the highest number of sought at once in state history.

Source: Nashville Public Radio, November 21, 2014

50 Bangladeshi expatriates awaiting death penalties in prisons abroad

Around 50 Bangladeshi expatriates who had flown to the foreign lands in search of employments, are currently waiting for execution of their death penalties while serving in prisons across the globe.

Among them, the verdict for 29 death row inmates have been put to a halt through negotiations held in between the Bangladeshi embassies and the governments of the respective countries. Such negotiations mainly focuses on compensating the victim's families.

The numbers were revealed through a written statement issued by Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Engineer Khandker Mosharraf Hossain issued to the parliament yesterday.

All of the death row inmates were convicted for committing murders.

Among the death sentence awardees, 12 Bangladeshi migrants are in Saudi Arabia, 23 in Dubai, 12 in Kuwait, 1 in Bahrain, 1 in Singapore and one in Abu Dhabi.

The Wage Earners' Welfare Board under the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, was active enough in order to free the convicts from the trial in the respective countries, said the minister.

In the statement, he informed that an "understanding" has been reached through negotiations with the concerned countries to cancel the death penalty for 29 Bangladeshi expatriate workers.

Letters seeking mercy have already been sent to the Bangladeshi Missions in those countries, according to the statement by the Expatriates' Welfare Minister.

Except for the countries mentioned above, 35 more are facing trials in different countries on murder charges -- 15 in Dubai, 10 in Saudi Arabia, 3 in Oman, 3 in Qatar, 1 each in Kuwait, Egypt and Bahrain.

Khandker also highlighted that 2,759,541 people from Bangladesh received employment in different countries across the world in between January 2009 and September 2014.

"The number was 137,088 during the BNP-Jamaat regime from 2001 to 2006," he said.

The ministry had undertaken construction work of nearly 400 centres for providing technical trainings at the upazila levels, said the minister.

Source: Dhaka Tribune, November 21, 2014

The Science Of Lethal Injection: How Most Capital Punishments Work

Florida Death Chamber
You're escorted into the small, windowless room that contains only a pale-turquoise gurney and two metal tables up against the wall. One table is neatly set with a pair of scissors, a small red bin, and strips of gauze. The stark cleanliness of the room is oddly disturbing and gives off a feeling of faux-comfort. A clock directly above the gurney hangs in the center of the white wall, its ticking an ominous premonition.

The next thing you notice is the large, cold mirror on the other wall facing the gurney. As you lie down on the gurney, you find yourself staring at this mirror, which is really a 1-way mirror. Behind it sit the witnesses of the execution - some of your relatives, possibly several of the relatives of your victims. They're able to watch you through that window, but you can only see the reflection of yourself lying there, like a specimen.

The prison officials strap you into the gurney and swab your arms with alcohol, then insert two IVs into each arm (one is the main line of execution; the other is a backup, just in case the 1st line fails). You see yourself in the mirror, lying helpless and strapped to the gurney - this is it. You're about to be "put down." They then start the saline drops, to make sure the IVs aren't blocked throughout the process. You're attached to a heart monitor so the prison officials will know when you're dead.

Anesthesia

The intravenous injection will involve a set sequence and several different drugs, given to you step-by-step. 1st, some form of anesthesia begins to get pumped into your veins - usually sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, meant to reduce pain and significantly decrease your breathing. This drug is technically not an analgesic or something that numbs pain nerves, but rather is meant to put you into unconsciousness that would, theoretically, prevent you from feeling pain. Within seconds, you begin to feel tired and heavy and you begin to doze off - into sleep or unconsciousness, you're not sure.

Paralysis

Once you're unconscious, the pancuronium bromide, or paralytic agent, begins to enter the IV - inducing paralysis of your muscles and lungs, which stops your breathing. Pancuronium bromide is a neuromuscular blocker that stops a nerve messenger, acetylcholine, from reaching the muscles. This ultimately causes muscular paralysis and respiratory arrest, which could lead to death by asphyxiation if the 3rd drug isn't administered.

Cardiac Arrest

And then, with potassium chloride, a salt substance, they stop your heart. This surge of chemicals impairs the heart by messing up its electrical signaling, ultimately inducing cardiac arrest, or complete stopping of the heart. The total amount of time it should take for you to die shouldn't be more than 10 minutes.

Lethal injection is used primarily in situations of capital punishment, when a prison inmate is sentenced to death. It began as an attempt by governments to make the death penalty slightly more "humane." The method was 1st proposed in 1888 by a New York doctor who claimed it would be cheaper than hanging, but it didn't yet became implemented in the states. Some 50 years later, the method was used in Nazi Germany as euthanasia before being re-introduced in America in 1977. In that year, Jay Chapman, Oklahoma's state medical examiner, proposed this "less painful" execution method: "An intravenous saline drip shall be started in the prisoner's arm, into which shall be introduced a lethal injection consisting of an ultra-short-acting barbiturate in combination with a chemical paralytic."

The law allowing lethal injection was passed in Oklahoma and is currently used by 35 states (though each state uses a different drug protocol). Traditionally, most states used the 3-drug combination for lethal injections, involving an anesthetic, a paralytic agent, and potassium chloride. But ever since there has been a lethal drug shortage due to the EU ban, many states have had to adopt different methods, including "1 drug," "pentobarbital," and "propofol."

Indeed, getting a lethal injection is by far better than electrocution, hanging, or decapitation, like used in the old days. But research has shown that lethal injection isn't devoid of pain. For example, a 2005 study found that 4 out of 10 prisoners might receive inadequate anesthesia, making the process far more painful than previously believed.

It seems smooth enough and should only take a few minutes, but recently several botched executions have taken place in the U.S., where it took up to 2 hours for some inmates to die. Their deaths were drawn out and often painful, involving burning sensations, convulsions, and gasping for breath. This is why some states have begun to debate whether lethal injection is truly "humane" (assisted in part by the 2011 European Union export ban on lethal drugs to the U.S., due to the fact that the EU calls for "universal abolition" of the death penalty). Other researchers have argued that not enough data or research exists on the current 3-drug protocol (anesthesia, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride) for it to be entirely safe. But it will be quite some time before the U.S. will decide whether to follow in Europe's footsteps and abolish lethal injection, or even the death penalty completely.

Source: Medical Daily, November 21, 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

Retrial begins in China of 'convict' executed in 1996

Execution in China (file photo)
A court in north China Thursday officially began reconsideration of a 1996 rape and murder case, which may have resulted in the conviction and execution of the wrong man.

The presiding judge with Inner Mongolia Higher People's Court, Bobatu, issued a retrial notice to the parents of Huugjilt, found guilty of the rape and murder of a woman in a public toilet in the regional capital Hohhot April 9, 1996, Xinhua reported.

Huugjilt, 18 at the time, was sentenced to death by Hohhot Intermediate People's Court in May 1996. His appeal was rejected, the death penalty was approved by the region's higher court and Huugjilt was executed June 10,1996.

After his execution, another alleged serial rapist and killer, Zhao Zhihong, confessed to the murder when he was arrested in 2005. Zhao allegedly raped and killed 10 women and girls between 1996 and 2005. He stood trial in late 2006 and no verdict has yet been issued.

President of the higher court, Hu Yifeng, said earlier this month that should there be any errors in the previous ruling, they must be addressed.

"It has been so difficult to wait for the retrial decision," sobbed Shang Aiyun, 62, mother of the dead Huugjilt, in her home. She said she hoped the court would proceed carefully with the retrial and that the verdict would prove her son's innocence.

Huugjilt's parents, unwavering in their belief in their son's innocence, have been petitioning the country's supreme court and the region's higher court since 2006.

Yan Feng, a friend and colleague of Huugjilt, tells how they heard someone cry out in a women's toilet as they passed by. Huugjilt asked Yan to go with him into the toilet to see what had happened. There they saw a woman's body and immediately ran out. Huugjilt then reported it to police despite Yan's attempts to persuade him to keep quiet.

China's Criminal Procedure Law stipulates that if the evidence on which a verdict is based is found to be questionable or inadequate, a retrial should be held. The retrial will be a purely documentary one and will be completed as soon as possible, said Li Shengchen, spokesman for the Inner Mongolia Higher People's Court, at a press briefing in Hohhot Thursday.

In a similar case, Nie Shubin in north China's Hebei Province was executed in 1995 at the age of 21 for the 1994 rape and murder of a woman in the provincial capital of Shijiazhuang. Later Wang Shujin was apprehended by police in 2005 for 3 unconnected rape and murder cases, and confessed to the rape and murder of the woman in Shijiazhuang. In that instance the provincial higher court did not believe Wang's claim in a retrial last year and Nie's verdict still stands.

Also last year, a man in the eastern province of Anhui was declared innocent after serving 17 years of a life sentence for the killing of his wife.

The Anhui provincial higher people's court set Yu Yingsheng free when it ruled that in the previous trial, facts about the alleged homicide were unclear and the evidence inadequate.

China's Supreme People's Court started to review all death penalty rulings on Jan 1, 2007, ending 24 years during which lower courts could issue death sentences and execute criminals without any other approval.

The Communist Party of China made a decision on major issues concerning the rule of law last month and the Huugjilt retrial is an indication of how things are changing, said Miao Li, a lawyer in Inner Mongolia.

"I hope a fair trial can reveal the truth of the case and give every citizen a sense of justice and fairness," said Miao.

Source: Business Standard, November 20, 2014

Ricky Jackson: American prisoner found innocent after 39 years behind bars

Ricky Jackson
Ending a startling miscarriage of justice spanning nearly four decades, a judge in Cleveland, Ohio has exonerated a man convicted of aggravated murder after the only prosecution witness in his trial came forward and admitted he made up his testimony.

Ricky Jackson, who is now 59, is expected to be released on Friday after spending 39 years in prison for the killing in May 1975 of a money-order collector in Cleveland. He and two other men, who were brothers, were found guilty by a jury based on the testimony of a 12-year-old boy.

But at a hearing in Cleveland this week that witness, Eddy Vernon, who is now 51, stepped forward and confessed that, in fact, he never saw the attack and that the details of what happened had been fed to him by police. He was told that his parents would be arrested if he changed his story.

“Everything was a lie. They were all lies,” Mr Vernon told Judge Richard McMonagle. He had been on a school bus at the time of the killing and other witnesses came forward to say he could not have seen the murder directly. The prosecution case had rested entirely on his words.

“The scale of the miscarriage of justice in Ricky Jackson’s case is staggering,” Clive Stafford Smith, the head of Reprieve, a London-based charity that defends prisoners’ rights. He is currently involved in a similar hearing trying to exonerate British-born Kris Maharaj, who has been incarcerated in Florida for nearly 30 years for a double murder he says he didn’t commit.

“Much of what went wrong in Mr Jackson’s case is very familiar: a witness coached by the police into a version of events that would gain an easy conviction; a woeful lack of reliable evidence linking him to the crime; inept lawyering, especially for poor people; a jury or judge not willing to countenance doubt; and a ‘justice’ system where, once convicted, it becomes nearly impossible to overturn a sentence.”

“I can’t believe this is over,” Mr Jackson declared, thanking lawyers from the Ohio Innocence Project that had pushed his case forward. “It’s over,” he was later heard yelling into a phone to his family.

Source: The Independent, November 20, 2014


Ricky Jackson expected to be released today after serving more than 39 years in prison

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- When Ricky Jackson walks out of the Cuyahoga County Justice Center a free man today, he will have spent 39 years, three months and eight days behind bars since he was wrongfully convicted of murder on August 13, 1975.

It's the longest known prison sentence anyone has served in the United States before being exonerated, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

Jackson will become the 1,477th person exonerated since 1989, according to the registry, maintained by the University of Michigan Law School.


"Everything was a lie. They were all lies," said Eddie Vernon, now 53, who testified that he first told his pastor last year that his testimony in the case was false.

Attorneys and court officials expect Jackson, 57, to appear briefly this morning in Judge Richard McMonagle's courtroom for the case against him to be officially dismissed. Then, he will be escorted back down to the county jail to fill out paperwork to finalize his release.

McMonagle ordered that Jackson be brought to his courtroom unshackled and in street clothes.

The Plain Dealer will follow that court hearing, set to begin around 9 a.m., in a live blog.

On Tuesday, after Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty conceded the murder case against Jackson had crumbled and the case would be dismissed, Jackson sobbed loudly, his head buried in his handcuffed hands, saying "I can't believe this is over.''

He thanked his Ohio Innocence Project attorneys and called his family

"I'm coming home. I'm coming home," he shouted into a phone.


Source: Cleveland.com, November 21, 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Texas judge refuses to postpone scheduled execution of schizophrenic inmate Scott Panetti

A Texas judge on Wednesday refused to postpone the scheduled execution of a convicted killer who suffers from mental illness and is set to face lethal injection on December 3.

Scott Panetti, who has had schizophrenia for three decades, has won support for his case from groups like Mental Health America, psychiatrists, former judges and prosecutors and evangelical Christians.

The European Union has also urged Texas Governor Rick Perry to grant Panetti clemency.

"The execution of persons suffering from a mental disorder is contrary to widely accepted human rights norms and is in contradiction to the minimum standards of human rights set forth in several international human rights instruments," the bloc wrote in its letter.

Still, district judge Keith Williams refused to give attorneys more time to reevaluate whether Panetti was criminally responsible. He was convicted in 1995 of shooting his estranged wife's parents to death at point blank range in 1992.

At the trial, Panetti acted as his own attorney, wore a cowboy outfit and tried to call as witnesses the pope, John F. Kennedy and Jesus.

"As an obviously severely mentally ill man with schizophrenia, Mr Panetti should never have been allowed to represent himself in his death penalty case," his attorney Kathryn Kase said.

He "should not have been allowed to reject a plea deal that would have saved his life. Now, Mr Panetti must not be executed without a competency hearing.

"This is the last chance to prevent an injustice from turning into an immoral tragedy."

Though individual US states choose whether they will implement the death penalty, in 1986 the US Supreme Court barred execution of the mentally ill as cruel and unusual punishment.

Source: Agence France-Presse, November 20, 2014

Related article:
- URGENT ACTION for Scott Panetti due to be executed in Texas on 3 December 2014 (Petition), Amnesty International, November 19, 2014

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Lawyers in Colorado theater massacre case argue over grim images

James Holmes and lawyer
Lawyers in the Colorado movie theater massacre case argued on Tuesday over whether jurors should see disturbing crime scene video and hundreds of gruesome photos of the July 2012 rampage.

Attorneys for accused gunman James Holmes said the images could inflame jurors, while prosecutors countered that they are needed to prove the case.

Holmes, 26, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to shooting dead 12 moviegoers and wounding 70 others in a Denver-area cinema during a midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises."

Prosecutors have charged Holmes with multiple counts of 1st-degree murder and attempted murder, and say they will seek the death penalty for the California native if he is convicted.

At issue was a defense motion that seeks to limit the use of video and photographs of dead and wounded victims.

Public defender Tamara Brady said the sight of too many graphic images "could cause the jury to act on passion, vengeance, hatred, or disgust," rather than weigh the evidence.

Prosecutor Karen Pearson countered that the images provide essential evidence.

"We have 12 people dead and 70 more injured, some catastrophically," Pearson said. "It is not an excessive number of photos .... There are simply so many victims in this case."

The defense also wants to restrict a video recorded inside Holmes' car that shows it has a skull-shaped gear shift.

"It has no relevance and it's possible some jurors could be put off or offended," Brady said.

Shackled and attired in red prison garb, Holmes sat impassively throughout the 90-minute hearing.

The defense also objects to video and photos that show posters hung in Holmes' apartment. The nature of the posters was not disclosed, but Pearson said they show the "normality" of the onetime neuroscience doctoral candidate.

"There are no pictures of Charles Manson on his walls," she said, adding that the posters are the kind typically found in a young graduate student's home.

Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour did not immediately rule on the motion, and said he might need to decide some evidentiary issues at trial.

Jury summonses will be sent to 9,000 county residents next month, and jury selection is set to start in January.

Samour has said he wants both sides to present opening statements in early June, although that date could be moved up if jury selection proceeds quicker than he anticipates.

Source: Reuters, November 19, 2014

Committee approves idea to bring back firing squad in Utah

Lawmakers have given a preliminary nod to bringing back the firing squad as a method of execution in Utah.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, proposed the bill that would bring back the firing squad only in the event that lethal injection was not available. Ray told the Utah State Legislature's interim law enforcement and criminal justice committee that he was being proactive.

"It gives us some maneuverability," Ray told the committee.

Lethal injection has come under fire as a method of execution after a botched execution in Oklahoma. Ray said the European company that makes lethal injection drugs has also refused to sell the cocktail because it is opposed to the death penalty.

Utah did away with the firing squad as a primary method of execution in 2003. Some death row inmates are grandfathered in. The last firing squad execution was Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010.

Some lawmakers on the committee were skeptical of the idea.

"What problem does this solve?" Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray, asked.

"A long, drawn out legal battle," Ray replied.

Jean Hill of the Salt Lake Catholic Diocese spoke out in opposition of the bill, calling it inhumane.

"The state's role is to not take revenge on people," she told the committee. "The state's role is public safety."

The bill passed out of the interim committee on a 9-2 vote. It will now go on to the full Utah State Legislature for consideration.

Source: Fox News, November 19, 2014

Sri Lanka releases Indian fishermen on death row

The Sri Lankan Government on Wednesday released the 5 Indian fishermen, sentenced to death in a case of alleged drug trafficking.

An official told The Hindu that the 5 fishermen had been released to the care of the Indian High Commission in Colombo, before being sent back to India.

It is learnt that they will serve no further jail term in India.

PTI adds:

The release came after Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa commuted their death penalty.

Prison officials said the 5 fishermen have been handed over to the immigration authorities for further action.

Emerson, P Augustus, R Wilson, K Prasath and J Langlet, all hailing from Tamil Nadu, were apprehended in 2011 and were sentenced to death by the Colombo High Court on October 30 for alleged drug trafficking.

The court ruling had triggered fiery protests in parts of Tamil Nadu and sporadic violence broke out in and around Rameswaram island as a large number of people staged protests.

India on November 11 had filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka against a verdict of the high court awarding death sentence to them.

Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a telephonic conversation last week on the issue.

The issue of fishermen is a very emotive matter for both Sri Lanka and India, where Tamil Nadu-based parties including AIADMK and DMK have been regularly pressing the government to take up the matter with the Lankan authorities seriously and have often resented high - profile visits from the island nation.

Source: The Hindu, Nov. 19, 2014

Honour killing: Pakistan court awards death penalty to 4 relatives

An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan today sentenced to death the father, 2 brothers and former husband of a pregnant woman, who was stoned to death by them outside Lahore High Court in a case of 'honour killing'.

Judge Haroon Latif awarded death penalty to Farzana Parveen's father Muhammad Azeem, brother Muhammad Zahid, former husband Mazhar Iqbal and cousin Jumah Khan.

A fine of Rs 1 Lakh has also been imposed on each of them.

Ghulam Ali, another cousin of her, has been awarded 10 years imprisonment.

Farzana, 25, was killed on May 27 when her father, former husband, 2 brothers and some other relatives attacked her on Fane Road near the court with bricks.

She was going to the Lahore High Court along with her husband Muhammad Iqbal, 45, to attend hearing in an abduction case.

Farzana, of Nankana Sahib district, some 80 kilometers from Lahore, was pregnant at that time.

She died on the spot while Iqbal escaped unhurt. The killing sparked a countrywide debate demanding strict laws and their implementation to check the 'honour killing'.

The Pakistani prime minister, the chief justice and even foreign countries like the US and the UK condemned her murder.

The government had vowed for speedy justice in this case. Farzana's family had accused Iqbal of kidnapping her. It also claimed that Farzana was already married to her cousin Mazhar and Iqbal had lured her into second marriage without getting divorce from the first husband which is "illegal and un-Islamic."

Iqbal had killed his 1st wife some 6 years ago but was freed from jail after his son, the complainant in the case, pardoned him.

Advocate Mansoor Rehman Afridi, a counsel for the accused, told reporters they would file a review petition in the superior court against the verdict of the ATC.

The honour killing incidents are on the rise in Pakistan especially in Punjab, a province of 90-million. Last year, 870 women were killed in the name of honour here.

Source: Economic Times, November 19, 2014

UN resolution says Iran using death penalty at alarming frequency

Public execution in Iran (file picture)
The UN General Assembly human rights committee approved a resolution Tuesday expressing deep concern about rights violations in Iran, including the "alarmingly high frequency" of the use of the death penalty.

Support came from 78 member countries, with 35 voting no and 69 abstaining. Several countries have objected to the targeting of a specific nation.

The Canada-drafted resolution was approved less than a week before a 24 November deadline for Iran and 6 world powers to reach a deal on its nuclear program, but the word "nuclear" isn't mentioned in the text.

Instead, the resolution builds on a recent report by a UN special investigator on human rights and points out that Iran has not allowed an investigator to visit since 2005.

Iran's representative protested that the resolution doesn't acknowledge "positive developments" since President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013.

"At the time when many parts of our region are burning in the fires of extremism," the resolution is counterproductive, the diplomat said.

The U.N. special investigator, Ahmed Shaheed, last month spoke out against Iran's 2nd-highest rate of executions in the world. Iran has executed 8 juveniles over the past year, he said.

He bases his reports on conversations with dozens of people both inside and outside the country, and it can be dangerous for some who speak with him, he said. Punishments include flogging and, in the worst cases, charges of spreading propaganda against the state.

The resolution calls on Iran to stop a range of abuses including torture, gender discrimination and the targeting of activists and journalists. It now goes to the General Assembly.

In a statement, Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi said the resolution "leaves no doubt that the appalling human rights record of the clerical regime must be referred to the Security Council for the adoption of binding and punitive measures," and she warned that the nuclear talks should not be used as an excuse to ignore Iran's human rights issues.

In a separate statement, the U.S.-based group Impact Iran said, "More must be done to hold Iran accountable for its human rights abuses."

Source: First Post, November, 19, 2014


UN Committee Calls On Iran To Stop Executions

A UN committee has approved a resolution expressing deep concern about rights violations in Iran, noting the "alarmingly high frequency" of the use of the death penalty.

The UN General Assembly human rights committee passed the resolution on November 18 with 78 yes votes from member countries, with 35 voting no and 69 abstaining.

The Canada-drafted resolution calls on Iran to stop abuses, including torture.

The resolution follows on a report by a UN special investigator on human rights and points out that Iran has never allowed him to visit.

Iran's representative protested that the resolution doesn't acknowledge "positive developments" since President Hassan Rohani took office.

"At the time when many parts of our region are burning in the fires of extremism," the resolution is counterproductive, the diplomat said.

It now goes to the General Assembly.

Source: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, November 19, 2014

Saudi beheads killer of soldier, police officer

Saudi Arabia executed on Wednesday a man who donned women's clothing in a bid to escape after shooting dead a soldier and police officer, state media said.

Salih bin Yateem bin Salih al-Qarni was beheaded in the southwestern city of Abha, the official Saudi Press Agency said.

Qarni was intially arrested on other charges and was transported in an official vehicle by the soldier and a member of the Muttawa religious police.

"He shot them with a gun that he was carrying," the SPA said, without explaining how he obtained the weapon.

After stealing the keys from the security officer driving the vehicle, Qarni chewed some narcotic qat "and disguised himself in women's clothing" in an attempt to flee, but was recaptured, it said.

Saudi women are required to cover from head to toe, often with only their eyes exposed.

The report did not say when the escape bid occurred.

Qarni is the latest of 69 Saudis and foreigners executed in the kingdom this year, despite international concern.

Rape, murder, apostasy, drug trafficking, homosexuality and armed robbery are all punishable by death under the kingdom's strict version of Islamic sharia law.

Source: Agence France-Presse, November 19, 2014

URGENT ACTION for Scott Panetti due to be executed in Texas on 3 December 2014

Scott Panetti
TEXAS SET TO EXECUTE SEVERELY MENTALLY ILL MAN

Scott Panetti, a 56-year-old man whose serious mental illness predated and contributed to the 1992 double murder for which he was sent to death row, and which infected his trial and persists to this day, is scheduled to be executed in Texas on 3 December.

Scott Louis Panetti was hospitalized more than a dozen times between 1981 and 1992 as a result of his mental illness, including schizophrenia. When he and his wife, Sonja Alvarado, separated in August 1992, she took their three-year-old daughter and went to stay with her parents, Amanda and Joe Alvarado. On 8 September 1992, Scott Panetti shaved his head, dressed in military fatigues and drove to the Alvarados' home, where he shot his parents-in-law. He allowed Sonja and their daughter to leave. Later that day he changed into a suit and gave himself up to the police. He stated that “Sarge” (an auditory hallucination) controlled him during the crime, that divine intervention had meant that the victims did not suffer, and that demons had been laughing at him as he left the house.

In July 1994 a hearing to determine whether Scott Panetti was competent to stand trial was declared a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a verdict. A second hearing before another jury was held in September 1994. His lawyer testified that in the previous two years, he had had no useful communication with Scott Panetti because of his delusional thinking. A psychiatrist for the defense concluded that Panetti was not competent to stand trial. A psychiatrist for the prosecution agreed with the previous diagnoses of schizophrenia, and that Scott Panetti’s delusional thinking could interfere with his communications with his legal counsel, but concluded that he was competent. The jury agreed. Scott Panetti waived his right to counsel and the case went to trial in 1995 with him acting as his own lawyer. During the trial, Scott Panetti dressed as a cowboy and gave a rambling defense. Numerous people, including doctors, relatives and lawyers, who attended the trial described it as a “farce”, a “joke”, a “circus”, and a “mockery”. A lawyer appointed as stand-by counsel later recalled: “I have copies of the 200-plus subpoenas he filed. Scott wanted to subpoena Jesus Christ, JFK, actors, actresses, and people who had died”.

Scott Panetti’s current lawyers have filed a clemency petition and are also seeking a judicial stay of execution so that his competency for execution can be assessed, that is, whether he has a genuine understanding of the reality of and reason for his punishment. His competency has not been assessed since 2008. The lawyers have filed information from prison records indicating that his mental illness, delusions and irrational conduct persist. They also state that he reports “hearing voices”, and claims the prison authorities have planted a “listening device” in his tooth and want him executed to shut him up “about the corruption” and to stop him from “preaching the Gospel.”

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION 

On 4 February 2004, Scott Panetti was 24 hours from execution in the Texas death chamber when a federal court issued a stay. The case was eventually taken by the US Supreme Court, which on 28 June 2007 used it to clarify a ruling it had made 21 years earlier. In Ford v. Wainwright in 1986, the Court had affirmed that the execution of the “insane” violates the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on “cruel and unusual punishments”. However, the Ford ruling neither defined competence for execution, nor did a majority mandate specific procedures that had to be followed by the individual states to determine whether an inmate was incompetent. The result was different standards in different states, judicial uncertainty, and minimal protection against the death penalty for seriously mentally ill inmates (see http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/003/2006/en).

View the full Urgent Action here.

Name: Scott Panetti (m)
Issues: Death penalty, Imminent execution, Unfair trial UA: 292/14 Issue Date: 18 November 2014
Country: USA

Please let us know if you took action so that we can track our impact!

EITHER send a short email to uan@aiusa.org with "UA 292/14" in the subject line, and include in the body of the email the number of letters and/or emails you sent.

OR fill out this short online form to let us know how you took action.

Thank you for taking action! Please check with the AIUSA Urgent Action Office if sending appeals after the above date. If you receive a response from a government official, please forward it to us at uan@aiusa.org or to the Urgent Action Office address below. A petition by Victoria Panetti to stop her brother’s execution is at http://chn.ge/1v3cc5m. Please help maximize numbers signing.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Please write immediately in English or your own language:
* Calling for plans to execute Scott Panetti to be immediately halted and for his death sentence to be commuted;
* Noting that Scott Panetti’s serious mental illness predates and contributed to his crime, infected his trial and apparently persists to this day, and that his execution would be against international standards.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 3 DECEMBER 2014 TO:

Clemency Section, Board of Pardons and Paroles 
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd. Austin, Texas 78757-6814, USA
Fax: 011 1 512 467 0945
Salutation: Dear Board members

And copies to:
Governor’s Press office
Fax: 011 1 512 463 1847

Governor Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
PO Box 12428
Austin, Texas, USA
Fax: 011 1 512 463 1849
Salutation: Dear Governor


Office of the General Counsel
Fax: 011 1 512 463 1932

Please share widely with your networks: http://bit.ly/1yPXSdE

We encourage you to share Urgent Actions with your friends and colleagues! When you share with your networks, instead of forwarding the original email, please use the "Forward this email to a friend" link found at the very bottom of this email. Thank you for your activism!

UA Network Office AIUSA │600 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington DC 20003
T. 202.509.8193 │ F. 202.509.8193 │E. uan@aiusa.org │amnestyusa.org/urgent

New Video Footage Reveals Slow Strangulation in Public Executions in Iran

Bandar Abbas Execution
Iran Human Rights, November 18, 2014: A video footage showing the public executions of last Saturday (15. November) in Bandar Abbas has been released by the “human rights activists news agency” (HRANA). 

The video shows three prisoners with the noose around their neck being slowly pulled up by a crane. This happens in front of tens of ordinary people.

The method has been previously described by Iran Human Rights (IHR) as slow strangulation where the prisoner suffers several minutes before the death occurs due to suffocation. 

There are several videos of public executions showing that this method is being systematically used by the Iranian authorities. 

In some cases it takes up to 15 minutes till the prisoner dies.

IHR strongly urges the international community to react in order to stop the public executions in Iran. Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the spokesperson of IHR says: “Besides being a dehumanizing and barbaric punishment, Iranian authorities’ method of execution is pure torture. The prisoner dies a slow and painful death in front of the horrified children and adults. The international community must not tolerate such barbaric punishments in a country which is a full member of the United Nations."

During the last Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session on October 31 several countries recommended Iran to immediately stop the public executions.

Source: Iran Human Rights, November 18, 2014

Video of the execution (Warning: Graphic Content):

video

Missouri executes Leon Taylor

Leon Taylor
BONNE TERRE, Mo. — A man who killed a suburban Kansas City gas station attendant in front of the worker's young stepdaughter in 1994 was put to death early Wednesday — the ninth execution in Missouri this year.

Leon Vincent Taylor, 56, was pronounced dead at 12:22 a.m. at the state prison in Bonne Terre, minutes after receiving a lethal injection. With Taylor's death, 2014 ties 1999 for having the most executions in a year in Missouri.

Taylor shot worker Robert Newton to death in front of Newton's 8-year-old stepdaughter during a gas station robbery in Independence, Missouri. Taylor tried to kill the girl, too, but the gun jammed.

Taylor's fate was sealed Tuesday when Gov. Jay Nixon declined to grant clemency and the U.S. Supreme Court turned down his appeal.

His body covered by a white sheet, Taylor could be seen in the execution chamber talking to family members through the glass in an adjacent room. Once the state started injecting 5 grams of pentobarbital, Taylor's chest heaved for several seconds then stopped. His jaw went slack and he displayed no other movement for the rest of the process.

Four of Taylor's family members sat in a room to his left and looked on without reaction as the drug killed Taylor in about eight minutes. At a time when lethal injections have gone awry in Oklahoma, Ohio and Arizona and taken an extended period to kill an inmate, Taylor's execution went off without any visible hitches or complications with the drug or equipment.

In a final statement, Taylor apologized to Newton's family because "our lives had to entwine so tragically" and thanked his family for their support and love.

"I am also sorry to have brought all of you to this point in my life to witness this and/or participate," Taylor said. "Stay strong and keep your heads to the sky."

Speaking to reporters after the execution, Newton's brother, Dennis Smith, noted that it had been about 7,500 days since the killing and said the family has missed Newton every one of them. Smith described Newton as a hard worker, generous and with a memorable laugh. At times, Smith paused to compose himself as tears rolled down his cheeks.

"It would just take a coward to want to hurt someone like him," Smith said.

Taylor's execution was briefly delayed as he sought to have his half brother, Willie Owens, as a witness. Taylor's lawyers filed an appeal four hours before the scheduled execution time and the Missouri Supreme Court granted the request to have the one-time co-defendant in the slaying watch his brother die.

Department of Corrections spokesman Mike O'Connell said Owens ultimately decided not to attend the execution.

Taylor's last meal consisted of eggs, bacon, doughnuts and an orange drink. O'Connell said Taylor later turned down the sedative Valium and the sedative midazolam.

According to court records, Taylor, Owens and his half-sister, Tina Owens, decided to rob a gas station on April 14, 1994. Newton was at the station with his stepdaughter.

Taylor entered the store, drew a gun and told Newton, 53, to put $400 in a money bag. Newton complied and Willie Owens took the money to the car.

Taylor then ordered Newton and the child to a back room. Newton pleaded for Taylor not to shoot him in front of the little girl, but Taylor shot him in the head. He tried to kill the girl but the gun jammed, so he locked her in the room and the trio drove away.

Taylor was arrested a week after the crime when police responded to a tips hotline call.

Court appeals claimed the death penalty for Taylor was unfair for several reasons.

Taylor's original jury deadlocked and a judge sentenced him to death. When that was thrown out, an all-white jury gave Taylor, who was black, the death sentence.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that only a jury could impose a death sentence. Taylor's lawyers contended that a Missouri Supreme Court ruling after the U.S. Supreme Court decision led the state to commute at least 10 other death sentences for inmates sentenced by a judge to life in prison — everyone except Taylor.

Attorney Elizabeth Carlyle said Taylor essentially was penalized for successfully appealing his first conviction.

The clemency request to Nixon said Taylor turned his life around in prison, becoming a devout Christian who helped other prisoners. The petition also cited abuse Taylor suffered as a child, saying his mother began giving him alcohol when he was 5 and that he later became addicted to alcohol and drugs.

Source: Associated Press, Brett Barrouquere, November 19, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Two Sunni Baloch prisoners executed in Iran

(file photo)
2 Sunni prisoners of conscience from Iran's Baloch minority were executed on Thursday morning in Zahedan Central prison, Sistan-Baluchestan province of Iran.

According to the report of Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), 22-year old Vahid Shah Bakhsh and 23-year old Mahmoud Shah Bakhsh were taken to the gallows and hanged on 13 November 2014 on charges of 'Moharabeh [enmity against God] and acting against national security'.

Both men had been subjected to severe torture whilst being held at the Ministry of Intelligence Detention Center in Zahedan, and the details surrounding their cases are still unclear at this stage.

Vahid Shah Bakhsh (also known as Abdol Rahman, the son of Ghous Uddin) and Mahmoud Shah Bakhsh (also known as Junaid, the son of Dur Mohammad) were arrested in Zahedan in April 2012.

Vahid Shah Bakhsh had been active in criticizing the Iranian government and speaking out against the oppression faced by the Sunni Baloch minority in Iran.

He had been on school study-leave and was at home when the security forces raided his house without warning and opened fire. He was shot and severely wounded, but was taken to the Ministry of Intelligence Detention Center without receiving adequate medical treatment.

Both he and Mahmoud Shah Bakhsh were subjected to severe torture whilst in the detention of the Ministry of Intelligence.

On 8 January 2014, the men were sentenced to death by Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court in Zahedan for 'Moharabeh (enmity against God) and acting against national security'.

Mahmoud Shah Bakhsh was again transferred to the Ministry of Intelligence detention center in Zahedan in early January 2014, where he was held for 3 days and physically and psychologically tortured by interrogators who tried to force him to make a filmed false 'confession'.

He refused to make a filmed 'confession' and was transferred back to Ward 1 of Zahedan prison (also known as 'the Youth Ward').

On 12 February 2014, Mahmoud Shah Bakhsh was once again transferred to the Ministry of Intelligence detention center. This time, after extensive torture, he was forced to make a filmed 'confession'.

Iranian state-run media often broadcasts 'confessions' of prisoners, which are usually obtained through torture, in an attempt to sway public opinion and justify the executions.

Source: Human Rights Activists News Agency, November 18, 2014